Reducing Stress and Anxiety for Improved Immune and Skin Health

In This article will discuss ways to reduce your stress and anxiety, improve your mood and subsequently improve your immune and skin health. Research has shown a correlation between eczema and anxiety, which psychologists attributed to increased distress about the appearance and symptoms of eczema.     

It is a well-known fact that the rate of eczema is much higher in more Western, developed countries. This disparity was explained as a difference in diet, climate, and hygiene habits. Plainly, it was thought that having a skin condition such as eczema led to an increased risk of patients having more anxiety.

An exciting new study found higher stress and anxiety levels produced chemicals that led to an inflammatory response in the skin, resulting in increased rates of eczema eruptions. Therefore, we circle back to the higher eczema rates in developed regions and speculate if some of that difference could be attributed to the higher incidence of anxiety and mental illness in those societies.

The Science Behind The Mind-Body Connection

Mind-body medicine is a field of therapy that works to manipulate the psychophysiological connections between the nervous system, brain, hormones, and immune system. When the brain receives a stimulus from the environment such as traffic gridlock on a morning when you’re already late to work or a fight with your spouse; it then transmits that information to your body so that it can respond with a coordinated, appropriate response. This stress response, commonly referred to as flight or fight, was intended to keep humans safe from mortal dangers such as fleeing from a carnivorous animal or avoiding injury in a confrontation.

Fast forward to modern times and the flight or flight response can be elicited dozens of times in a single day! Final exams, project deadlines, family drama, financial strain, childcare duties, and chronic illness can all take a toll on your body’s ability to cope with stress, by constantly stimulating your psychophysiological pathways.

The placebo effect is another well-documented feature of the mind-body connection. The placebo effect occurs when a person believes they have received a therapy that they have not actually received, and they have an improvement in symptoms despite the fact that nothing therapeutic was actually administered. Some studies have reported placebo benefits upwards of 70% and others have had cases of complete, permanent resolution of symptoms. Typically, a placebo is measured by giving patients dummy pills.

Eczema And Anxiety: Understanding The Relationship

The higher rate of anxiety among eczema sufferers was thought to be a result of stress and embarrassment from the skin lesions. Now, new research suggests more of a vicious circle of anxiety actually exacerbating eczema. The dermatology study group at Yonsei University College in South Korea demonstrated that eczema patients had higher levels of neuropeptide Y and nerve growth factor in their epidermis and dermis (skin layers) as compared to healthy controls, people who did not have eczema.

Those patients with the highest levels of neuropeptide Y and nerve growth factor had more pruritis (itching) and also reported more stress and anxiety on their questionnaires. When your body experiences stress it activates the HPA axis, which is comprised of your hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal glands.

They in turn produce signals that tell the immune system to manufacture Type 2 T helper cells (Th2) which release neurotrophin and neuropeptide. The neurotrophin and neuropeptide create changes in the skin barrier and lower the itch threshold. In summary, stress and your body’s response to that stress lead to a chain of biochemical reactions in the body which lead to an environment more at risk for developing eczema and worsening eczema symptoms, specifically itchiness.

Ways To Reduce Stress Naturally

1. Meditation:

Meditation is a way to slow down the processing in the frontal lobe of your brain, where higher thinking and an active mind takes place. Many people will mull over their problems and worries, keeping the brain active and sending those psychophysiological messages to other parts of their body, including their immune system and skin. During meditation, people focus on their breathing, a visualization, a phrase called a mantra, or a positive feeling. Meditation trains your brain to keep from wandering into negative thinking or anxious worry.

2) Tai chi, qi gong, and yoga:

Tai chi, qi gong, and yoga are gentle exercises that promote the activation of your parasympathetic nervous system and halt your sympathetic nervous system (flight or fight). When you are in a parasympathetic state your body can digest, relax, rest, and repair. All of these exercise forms have an emphasis on breathing and some elements of meditation.

3) Biofeedback:

Biofeedback is a treatment administered by a trained professional that teaches your body to stop the stress response when presented with a stimulus. It is a form of reconditioning that can help with anxiety or depression and is also useful for helping to control hypertension and ADD/ADHD. Non-invasive heart rate and brain wave monitors are used to help modify physiological patterns. The patient can watch visualizations and then alter their breathing and thinking patterns to change their heart rate, brain waves, and even pain perception.

4) Psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy:

Psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy can help people learn how to modify their reactions to stressors. A primary principle of cognitive behavioral therapy is for the patient to be able to observe and recognize their thoughts and mood so that they are then able to make adjustments towards a healthier emotional response.

For example, if a person were to get a bad review from their boss they might feel angry, disappointed, nervous, and embarrassed. Psychotherapy teaches you to validate those feelings but then recognize that they will not improve the situation, enabling a shift to problem-solve instead of stagnant negative thinking.

Nutrients And Herbs To Reduce Anxiety And Improve Mood

1. Theanine:

Theanine is a molecule found in green tea that reduces the stimulation of glutamate receptors in the brain, promoting relaxation and improving mental focus. The structure of theanine is similar to amino acids. It has been discovered to reduce the death of neurons (nerve cells inside the brain) from overstimulation and oxidative stress. The dosing for anxiety is 50 to 100mg twice daily.

2) Inositol:

Inositol is a nutrient often classified in the B vitamin, although the body can synthesize it, so it is not considered essential. Inositol is both calming and hormone-balancing. It’s also been shown to help women with polycystic ovarian syndrome, indicating possible deficiency or genetic utilization difficulties in that population. Inositol is found in food, especially citrus fruits, and melons. Dosing is 1 gram taken three times per day.

3) Passion flower (passiflora incarnate):

Passionflower (passiflora incarnate) is an herb long used to calm the nerves of anxious people. The flowers and leaves of passiflora have constituents, including indole alkaloids and coumarins, which are anti-spasmodic and mildly sedating. The dose for anxiety is a tea of 1 teaspoon per cup of water, 1 ml of a 1:5 tincture, or 2 grams of the solid herb taken three times daily. Passionflower should not be used long-term or in high doses during pregnancy as it contains harmaline, which can stimulate the uterus.

Additional Resources

Eczema Free is an ebook with natural, easy-to-follow recommendations to improve and even eradicate eczema. Decreasing your stress response will improve your health and can improve your eczema. In addition, it is also essential to learn proper nutrition, learn how to detoxify your body, and natural methods to calm your immune system.

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