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Mental Health

The Stress Files

While stress is a normal part of daily life, it's safe to say that 2020 has given new meaning to the word. We tapped into the experts for the facts and some concrete ideas on how to navigate it.


Stress and Skin

From eczema flare-ups to recurrent hives to — you guessed it — dreaded breakouts, stress can make the skin more sensitive and irritable.

“In times of stress, the endocrine system secretes hormones — androgens and cortisol — and those hormones in turn increase oil-gland production,” says Dr. Robin Schaffran, BalmLabs’ Chief Dermatologist. “Bacteria that normally live on the skin feed off the excess oil, and this often leads to an inflammatory response, as well as clogging of the pores, and ultimately, an increase in the frequency and severity of acne.”

How to Deal — Dr. Schaffran’s Tip Sheet:

  • Take a product holiday and adopt a back to basics approach to skincare
  • Skip any products with overly drying ingredients, which can in-turn exacerbate the issue
  • Think gentle formulations packed with soothing, anti-inflammatory ingredients

I designed ClearBalm with sensitive adult skin in mind; effectively battling irritation and breakouts, while also addressing dryness, texture, tone and fine lines.

And the Stress Eating…

Stress eating is real, and that delicious bag of potato chips *may* be contributing to frustrating breakouts.  While there is no real scientific evidence linking specific foods with acne flare-ups, there is research that suggests a western diet high in sugars and starches — otherwise known as a high glycemic index diet — can influence or exacerbate acne. 

High glycemic foods (for example potatoes, white rice, white bread, pastries and yes, chips) cause spikes in blood glucose, which prompts the body to make more insulin. Over time, higher insulin levels can lead to inflammation, which can affect the skin. High glycemic foods can also elevate hormones that boost oil-gland activity, which is another known contributor to acne. 

“Evidence of poor nutrition can manifest on your skin in various ways  — feeling rough or dry, dullness, congestion, proneness to breakouts or inflammation,” says Registered Dietitian Jessica Tong.

How to Deal — Jessica’s Tip Sheet:

  • Focus on a plant-based diet that includes specific nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables (iceburg lettuce – you don’t count). Vitamins A and C are essential, as they both contain antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which help to promote cell reproduction and combat cell damage and inflammation
  • Choose complete proteins at each meal. Complete proteins are rich in amino acids that produce collagen and omega-3 fatty acids that nourish the skin
  • Avoid deep-fried foods because the oxidized fat can damage cell structures and promote inflammation
  • Stay hydrated. Proper hydration is essential to maintain skin tautness and clarity. Also, limit diuretics, or beverages that dehydrate you, such as coffee and alcohol. Coffee should be limited to 3 cups (that is 3 “short” cups) and alcohol to 2 drink units per day

Navigating Stress

When you’re under stress, you are effectively on auto-pilot. In the midst of a stressful situation or moment in time, people you will most often React with Fight (i.e. anger) or Flight (i.e. withdrawal) behaviors, which can trigger a variety of unhealthy coping mechanisms. 

“To break the cycle, you need to try to consciously Respond to the situation,” says celebrated Life Coach, Kate Goora-Fried.

How to Deal — Kate’s Tip Sheet:

  • Step 1. Cultivate Awareness: When we consciously listen to our emotions versus letting them arbitrarily control us, we can effectively understand and manage them. First, take a few deep breaths. Oxygen will help slow down your heart rate and regulate your nervous system. Then try to bring your attention and awareness to your body. 
  • Step 2. Get Curious: Ask yourself, “what is really bothering me right now?” Why did you express anger at someone? Are you using anger to camouflage fear or sadness? Are you making assumptions? Is so, are they really valid? Was the perspective you were in when you got angry serving you? 
  • Step 3. State of Choice: You can now approach the situation from a place of awareness as opposed to being lead by your emotions. You are effectively in choice. Ask yourself, “can I take action? If not, can I honor my self and my values by responding more effectively in another way? How can I ask for what I need in this situation?”

These exercises build muscles. Just like going to the gym, the more you do them, the stronger you will get. Each time you catch yourself in a cycle, stop and give yourself the space to build your muscles of healthier communication, with yourself and others.

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