We know that stress is often a factor when it comes to skin conditions and health conditions, but most people don’t realize the huge role that the nervous system plays when it comes to our skin health.
Almost everyone who experiences these skin conditions will try everything that they can to heal their skin. I was even there myself at one point with my own skin. At that time, I had no clue where to begin, especially because I was getting so much mixed advice from way too many different sources. I heard:
- Heal your gut, first
- No, actually we need to balance your hormones
- Take ALL of these supplements
- No, that won’t work, take this medication instead
It’s no wonder that people get so confused when trying to heal their skin.
Through my own healing journey, I started realizing the extreme importance of nurturing my nervous system first, before trying to tackle any other system in the body. I was doing everything right physically, except dealing with my stress and emotions. As I started learning about stress, and the impact that it was having on my life at the time, I began to learn about the nervous system. This new epiphany inspired a whole new round of education for myself. I wanted to understand this system more – how it works and how to heal it, and so, that’s what I did.
When we are stressed all the time, we can begin to connect the dots and see that it is stress that might be causing the majority of our symptoms. At this point, most people think that they need to cut out ALL stress, but in reality, everyone knows that is impossible, so they get overwhelmed and just keep running on the hamster wheel of stress.
The key to healing is focusing on the nervous system first, before we start racing to balance everything else. We need to kick start our body’s healing ability, and create resiliency within the mind and the body.
The nervous system has a huge impact on our overall body health, and our skin health, so it’s really important that we understand this system.
The Nervous System
The nervous system is the control centre of the body that sends and receives signals within the body about our environment. You can think of the nervous system like a computer, where the brain is the software responsible for making decisions and all of the nerves in the body are the wiring and hardware that need to communicate each decision, movement and action with the rest of the body.
In partnership with the endocrine system (hormonal system), the nervous system works to control every activity in the human body.
Our nervous system holds the key to the body’s innate ability to heal itself. It controls and coordinates all of the organs and structures of the human body, including the skin. As I always say, the beauty industry teaches us that skin is strictly external, but this can’t be further from the truth. Every single system in our body is connected. No system in the body works alone, meaning the skin does not work alone either. When one system is out of balance, a domino effect occurs.
Signs Your Nervous System is Out of Balance
- Skin Inflammtion, such as acne, rosacea, eczema, psoriasis, etc.
- Digestive Issues
- Shallow, Fast, Chest Breathing
- Jaw Clenching and/or Teeth Grinding
- Poor Sleep Quality and/or Insomnia
- Short-Tempered, Reactive, Easily Angered or Agitated
- Fast Pulse and Heartbeat, Even During Rest
The Nervous System and Skin Conditions
Every time I see any form of skin condition, whether it be congestion, breakouts, eczema, or any other form of skin inflammation, I know the client’s nervous system needs attention first. Any sort of inflammation tells us that the body has been stuck in the sympathetic nervous system (also known as “fight or flight”) and may be stuck in a biological program that keeps reactivating.
When the nervous system is imbalanced and we are in the sympathetic nervous system too often (either from high stress, chronic stress or a biological program), the body begins to breakdown. This explains why people often look run down and age so rapidly during times of stress.
When our sympathetic nervous system is overactive:
- collagen and elastin breakdown and cannot work efficiently
- heart beat and blood pressure increase
- breath becomes shallow
- digestion and digestive enzyme production drastically slow down
- lack of ability to absorb sufficient nutrients
- liver health and enzyme production decrease
- the lymphatic system becomes compromised
- adrenaline, cortisol and blood pressure rise
- poor sleeping habits or insomnia
Reading through this list, I’m sure you can begin to understand why skin conditions may occur during times of stress, and why it’s hard to heal the body when our sympathetic nervous system is overactive or we have unresolved conflicts in our lives.
You can also begin to see why this system should be your first system of focus. Yes, digestive health and lymphatic health are often the topic of focus in the naturopathic industry, but, as you can see above, when the nervous system is out of balance, both the digestive system and lymphatic system become compromised. Because of this, no matter how well you’re trying to take care of these two systems, you’re not going to be fully successful at healing them if your nervous system is out of balance.
You can be eating the healthiest, most holistic diet possible, but if your body is in the sympathetic nervous system and is not producing the digestive enzymes needed to break that food down, or absorb the nutrients from it, you’re not going to fully benefit from that diet, until you take care of your nervous system. The same scenario applies to the lymphatic system.
This was the issue I had in my own healing journey. It seemed like I was doing everything right… I was eating the perfect diet. I was exercising. I was using a minimalist skin care routine and massaging my face. All of this was right, only it wasn’t working as effective as it should have, because I was living with chronic stress and my nervous system was completely out of balance because of it.
Healing the Nervous System
Healing the nervous system takes time. It’s not something that can be done quickly. When we experiencing chronic stress or any sort of trauma, the nervous system often stays in that state long after our mind does. As a society, we busy the mind by endlessly scrolling through social media, or staying constantly busy to distract ourselves from our feelings. While we can pretend to avoid our feelings mentally, the nervous system does not forget about our past until we heal it or use healthy, holistic tools that can help override the nervous system and heal it.
Here are some great ways to heal and balance your nervous system:
- Re-evaluate toxic relationships and environments
- Look for unresolved conflicts in your life (what thoughts keep you awake a night – this will give you insight into what needs resolving).
- Address excessive stress
- Breathwork and other Somatic Healing Practices
- Set Strong Boundaries in Your Life
- Develop a Consistent Sleep Routine (8-9 hours a night)
- Nervine Herbs and Adaptogens
- Light Exercise like Yoga and Stretching
- Limit Caffeine Intake
- Limit Alcohol
- Limit Toxin and Chemical Exposure
- Acknowledge Uncomfortable Emotions
- Experience Joy and Have Fun
- Support Your Weaknesses
- Nourish Your Body
By implementing as many of these tips as possible, we can activate the parasympathetic nervous system (“rest and digest” or “heal and regenerate”).
When We Activate the Parasympathetic Nervous System:
- collagen and elastin production is stimulated
- heart beat and blood pressure decrease
- breath becomes slower and deeper
- digestion and digestive enzyme increase
- liver health and enzyme production increase
- adrenaline, cortisol and blood pressure decrease
- better quality sleep
Healing the Nervous System
When it comes to skin conditions, like acne, the first three things we want to focus on are:
- Lymphatic system to clear out cellular waste and toxins
- Nervous system regulation (Somatic Healing) to ignite inner-healing
- A minimalist skin care routine to respect, heal and replenish the protective barrier and microbiome