Mindfulness might be an effective tool in the battle against stress and anxiety but did you know it could also help your skin? Heather Stephen explains.
We spend half our life haring around doing a dozen different things at once but it can have disastrous effects on our skin. Studies have shown that the hormones we release when we’re anxious like cortisol and adrenalin can cause inflammation and aggravate conditions like psoriasis, acne, dermatitis and even alopecia (hair loss).
And there is evidence stress even gives us wrinkles because of the destructive effect cortisol has on collagen.
So what should we do to relax our constantly racing minds and give our looks a boost? Well, we could do worse than the gentle art of mindfulness.
This form of meditation retrains the brain to pay attention to the present and switch off from upsetting thoughts and worries.
“Becoming mindful helps us to be more clearly aware of the thoughts that go through our minds and the way we respond emotionally to events,” wrote clinical psychologist Dr Jane Hutton in a review for the Dermatological Nursing journal.
“And this helps us decide how best to address the issues we can do something about and to develop greater acceptance of those things we cannot change.”
How does it help?
Mindfulness teacher Julie Stannard, based at the Horder Centre in East Sussex, says: “Mindfulness has been shown to help skin conditions as it reduces stress and helps the immune system to work better.
“Researchers have found people who have attended mindfulness training and have shown significant improvement in their psoriasis, have been found to have an increase in the brain’s cortical layer which is responsible for attention.”
And she adds: “Other studies have shown people practising mindfulness have double the antibodies in their blood to other people and this helps boost their immune system and reduce inflammation.”
According to the review in Dermatological Nursing research on patients with psoriasis has found less depression amongst those practising mindfulness. It is thought to be helpful as it can break the vicious cycle of anxiety and depression that makes you miserable and, in turn, your skin worse.
And, according to the same review, doctors think it could even stimulate the areas of the brain which regulate emotion helping you to cope with a distressing condition like psoriasis or acne.
How do I do it?
You can try it through meditation classes, books, online workshops and there are even some brilliant apps to help you achieve that sought after state of mind.
- The Mental Health Foundation says best results are achieved through an eight week Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) course. And you can find a qualified mindfulness teacher here: http://www.mindfulnessteachersuk.org.uk/.
- If you don’t want to go along to a class the Foundation offers an online version http://bemindful.co.uk/learn-mindfulness/ or tech lovers could try the well-established app Headspace which has exercises to help you apply mindfulness to everyday life www.headspace.com
- If you’re more into selfhelp manuals read ‘Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World’ by Mark Williams and Danny Penman https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mindfulness-practical-guide-finding-frantic/dp/074995308X.
Clinical psychologist Professor Williams helped to devise Mindfulness- Based Cognitive Therapy 15 years ago and now carries out research on how to train mindfulness teachers.
His book includes a CD and follows MBCT principles to give guided meditations you can do for 10 minutes a day.
- And if you still need more help the mental health charity MIND has lots of information on the benefits of mindfulness and how to practise it at www.mind.org.uk
What can I try?
You don’t need to sit cross legged in your yoga pants to practise mindfulness.
MIND says you can do it by paying attention to everyday activities like brushing your teeth or sipping a coffee.
And the charity says daily short sessions are more productive than occasional long ones so try to make time for a little mindfulness each day – just a few minutes to begin with, building up as you go.
You could focus on:
- The taste, look and texture of your evening meal
- How your body feels as you walk along the street
- The sounds and sensations of taking a shower
- The feeling and taste of brushing your teeth
During this exercise you should pay attention to how you feel during the activity, notice when your mind wanders and gently return to the present by focusing on your breathing. You should be aware and accept any emotions without judgement and finally be kind to yourself. Mindfulness can take time to master so don’t be too hard on yourself if your mind drifts.
It may not be easy but your mind and body – including your skin – may thank you for it.