We often hear that some of our conditions and diseases are affected by stress, and we see that as a rather abstract fact which we underestimate. But, how does stress affect skin conditions?
The truth is that the skin is the largest sensory organ in humans. It has an area of one and a half to two square meters and makes up about a sixth of body weight. It protects the body from external influences and reacts to stimuli such as touch, pressure, temperature, and light. In numerous phrases, the skin is also called the “mirror of the soul”. It can blush with anger or shame, turn pale with fright, or sweat with fear. In stressful situations, cortisol or adrenaline are released. This causes vasodilation and the skin is supplied with more blood. Stress also stimulates an increase in keratinocytes – the skin cells that produce the layer required to protect the skin.
Psychological stress can massively worsen some skin diseases. Worries and anger promote psoriasis, neurodermatitis and other inflammations – and use them to derive advice for those affected.
Stress system in an imbalance
Psoriasis is a genetic disease, but not everyone who has one or more of these gene mutations gets sick. It is primarily triggered by exogenous factors. One of the most important is physical or emotional stress.
But in what ways do mental exertions go “under the skin”? According to doctors and psychologists, chronic stress unbalances the body’s defenses – especially when suitable coping strategies are lacking. If we get into a stressful situation, the nervous, hormonal and immune systems react with a complicated compensatory mechanism. On the one hand, the body releases more stress hormones such as adrenaline and noradrenaline. They increase heartbeat rate and blood pressure – which prepares us for a possible escape. In addition, the hormones initiate inflammatory processes: cells of the immune system migrate from the blood into the tissue in order to attack potential pathogens there.
A little later, the hormone cortisol comes into play. One of the tasks of the stress hormone is to reduce the inflammation caused by adrenaline and noradrenaline. Chronic stress, especially in childhood, can shift the balance of these two stress responses. So, it can happen that the body eventually does not produce enough cortisol. If those affected are then exposed to severe psychological stress, the resulting inflammation is no longer a surprise -which gives a free ticket for psoriasis.
Experts suspect that strong skin stimuli can promote the onset of psoriasis. After all, the red spots and scales mostly show up first on the hands, elbows, and knees. These parts of the body are most often exposed to stressful influences such as pressure, friction or UV radiation. The skin is put under stress from the outside. This can lead to the formation of plaques.
Especially in autumn and winter, the skin and organism have to struggle with weather-related temperature differences and diminishing lighting conditions. In addition, physical stress caused by bacterial or viral upper respiratory infections can increase the likelihood of psoriasis.