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Stress and the Skin

By: Kirsten Sheridan
Posted: June 23, 2008, from the June 2006 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

Stress-free or stressed to the max—which is better for you? You may be surprised to learn that the answer is neither, really; it is all about balance. In this crazy world in which stress often is the norm, your clients are seeking better ways to cope. Fast food, alcohol, caffeine, nicotine and sugar continue to be commonplace solutions for dealing with stress, but, more and more, clients are seeking fewer of these negative and short-term outlets, and are replacing them with healthy lifestyle changes, such as nutrition, exercise and meditation.

What is stress?

So, what is stress, and why does it have such a powerful effect on the body and mind? For better or worse, this tension is a daily reminder of the nervous system’s ability to assure you of its presence, as well as its overwhelming ability to control the ways you think and feel. The term “stress” refers to both positive and negative effects on the body and mind, but more often is perceived as a harmful condition. Stress is defined as the body’s response to any demand placed on it. A stressor—which can be either internal or external—triggers it.

Fortunately, not all stress is negative. “Eustress” is the term used to signify good stress—there really is such a thing! Eustress provides the body and psyche with motivation, and spurs improved performance. For example, do you remember the anxiety you felt before taking your state board examination for certification? Without feeling a little pressure to pass it, your performance may have been inhibited. Eustress can provide focus, and prevent life from becoming mundane and boring. Negative stress rightfully is defined as “distress,” which eventually can lead to disease if it is excessive. Positive and negative reactions can accumulate and result in chronic stress.

The nervous system

OK, so what about those everyday stressors? You are late for work, you can’t find your keys, your in-laws are coming for a visit—these all add up. A lot of these little things literally can become a giant pain in the neck.

The nervous system plays a leading role in the management of stress. It is a complex system that is comprised of two principal divisions: the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system. The central nervous system is composed of the brain and spinal cord, and is the control center for the entire nervous system. The peripheral nervous system is composed of spinal and cranial nerves, and has two subdivisions: the somatic nervous system and the autonomic nervous system. The somatic nervous system is controlled consciously and, therefore, controls voluntary activity. The autonomic nervous system involves involuntary actions that aren’t governed by conscious control.