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The Connection Between Anxiety, Stress and Your Skin

Sad worried woman on the sofa at home

As you likely already know, stress and anxiety are usually interlinked, but what does this have to do with your skin? 

Well, the state of your mind has a direct effect on the health of your skin. In fact, this is so much so the case that a whole new field, known as psychodermatology, has emerged in order to properly study the connection between emotional conditions and the skin. 

What is Stress and Anxiety?

Stress and anxiety are commonly lumped together as one, but the two are actually quite different…

The one thing that they do have in common is that both stress and anxiety are survival mechanisms. 

In terms of stress, this is actually quite a physical response from the body. It refers to feeling as though you have been placed under extreme pressure, and are not able to properly cope with this. 

When your body is feeling stressed, your brain releases certain hormones, such as cortisol, which is also known as the stress hormone. This puts your body into “fight or flight mode”, which is something that used to help our ancestors to deal with the life or death situations that would cause them stress. 

However, in today’s modern life, things are quite different…

Everything from a deadline at work to trouble at home can lead to stress, meaning that many people end up with excess amounts of cortisol and other hormones flowing through their body. 

This chronic stress is what causes so many of the health and skin problems that stress is linked to. 

Infographic on chronic stress

So, where does anxiety come in? 

The Connection Between Stress and Anxiety

Well, while stress is your body’s way of responding to a certain situation, anxiety is basically a response that can be triggered by stress. 

Anxiety is a sustained disorder that sticks around over a long period of time, while stress tends to be shorter lived than this.

It is important to understand the differences between stress and anxiety when it comes to treating these conditions. It also helps in learning how each condition has their own effect on the skin. 

What Does Stress Do to Your Skin?

Not only can stress lead to a number of serious health problems, from high blood pressure to diabetes, but it can also cause havoc for your skin. 


Here are a few of the ways in which stress affects your skin: 

  • Inflammation – stress causes the body to release chemicals that cause inflammation, meaning that if you already suffer from an inflammatory skin problem, whether this may be eczema, acne, rosacea, or anything else, stress will likely result in your condition flaring up 
  • Accelerated Aging – everything from fine lines and wrinkles to sagging skin become more common when you experience chronic stress. This is due to the way in which the stress hormone damages the collagen and elastin in your skin, both of which are key structural proteins that give your skin its firmness, tightness and smoothness. Stress can also cause you to constantly furrow your brow or purse your lips, resulting in expression lines that quickly become permanent 
  • Redness and Flushing – you will likely find that your breathing becomes quite short and rapid when you are stressed, and you may even end up holding your breath in for extended lengths of time. All of this can lead to facial redness and flushing, although the effects of this are usually temporary 
  • Dark Circles – when your body is feeling the effects of stress, one of the results of this is the capillaries underneath your eyes being so much more susceptible to breakages. This then results in dark circles around the eyes, which will start to heal once your stress has gone. However, chronic stress can sometimes cause these circles to become permanent 
  • Rashes and Hives – both rashes and hives are caused when there is an imbalance between the good and bad bacteria in your gut, and this is something that can quickly occur when your body is placed under stress 
  • Acne – the stress hormone triggers the sebaceous glands in your skin to produce more oil. This then leads to clogged pores, resulting in breakouts. This is exacerbated by the fact that stress also causes inflammation in the skin, as mentioned above

Those are just a few of the direct effects that stress has on your skin. 

Worried woman pinching her forehead in bed

Of course, there are a number of indirect effects too…

One of the most common is bags underneath the eyes. Since stress usually interferes with a person’s sleep, this leads to fluids collecting up around the eyes, resulting in the puffy bags. While this can be cleared by minimizing your stress, chronic stress, and therefore long-term sleep deprivation, can result in this puffiness becoming permanent. 

What Does Anxiety Do to Your Skin?

Since anxiety usually forms as a response to threat, this means that the stress hormones are already flowing through your body, and your skin is likely to be experiencing at least one of the above-mentioned effects of stress. 

This makes it hard to differentiate between the physical skin issues that stress and anxiety cause. 

However, anxiety will definitely exacerbate whichever issues have been brought on by the stress. Whether this may be hives, acne, dark circles or anything else, the onset of anxiety means that rather than being cured, these issues will only get worse. 

The fact that your skin is reacting so negatively can often then make the anxiety itself worse, resulting in a vicious cycle that can be difficult to break. 

Excoriation Disorder

There is one quite unusual disorder that can be caused by both stress and anxiety, and this is known as excoriation disorder, or nicknamed skin-picking disorder. 

This disorder is partially related to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), which causes a person to be unable to stop themselves from doing a certain thing. 

What exactly is excoriation disorder? 

It is a mental disorder that causes a person to repeatedly pick, pull or scratch at their skin. As you can imagine, this then causes the skin to break and bleed, resulting in several different lesions. 

This condition can really be detrimental to a person’s quality of life, and can lead to the onset and exacerbation of other mental conditions. 

While reducing stress is something that most people can do on their own, those who suffer from excoriation disorder, whether this may be due to stress and anxiety or not, should really seek professional advice. Treatment would include various forms of therapy in order to help you to overcome the condition. 

Less Stress Means Healthier Skin

Stress management techniques

You are probably thinking…

If my skin issues are caused by stress, then does that mean that they will clear up if I am able to get rid of my stress? 

Yes, that is exactly what will happen! 

This may seem like an easy fix for dealing with whichever skin problems you have been battling, but getting rid of stress is something that tends to be easier said than done. 

Nevertheless, it doesn’t take long to learn a few stress-busting techniques that you can use in your time of need, while also using them to prevent yourself from becoming stressed in the first place. 

Want to know some stress-busting secrets? 

There are a number of ways in which you can reduce stress, such as: 

  • Exercise – this may seem like an easy fix, but exercise is actually one of the best methods of reducing stress, as well as anxiety. Research shows that even a brief workout can reduce the amount of stress hormones in your body, while the self-confidence that exercise provides can do wonders for mental well-being, and therefore in reducing anxiety
  • Turn to your friends and family – spending more time with loved ones has been proven to have a relaxing effect. Plus, it also encourages laughter, which is something else that can lower the levels of cortisol in your body. If you are stressed about a particular problem, you may find that talking this out with someone else will help you to come to a solution so much faster than you otherwise would have 
  • Take some time out – people work such long hours these days, meaning that they don’t end up having much time for themselves. Make sure that you set aside some quality time for yourself each week, and spend this doing something that you really enjoy 
  • Keep yourself challenged – challenging your mind is a great way to overcome stress, while also giving you the resiliency you need to respond to stressful situations in a healthier and more rational way in the future. You can do this in a number of different ways, from learning a new sport to learning a new language to learning how to play a musical instrument 
  • Spend time with animals – if you are not able to have a pet of your own, try spending time with someone else’s pet, or even at your local animal shelter. This may seem like a strange idea, but simply being around animals will increase the levels of serotonin and dopamine in your body, both of which are feel-good neurotransmitters that will immediately lift your mood and relax your mind 
  • Write it down – writing down your thoughts and feelings is a great way to take this all out of your mind. It can help so much to see your stressors written down on paper in front of you. This will enable you to look at the problem from a different perspective, and therefore find the perfect solution 

Don’t forget, each of these methods is quite subjective. What works well for one person may not work well for you. Just make sure that you keep an open mind and try each one of those methods, as you never know what you may discover when it comes to keeping your stress levels down! 

Reducing Your Anxiety Levels

All of the methods mentioned above will help when it comes to reducing anxiety, but there are other things that you can do too…

When you are feeling anxious, you need to remind yourself that your worries have unjustifiably escalated. Try to re-think your fears, rationally talking yourself out of your worries. 

Infographic on anxiety

Deep breathing exercises can also really help…


Because when you are anxious, or even stressed, you breathe in a shallow way. This prevents your body from becoming properly oxygenated, which will only make your anxieties even worse.

Wondering how to make sure that you are breathing deeply? 

Try the 4-6-8 technique: 

Just a couple of rounds of this breathing exercise will immediately have an effect on the tension in your body, and you will find yourself noticeably relaxing. 

Already tried everything mentioned above, and haven’t found anything to help with your anxiety yet? 

It may be time to seek professional help. 

There is nothing wrong with this, since anxiety is a condition that can sometimes get so much worse if not treated. Your doctor will be able to determine whether therapy or medication would be the best course of action for you. Many people aren’t keen on the idea of taking medication for anxiety, but this would only be in the short term to help you to get back on track. 

Not only will this help your mental health, but reducing your anxiety and stress will also do your skin the world of good. 

There is a such a strong connection between anxiety, stress and your skin. Not only can anxiety and stress lead to skin issues, but these skin conditions can then also worsen the anxiety and stress you are experiencing. The best way to stop this vicious cycle and maintain healthy skin is by staying in control of your stress and anxiety, keeping these levels as consistently low as possible. 

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1 comment

  1. Posted by Cynthia Knisely, at Reply

    I am under a lot of stress plus I have anxiety. The only thing that works for me is going to the YMCA and working out hard