Matt Traube, MFT

Healthy Mind, Healthy Skin

Anxiety

Anxiety and Your Skin

Anxiety can have an impact on our skin health.

Posted Jan 29, 2017

madeinitaly4k/Shutterstock
Source: madeinitaly4k/Shutterstock

Anxiety is an important survival mechanism. A racing heartbeat, tight muscles, dilating blood vessels, and excessive sweating can be beneficial when trying to escape danger.

But what happens when our perceived fears are not a real threat, and yet our body reacts as if an immediate danger exists? In this case, anxiety can cause extreme physical discomfort, which in turn can wreak havoc on our skin.

Life is often challenging. This can create anxiety. Questioning if others are being judgmental, being in crowded areas, and feeling unable to get out of a situation are perfect examples of this.

Yet more often than not, people fear anticipatory anxiety more than they fear the anxiety-causing situation itself. As a result, people can experience anxiety simply sitting safely on a couch, with no physical proximity to real danger.

For example, simply imagining the possibility of your throat closing up as you are about to present an important presentation at work can trigger the same symptoms of anxiety that would be triggered if your throat was, in fact, closing up during the presentation. Such anticipatory anxiety causes the central nervous system to unleash a surge of adrenaline that can override even your best efforts to remind yourself that you are imagining the entire event.

Most people who suffer from anxiety are aware that their anxiety can be irrational. Many people can even pinpoint the specific factors that trigger their anxiety, but don’t understand how to manage it.

People who don’t suffer from anxiety have trouble understanding this, which is why anxiety-sufferers often experience shame when a loved one tells them to stop being anxious. This can be true for a wide range of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety, social anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), relationship anxiety, agoraphobia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and panic attacks

As one might expect, if you give a person a choice to avoid a situation they fear or to face that fear, most people will choose to avoid the situation. Unfortunately, repeatedly avoiding a feared situation causes the brain to determine that such fear is valid, even if the situation is completely safe. Doing so reinforces symptoms of anxiety in response to the situation, creating a feedback loop that activates the nervous system in a way that can convince the brain that a safe situation is no longer safe.

Anxiety can have an impact on skin health. For those suffering from acne, eczema, hair pulling, hives, psoriasis, rosacea, and skin picking, anxiety can increase symptoms and cause uncomfortable flare-ups. When we no longer feel safe or in control, the skin can respond. Better anxiety management makes for better skin.

Our skin can be a reflection of how we feel on the inside. By identifying anxiety and addressing the root causes, therapy can help people develop better coping mechanisms which prevent the skin from being an emotional battleground. Learning how to address anxiety and fear safely can help retrain the brain and provide skin relief.