• Cultural stress and your skin


    By Dr. Howard Murad


    It’s 1:20 pm and Karen, a long-time client is late, yet again, for her 1:00 treatment. She rushes in, drops her things and collapses in your chair saying, “It’s been a crazy day, please help me relax.” You guide her through a few deep breaths, when her cell phone rings. She turns it off. You begin again. While her time is cut short, you do your best to provide excellent service. When her mask is on you reach for your Blackberry to check in with your son’s teacher. His report card is being emailed to you. You open it, gasp at the grades and think—how can he get into college with these grades? Your heartbeat accelerates. You are distracted. All you can think about is finishing with your client so you can call the school. In the meantime, a note from the receptionist slides under your door alerting you that the computer system has gone down and the remaining appointments for the week have been deleted — PLEASE COME TO THE FRONT DESK AFTER YOU ARE FINISHED…

    If you can relate to this scene, you are experiencing a new type of stress which I have coined, “Cultural Stress.” Cultural stress is pervasive stress and it thrives in today’s world. The word stress as it relates to emotions became part of our vocabulary in the 1950′s. It originated with the onset of the Cold War. During this time, we had a fear of atom bombs so we built bomb shelters; but as a society, we could not say we were afraid, therefore we called it “stress.”

    In the years since then, stress has evolved. Cultural stress started infiltrating our lives 20 years ago, as we became more technologically savvy and prosperous. And it doesn’t affect only adults – cultural stress starts young and is initiated by parents. New parents are often anxious about getting their child into the best preschool. In fact, it’s common for unborn children to be placed on a preschool wait list. The next focus is on ensuring that the child is enrolled in all the right extra-curricular activities — from preschool through high school. This cycle puts pressure on children to excel at a very young age, while placing a burden on the parents to make more money to pay for the education and extra-curricular activities.

    This scenario coupled with our society’s increasing affluence has a far-reaching domino effect. In order to make more money to pay for all the activities we are involved in, we are working longer hours. According to a U.S. government report, Americans now put in more hours on the job — an average of 47 hours per week —than workers in any other industrial nation.
    The more money we make, the more things we buy and this phenomenon extends well beyond possessions. As we have become a more informed society, we are more aware of the endless possibilities available to us in the form of clubs, lifestyles, diets and leisure activities, to name just a few. All of this has put a great strain on our health and well-being, especially since the vast majority of us are barely keeping up.

    As a result of this pursuit to stay ahead, people are experiencing extreme levels of on the-job stress. According to the federal government’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 40% of workers find their jobs stressful, and 75% of people surveyed believe their jobs are more stressful now than a generation ago.
    Our busy, on-the-go lives have created yet another problem. We have no time to cook at home, and so we have grown accustomed to eating out. Those who eat in restaurants are faced with the stress of choosing a restaurant and making a reservation or sometimes waiting an hour or more for a table.

    Others become reliant on unhealthy fast-food meals, as a matter of fact The American College of Nutrition reported that 46% of expenditure on food items was spent on unhealthy fast food. In either case, we are consuming more processed foods than ever, and eating foods high in sugar and saturated fats. This can cause glycation, making us more susceptible to diabetes. Refined foods also contribute to poor brain function and depression, and we often combat this with caffeine to stay awake and prescription sleep aids to help us sleep. Our national sleep deficit has resulted in an astounding 42 million prescriptions in sleep aids in 2005, and over $9.2 billion in retail coffee sales.

    To help maintain mental and physical health, we need to eat complex carbohydrates from whole grains, fruits and vegetables —and good fats, especially Omega-3 Fatty Acids. These not only encourage water to be attracted to the cells, but are also a component of the cell membrane. In fact, recent studies have shown that Omega 3′s in our food may help decrease depression — a leading mental health disorder that has been linked to the constant and pervasive stress in our lives.


    Cultural stress and your skin


    As we who work with the skin know, all these conditions are reflected in the way the skin looks and feels.
    How does cultural stress affect your skin? First of all, any kind of stress causes a tremendous amount of nervous system activity. It can cause an outpouring of adrenaline, cortisol and other stress-related hormones. In recent years, I have observed an increase in rosacea and adult acne, which I believe are directly related to an increase in cultural stress. When you are stressed, researchers believe that the increase in certain hormones known to worsen acne, are released.
    Another skin condition that I believe may be attributed to cultural stress is an increase in facial hair among adult women. Hormonal shifts and the outpouring of androgens when you are stressed can cause you to lose hair, and it can also cause hair to suddenly appear in places where it didn’t previously exist.

    The good news is we can counteract cultural stress and improve our health both physically and emotionally with the ” Water Principle®.” Cultural stress contributes to damaged cell walls which in turn, allows the precious water that keeps them functioning to escape. The water loss has a myriad of effects. It causes our cells and connective tissue to break down, which prevents our heart, lungs, brain and other organs from functioning at optimal levels — all of which become apparent when you look at the skin.

    We can encourage more water in the cells and reduce cultural stress by addressing these 3 areas:

    -As the largest organ of the body, the skin is extremely responsive to topically applied products. By using the appropriate skincare regimen and professional spa treatments, you can address skincare concerns ranging from acne to wrinkles, while also preventing future damage.

    -With topical skincare, we address approximately 20% of the skin, the epidermis. The remaining 80%, the dermis, responds by feeding the skin from the inside. Eat a diet rich in raw fruits and vegetables and healthy fats such as those found in raw nuts and olive oil to promote healthy, hydrated cells. A dietary supplement is recommended to provide the body with a constant supply of essential nutrients.

    -Maintain connections with others, discover a passion such as painting or dancing. Reducing isolation promotes a healthy sense of self. In your treatment room, you are providing one of the most powerful tools for emotional care, the healing power of touch. Research from the renowned Touch Research Institute shows that it’s as beneficial to touch as it is to be touched. Massage is shown to increase weight gain in premature infants, alleviate depression, and positively alter the immune system.
    Cultural stress, whether caused by fear, overwork or too many options causing conflict in decision making, ultimately leads to isolation. I believe isolation to be one of the most prominent diseases in today’s world. Studies have shown that to reduce isolation, people need to have regular physical and social contact which reduces cultural stress, leading to happier, healthier lives.

    {…}Cultural stress is a part of life. It’s something that affects all of us, but it doesn’t have to overtake our life.

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