The Inflammation is NOT Your Fault
Photos by Martine Destin, Eduardo Cano Photo, and Lucija Ros (via Unsplash) respectively.
From both the individual and collective perspective, we are experiencing a holistic trauma.
Systemically, our bodies are experiencing higher levels of stress and anxiety that we may be having difficulty regulating. Simply put: because we are cruising safely one moment, while we are tucked at home, and then bombarded with perceivably threatening stimuli once we interact with our external environment, our bodies' natural response to self-correct is thrown off. Now, if this is not you, I am pleased for you but recognize there are thousands who are wholly overwhelmed and overloaded. Now, I do not claim to be an expert but data supports my following statements.*
*I will get scientific for a second because I love science but if you hear for skin-related issues, you can skip to the bottom*
Our autonomic nervous system is devised of the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system which are linked to our body (and mind's) ability to physiologically respond to stress.
The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is known for its "fight-or-flight" mode which detects potential threats in the environment and signals to the brain/body to react. Typically, the SNS is stimulated, which in turn mobilizes your body to take action in order to survive. The problem, however, occurs when the mind/body is constantly hyper-aroused as in the case of a collective, comprehensive macro-trauma such as a global pandemic. In which case, your sympathetic nervous system may feel aroused on a consistent basis, as it's cascaded with information and cannot de-escalate.
This, in turn makes it more difficult for you to get into the true parasympathetic response of relaxing and inhibits the countering of stress.
Our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which is responsible for the "rest and digest" function of our autonomic nervous system, works in conjunction with the SNS when triggered by stimuli perceived as stress in the environment. This system organizes in a way to conserve energy and promote rest in order for the body to regulate (heart rate and function, metabolism, and digestion to name a few). Your body/mind is meant to "return" to a restful state once threats are gone; but as in the case of the current pandemic, functions may be disrupted, leading to chronic stress. It may seem temporary, yet some sources suggest there may still be damaging effects from the psychological and emotional trauma of this pandemic. So, what does this mean?
How does stress create inflammation?
Research suggests over-activity within the PNS can have a direct impact on your body's physiology (i.e. digestion, blood circulation, immune system, hormones, etc). Chronic stress on the autonomic nervous system can trigger inflammation which is from the backfiring of a stress hormone, cortisol. Inflammation is your body's natural defense when anything goes awry, so it is a necessary response to defends against internal and/or external threats that may cause you harm.
Simply put, the inflammation you are experiencing due to being flooded with stress is not your fault.
We are in a global pandemic and in such unchartered territory that we are unable to accurately and with absolute certainty assess our environment and understand what is safe or not. Even if we abide by the regulations implemented by the WHO, CDC, or our national government, we still cannot be sure that we will be unscathed by this virus. Truth be told, it is not entirely in our control right now to know what to do but WE can control how we are responding - mindfully, compassionately, and safely as we continue our efforts to flatten the curve.
What does this inflammation mean for the health of my skin?
As previously mentioned, your body (and immune system) is working overtime right now to support you in warding off perceived threats. The body's natural inflammatory response to stress is necessary to keep you safe when properly regulated. However, too much of this inflammation and too much stress will suppress your immune system, cause pain, constrict blood flow and impair respiratory function, and cause many other mind/body/skin disruptions. Now, how does this show up on your skin?
When your inflammatory response is triggered and cannot de-escalate enough, the excess inflammation can misdirect to healthy parts of the body such as cells that build the skin which in turn can cause your skin to feel the damage. This may show up in the form of a rash, a nasty breakout, redness, and irritation, or sensitivities to name a few.
PLUS, right now with our excess personal hygiene practices, our skin's natural ability to repair itself and regulate is burdened. We may potentially be depleting our skin's natural protective barriers with excessive sanitation and without replenishing by re-hydrating. Therefore, inflammation is exacerbated. This can all be managed, with proper practices internally and externally through a holistic approach.
So what can you do?
1. Develop and PRACTICE personal self-regulation techniques to reduce stress, first and foremost - practice being present in the moment by repeating mantras like "I am here now", place your feet on the ground and focus on where you are standing or sitting, or meditate/do gentle yoga if that is in your practice. Do not expect to get it all right and do not pressure yourself to perform... just practice de-escalating stressful thought patterns/levels (sometimes, that may mean SLEEP!).
2. Maintain balance and lean into your intuition about your nourishment - note, I will not say "balance your diet" because I personally DO NOT. Sometimes, it may be necessary, especially during a pandemic, to soothe yourself with a little chocolate...as we know, an overindulgence (consistently) can lead to more inflammation, a weaker immune system, poor digestion, and a lack of sleep... but case in point... do what you can to wholesome nourish yourself to support a healthy, functioning immune system.
3. Release tension/get your body and FACE moving - movement can be cathartic and help keep your lymph moving and naturally detoxifying which supports your first line of defense against disease... a facial massage or facial gua sha will also support your overall lymph detoxification and help regulate your skin's health.
4. Maintain healthy boundaries; while you may be PHYSICALLY distancing, you may notice you are leaning on the information you find in the media to feed into your feelings of vulnerability, impacting your stress levels. You can distance yourself from sources that are not feeding your soul, so to speak, and that may include some people in your personal life. However, isolation does not need to feel LONELY and if you are feeling alone or bouts of loneliness, make sure to communicate with someone you can trust and depend on to help you or refer you to get help if needed
5. From the "superficial/topical" perspective: use nourishing, calming, soothing, and protecting ingredients in your skincare routine. Look to nature's way of soothing as an indication of what you can use for your skin. This includes calming botanicals like aloe, licorice root, chamomile, lavender, blue tansy, cilantro, turmeric, red wine extract, and oat to name a few. Moreover, look for healthy fats like omega 3s and 6s as well as Vitamins A, C, and E. Natural ingredients with anti-inflammatory/anti-oxidant properties can be used both topically and internally and can aid your body in fighting infection and inflammation.
I truly do not say this often and therefore have a lot of weight on this statement: I have a holy grail product and as of right now, it is STILL the only ONE product that I believe is worth its weight in gold because of how nurturing, healing, and energetically magical it is. The Blue Cocoon* from May Lindstrom was introduced to me 2 years ago and since I have had it, my skin and life have never been the same.
I watched a client/friend go from rash-like irritation from one facial treatment to soothed and balanced with no reactivity in only a few weeks from a simple swap to a new cleanser, Aloe Cleansing Gel* from Naturopathica
Some of my most favorite moments include when I first received Osea a few years back, it was a time in my life when I made the full switch to "cleaner" products and this small, family-owned, West Coast brand spoke to me. The Ocean Cleanser is one of my tried and true for its calming benefits that derive from sea plants.
If you're interested in learning more about what your skin could benefit from and have specific questions, a 30 Minute Consultation with me could be helpful to guide you to making an informed decision for your skin's optimal health
Thanks for reading along, if you're still here! I hope you are healthy and safe.
* As a disclaimer, the affiliate links are for me to recommend you directly to brand I personally choose, work with, love and trust. As a "thank you", the company will pay a small percentage out of their pockets for my referral to you which is helping supplement income during times of unemployment. I will ONLY list products that I fully believe in or know are trusted by my peers (other professionals). Thank you for supporting!