Educating patients during Stress Awareness Month
April is Stress Awareness Month. During this annual thirty-day campaign, healthcare professionals across the UK will be finding ways to increase public awareness about the causes and treatments for stress. Stress Awareness Month has been held every April since 1992 and whilst the day focuses on various different types of stress, there is very much a place for stress awareness when consulting with patients in the context of an aesthetic clinic.
Stress, as we know, can have a damaging effect on patients’ skin, causing premature ageing as well as aggravating chronic skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema.
This Stress Awareness Month, we advise on how you can educate your patients on the importance of keeping stress at bay.
How does stress affect skin?
Dr Stephanie Munn, Dermatology Clinical Lead at Bupa UK understands the connections between certain skin conditions and stress. She states;
“When you’re stressed, your body’s defence mechanism kicks in, releasing ‘stress hormones’. These affect different functions, like the flow of blood to your skin. A common sign of stress is skin irritation or a rash”.
Many patients may be unaware of how stress impacts on their skin’s health. As an aesthetic practitioner it is your job to help patients understand the multiple factors that could be impacting on areas of their body that they wish to alter. This is especially true in the case of skin related procedures as stress may impact on the success of a procedure, or patients may not be happy with the results despite your best efforts.
When consulting with patients it may be useful to explain to them that when the body experience stress, it responds in the same way it would when being threatened.
A signal is sent to the amygdala in the brain, which is responsible for regulating emotions. The amygdala then triggers a response in the hypothalamus and the stress hormone system. Through this, the stress hormone cortisol is released into the bloodstream. Cortisol causes a person to experience a ‘flight or fight’ response, which leads to a number of symptoms within the body. The release of these chemicals leads to inflammation, which can cause the skin to flare up and accelerate the ageing process.
What skin conditions arise from stress?
There are a number of skin conditions that can be exacerbated or brought on by stress. Educating your patients about these factors can help them to take steps to reduce or rectify problem skin symptoms. Potential skin conditions that can arise from stress include:
Stress can also contribute to premature ageing, causing lines, wrinkles and skin laxity. This is likely to be a concern for your patients who are already trying to combat these natural signs of getting older. It is useful to fully understand your patient’s medical history and symptoms to assess the best course of treatment and advise them accordingly.
Managing stress levels
To completely eradicate stress from one’s life is impossible and unrealistic, however, there are many ways in which it can be managed. In order to help your patients manage their stress and its subsequent influence on their skin, you can advise patients to take some simple steps to reduce their stress which will hopefully have a positive impact on their skin too.
Limit caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine
Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants and can therefore increase stress levels. Alcohol is a depressant and can also be responsible for enhancing stress symptoms. A great tip is to encourage patients to swap these stimulants for water, herbal and fruit teas, or diluted natural fruit juices. Keeping hydrated will not only enable the body to cope better with stress, but will encourage better skin heath.
Increase physical activity
Everybody knows the importance of physical exercise when it comes to everyday health, but it is particularly important when it comes to managing stress. The NHS report that physical activity is useful and successful in reducing stress levels. Based on a survey of 20,000 men and women in the UK (2008) results showed ‘that the more strenuous and frequent the activity, the greater the effect on mental health’. Since 2008 further studies have supported the strong positive correlation between exercise and the reduction of stress levels, again of great benefit to your body. What you do with your body can also have a powerful effect on your mental wellbeing.
Exercise can eradicate excessive stress hormones, therefore bringing calm back to the body and mind. Regular exercise will also improve the quality of patients’ sleep, which is also a key component in aiding skin health.
To help with stress, there are various relaxation techniques that can be used to calm the mind and reduce muscle tension. Mindfulness meditation is one way many people successfully manage stress. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing, and bringing your mind’s attention to the present moment.
Although Stress Awareness Month is the ideal time to educate patients on managing their stress, it is also a reminder of the importance of discussing this topic more frequently at any time of year. Make a conversation on stress part of your initial patient consultation and explain to patients how lowering it will enhance their results.
Taking an adequate medical history from your patients can help you to understand your patient, their motivations for treatment and any potential issues which may impact on this. If you suspect that stress levels may be playing a role in your patient’s choice of treatment it is important that you address this with them. Unfortunately, in some cases you may not be able to provide patients with the results that they desire and in these cases it is important to ‘say no’ to the patient, fully explaining your reasons for doing so.
However, for many patients intervening factors to reduce their stress levels may help to improve patient’s skin and overall wellbeing.
Read more about the importance of patient selection, obtaining consent and when to ‘say no’ to your patients in our comprehensive guides.
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