Rebecca Fearn on managing ‘anxiety skin’Working in beauty, I’ve always felt a certain pressure to have good skin. There’s no bigger compliment than being surrounded by peers and receiving positive comments about the condition of your skin; it’s sort of an unspoken expectation of working in this industry. We have access to the very best products, experts and treatments, so it’s a given we have clear complexions, right? The problem for me is that my skin can be a little unpredictable. While on the whole I’m happy with its condition, it has been known to flare up on occasion, and the number one factor I blame for this is my mental state.

Anxiety has always affected my physical health as well as my mental health. I can recall countless visits to the doctor’s office where I’d complain of sick bugs, tonsillitis and endless colds, and was convinced I was always getting so sick because there was a more serious underlying physical cause. But after the tests all came back negative I was told what deep down I knew had always been true: that my mental health was wreaking havoc on my physical health. Because here’s the thing: anxiety really does affect you in unexpected ways, such as making you physically unwell. It can also change the condition of your skin in a big way. We all know that stress has an impact on our outer appearance as well as our emotional wellbeing, often making us look tired or rundown. But what about when you have severe anxiety like me? What exactly does that do to the skin?

Working in beauty, I’ve always felt a certain pressure to have good skin.

“Anxiety and stress can have a negative impact on the condition of your skin in a number of ways,” says Nicky Lidbetter, CEO of Anxiety UK. Lidbetter explains that the side effects and symptoms of having anxiety can be the main culprits. Not getting enough sleep due to anxiety, for example, is a big deal. “Restless nights and lack of sleep can have a direct effect on your skin and complexion often resulting in spots and other problems,” she confirms. I, for one can definitely attest to this. When I’m in a state of panic and suffer with bouts of insomnia, my skin is the first thing to suffer, looking dull, sallow and spotty. Lidbetter also mentions that mental health conditions such as my own, “can trigger certain compulsive behaviours such as dermatillomania (compulsive skin picking disorder).” Touching my face nervously and incessantly picking when I am stressed? Yep, that’s something I’m also guilty of.

In terms of how anxiety as a condition directly affects your skin, it’s not good news either. “Anxiety and stress can constrict blood vessels which would limit the nutrients and oxygen your skin receives,” explains REN Clean Skincare Global Ambassador David Delport. In addition to this, stress increases the levels of the hormone cortisol, which in turn “can thin the skin, elevate blood sugar and cause bone loss”, adds Dr Perricone, founder or Dr Perricone skincare.

But while anxiety clearly takes a toll on skin, there are ways to combat the problem. From speaking to experts it’s clear a double-pronged approach is best here; while targeting the root causes of anxiety itself is key, taking good care of your skin (even if you are feeling down and don’t feel like it like I often do) is essential.

Skincare-wise, I’ve personally found that maintaining a consistent skincare routine has helped most. Skin that’s stressed doesn’t need to be bombarded with loads of new products and endless routines. Keeping things simple has always worked for me. I take a cleanse-serum-moisturise approach, usually beginning with a balm cleanser like the Elemis Pro-Collagen Cleansing Balm, then double cleansing with Alpha-H’s Balancing Cleanser, which calms my skin down instantly. I’ll then use a hyaluronic-rich serum and moisturiser to finish. If my skin is really in a bad way, I turn to the Sarah Chapman Liquid Facial De-Stress to cool and refresh, as well as Ren’s Evercalm range, which is super gentle and kind to skin.

In terms of targeting anxiety itself, Lidbetter recommends incorporating mindfulness and meditation into daily life, and trying talking therapy treatments like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to try and control the symptoms. She also believes that ‘getting to know your anxiety’ to try and manage it is most beneficial, which for me is crucial. I know what my triggers are, I know how my illness works, and I know how best to deal with it now. It’s an ongoing journey, but taking it day by day and managing things as I go has been the best form of management for both my mind and what I’ve come to call my ‘anxiety skin’.

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