The Mind-Body Connection: How Stress Impacts Your Skin

A guest blog from Jennifer Austin, a psychotherapist and solution-focused hypnotherapist who has personal experience of living with eczema, and specialises in working with clients on the mind-body connection.

As an eczema and TSW warrior, I’m all too aware of the many, many products available for dry or eczema-prone skin: how much money do we all spend trying to find that one miracle product?!

Of course, while creams and lotions play an important part in managing eczema flares, and finding the right product can bring much needed relief, the profound connection between our mental health and our skin means that we need to address not just the skin, but our minds too.

woman with tattoos with her head in her hands reflecting stress
This mind-body connection means that emotional turmoil or stress manifests on our skin in various ways. When we’re stressed, our body releases cortisol, a hormone designed to help us cope with immediate threats. Cortisol's main function is to redirect the body's resources to address the danger: for example, if you bumped into a predator, your body needs all your resources to focus on increasing your heart rate. This is to pump blood around the body, to run away faster.

Things like digesting your food, or reproduction, are no longer a priority, hence why we can experience irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and low sex drive when stressed.

The cortisol-induced fight or flight response, while beneficial in short bursts, can have harmful effects when the body is subjected to prolonged periods of stress. The hormonal upheaval can exacerbate or trigger an array of skin conditions, demonstrating how crucial it is to manage stress for the sake of our skin's health!

image of a woman showing real skin prone to stress reactions
What Does Stress Actually Do To Us?

Stress hormones stimulate the oil glands, clogging pores and increasing acne. It increases the histamine response, making us feel itchier. Our body also has an inflammatory response to stress, exacerbating eczema and psoriasis. Chronic stress even impairs the skin’s ability to retain moisture, which leads to more dryness and slows down wound healing. This causes more broken skin, making us more susceptible to infections. Stress often also releases adrenaline, which can be a direct cause of hives.


STRESS = Cortisol release = Histamine + inflammation = Itching, dryness, flare ups = STRESS


Skin is not just a protective barrier, it’s directly linked to our nervous system, which is made up of our brain and spinal cord. Our skin connects the nervous, immune, cutaneous and endocrine functions.

If you have sensitive skin, stress will likely impact your skin more than other people, as it’s more impacted by the disrupted delicate balance of hormones. Once the cortisol is in your system, we can’t stop the itchy response - but you can learn to change your response to stress!

How Can We Build Stress Resilience?

Building resilience to cope with stressful situations will result in less cortisol being released, and fewer effects in your body and on your skin. We can reduce our stress response by training our brain not to perceive things as threats.

What does this mean? If you’re anything like me, your skin condition has seriously impacted your ability to do things: it’s made day-to-day life more difficult. For me, having a shower was painful and stressful, so over time my brain learnt to react even to the idea of a shower as a threat. I ended up having panic attacks trying to get in the shower. Through therapy, we can slowly teach our brain that these things are not real threats.

looking over the shoulder of a woman with headphones writing in a journal
Here are some techniques you can start to practise today to increase your resilience to stress:

1. Journal the good things

When something makes you smile, you produce serotonin. This is your ‘feel-good’ chemical; it makes us feel happier, and helps us cope better with physical pain or fear. Your brain processes imagination and reality in a very similar way, so thinking back over the good things at the end of the day, helps trigger serotonin production all over again! Every night before you go to sleep, write down as many things as you can that made you smile that day, no matter how small. A good cup of tea, your fluffy dressing gown, a meme your friend sent… Not only will you produce more serotonin, but you are also training your brain to notice good things more frequently.

2. Prioritise your sleep

Sleep is when we process the events of the day, diffusing the stress and anxiety. If you don’t get enough good quality REM sleep, you spend more time in your fight or flight mode and are more likely to think negatively. (You can download a free hypnosis sleep track here.)

3. Look forward

Every morning when you wake up, take a moment to either think about, or write down, all the things you are looking forward to that day. People think dopamine is the reward chemical, but it’s actually released in anticipation of the event. So thinking about anything you’re looking forward to not only increases dopamine, but trains your brain to focus on things going well for you. Just like if you wake up and tell yourself “it’s going to be an awful day”, your brain will be wired to focus on every negative thing that happens. Your brain will look for evidence for whatever you tell it.

4. Celebrate!

This is also great for increasing motivation. When you do a task, whether it’s sending an email or emptying the dishwasher, anything you felt challenged to do but did anyway, celebrate! Put your hands over your head and say “YES!” Do a little dance, give yourself a hug. Over time, your brain will associate the completion of tasks with this feeling of satisfaction and success, making them easier to do in the future.

5. Name your fight/flight brain

Your overthinking, negative, fight/flight brain often lies to you. It might tell you that you’re not doing enough, or not strong or worthy. This part of your brain doesn’t care if you’re happy, it only cares that you are alive. Name it something that makes you smile. My clients have used Eric, Helen or Karen. This gives us something to blame. It helps us separate our thoughts, from reality, or our emotions. So next time your brain tells you, you’re not doing enough, or you're lazy and boring, you can literally say out loud “Shut up Eric!” Interrupting the thoughts, making us question if they are true, and making us smile, because it feels silly!

woman dancing or celebrating relating to positive steps to manage stress and build resilience
Building Resilience: A Comprehensive Approach To Wellness

As you navigate the stresses of life, remember that caring for our mental health is as important as the serums and creams we apply. By adopting a comprehensive approach to wellness that includes stress management, we not only nurture our minds but also provide our skin with the resilience it needs to thrive.


Jennifer Austin

Jennifer Austin (BSc, MSc, DSFH, HPD, AfSFH, GQHP, MNCH Reg) is a Clinical Solution Focused Hypnotherapist and Psychotherapist based in Norwich UK. She works with people all over the UK and beyond, is registered with the Association for Solution Focused Hypnotherapy and an Accredited member of the National Council for Hypnotherapy.


Balmonds suggestions for stressed skin...


acne dry skin eczema Expert Advice health & wellness mental health and skin mental wellness sensitive skin Skin Conditions skincare products tips and advice wellbeing

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