Do you want to know the number one thing that helps heal acne? I’ll give you a hint. It’s not a fancy topical, pill, or crazy diet regimen—It’s regulating your nervous system! Yup, according to Naturopathic doctor and holistic acne healing expert Dr. Shannon Curtis, managing stress and healing your nervous system is the key to healing acne and promoting healthy skin you love. If you’re new to the blog, we’ve had the brilliant Dr. Shannon on our pod twice! Make sure to listen after this article— But for now, let’s dive into how stress impacts your skin and how we can manage stress and heal our nervous systems for a radiant complexion.

Your Nervous System and Stress 

Stress and your nervous system go hand in hand. Your nervous system regulates every physiological response in your body, from your hormones and gut function to your immune system and skin health. That means that when you’re stressed, your nervous system will signal your other bodily systems to do or not do something. The beauty of this, though, is that you can nourish your nervous system to become more resilient to stress and have healthier skin. 

Here’s the thing: your nervous system has the most significant control over whether or not your skin is healthy. It’s not your gut, hormones, or immunity—because, without a healthy nervous system, you can’t have a healthy gut, endocrine system, or immune system! 

When we say we like to get to the root of issues, we mean it. Let’s talk a bit more about how stress impacts skin, and then we will move into how we can manage it for skin you feel beautiful in. 

How Stress Impacts Skin 

Stress comes at us from every angle. It’s not just the stress of a long to-do list that I’m talking about, though. Beyond mental and emotional stress, environmental and physical stressors can also impact the nervous system and skin health. 

Some environmental stressors include pesticides, herbicides, and water contaminants. Physical stressors include too vigorous workouts, overeating, undereating, caffeine, food allergies, digestive issues, and more. 

And of course, emotional and mental stressors include work and relationship issues, grief, childhood trauma, etc. 

The thing about stress is that it’s inevitable. And in fact—stress isn’t inherently bad. Stress is necessary for survival. What makes stress good or bad is how we handle and manage it. 

For starters, handling physical and environmental stressors are important. These are the low-hanging fruit, meaning the easiest way to eliminate any unnecessary stress negatively impacting your skin.

You can eliminate fragrances, toxic chemicals, and hormone disruptors found in conventional cosmetics foods, drinking pure water, sweating daily, and self-massage.

The nasty chemicals in these products throw the adrenals and sex hormones out of whack, setting off your stress alarm (enter cortisol and aldosterone, which are closely tied to skin health and radiance). 

Stress, whether physical and environmental or emotional and mental, also impacts the digestive system. When stressed, our bodies release stress hormones and put the nervous system into fight or flight. When that happens, your digestive system often shuts down or goes full speed. And our skin takes a lot of the heat. You may notice pimples on the chin and forehead area, which according to Chinese face mapping, is associated with digestive system disruption. 

You may have guessed that your nervous system acts as a bridge between your mental and emotional experiences. This means that what impacts one affects the other—no exception. 

Acne and Hormones

If you suffer from hormonal acne, it shouldn’t be news that stress may be causing it or making it worse. When you get stressed, your adrenals release hormones like cortisol. If you’ve been following the blog for a while, you may know that adrenal fatigue (aka HPA axis dysregulation) goes hand in hand with acne and skin issues. 

This is because when you have adrenal fatigue and common symptoms like dysregulated blood sugar and stress, you can also have an androgen imbalance. Aldosterone, another hormone manufactured by the adrenal glands, is responsible for regulating bodily fluids. Often, when fluids and electrolytes are out of balance due to stress, you’ll experience acne, eczema, dullness, and other skin issues. 

Now we get to the fun part: the fix! 

6 Ways: How to Regulate Your Nervous System and Manage Stress for Healthy Skin 

 1- Eliminate Obvious Stressors 

The low-hanging fruit is obvious stressors like conventional, inorganic foods and toxin-laden cosmetics. 

These products contain hormone-disrupting chemicals that stress out the body, impact mental health, and cause nervous system dysregulation. Start by purchasing organic foods whenever possible and avoiding processed foods like conventional cakes, pastries, chips, cheeses, milks, produce, etc. 

Swap out conventional cosmetics for 100% organic products. When you invest in this, you are investing in your health. It may seem like spending extra money on these products now is a waste, but the more money now, the less money down the road will be spent on health care. 

We wrote a whole article on the hormonal acne diet; check it out here

2 – Address Limiting Beliefs and Self-Talk 

How do you talk to yourself when you look in the mirror? Is it sweet words soaked in honey or mean words? If you speak sweet words, your nervous system can relax and expand. When you talk badly to yourself, your nervous system goes into shock and overdrive. 

It’s crucial to address self-talk and course correct. It’s also essential to address limiting beliefs you may carry around. These could include:

  • I’ll never have clear skin, I’ve always been acne prone 
  • I don’t deserve to be seen 
  • Dry skin and eczema runs in my family 
  • My mom aged early too 

I encourage you to write down your limiting beliefs about your skin in a journal. Where did these stem from? How can you rewrite them? How can you become more conscious of these thoughts and what loving phrase will you replace them with? 

3 – Move!

Your nervous system loves movement! Movement makes you happy and a happy you, is a happy nervous system. Jump around, dance, run, walk, whatever motivates you to move—do it, and do it daily! 

Movement also helps to move lymph. When our lymphatic system is sluggish, toxins are often excreted through the skin. You may experience chest, neck, or back acne when this is the case. 

4 – Sunshine 

Reconnected to nature is one of the best things for regulating our nervous systems. And sunshine is one of my favorite ways to do it. Getting out in the sun won’t only help you get your daily dose of the hormone vitamin D, but it will also help regulate your circadian rhythm, which is essential for good quality sleep. There is a deep connection between sleep, your nervous system, and skin, and one way we can make sure we get good sleep is by getting real sunshine in our eyes and on our bodies during the day. 

5 – Use Adaptogens to Help with the Stress Response 

Adaptogens are herbs and plants that help you adapt to physical, environmental, and emotional stressors. They work directly with the nervous system to help calm and regulate. My favorite adaptogens for stress, hormone health, and skin health are ashwagandha, reishi, nettles, and schisandra. 

You can find ashwagandha and schisandra in our Beauty Collagen Complex. (also amazing for gut health!!) . You can find reishi in our Organic Immunity Greens (and we already know that proper immune function is amazing for skin and stress). 

6 – Add in stress management practices 

I recommend trying to include one stress management practice a day that helps you improve your response to stress. This can look like 5-minute breathwork, yoga, meditation, dance, painting, or journaling. Try out whatever calls do you and make a pact with yourself to do it once a day for 5 minutes. You can even start smaller with 1-2 minutes. Even small changes like that will make you eventually crave peace and restoration, and you’ll begin to slowly heal and become more resilient. 

I hope this article has helped you understand how stress impacts your skin. For more tips, follow us at @elevayshealth on instagram.

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