Breathe, walk, rest: eight mindfulness techniques to improve your complexion

Anxiety, lack of sleep and other stress triggers can lead to unhealthy levels of cortisol in the body, which results in dull, lifeless skin and a loss of elasticity. Regain your glow with these mind-calming techniques

by: Evie Leatham, for The Guardian

When our lives change in unexpected ways, as they did this year, stress can take its toll. Our normal routines are disrupted and we’re constantly wired as we juggle endless video calls, contemplate the latest news and grapple with the logistics of lockdown. We’re exercising less and worrying more. The result is that our shoulders are hunched, our jaws are tight and our minds are constantly whirring.

All that stress plays out on our skin too. Stress triggers the brain to release fight or flight hormones such as cortisol, which causes ageing inflammation throughout the body, and our skin – the body’s largest organ – is no exception. Acute periods of stress can trigger breakouts and flare-ups of skin conditions such as eczema, while chronic stress impacts skin every day as cortisol impairs its natural ability to heal itself. This disrupts the skin’s barrier function, which normally keeps moisture in and irritants out, leading to a dull complexion and noticeably dryer skin. Stress also increases free radicals, leading to ageing and a loss of elasticity and bounce. The good news is that products such as Lancôme’s Advanced Génifique Serum help to alleviate the impact that stress has on skin.

Anxiety is inevitably accompanied by sleepless nights, which only exacerbate the problem. A lack of sleep inhibits skin’s nightly repair process, further weakening the skin’s natural barrier function, leading to more sensitivity and dryness.

If stress is showing on your skin, these simple mindfulness techniques can help …

Try alternate nostril breathing
Using your thumb and index finger, close your left nostril, then deeply inhale and slowly exhale before repeating on the right side. Continue alternating until your breathing feels calmer, or spend a couple of minutes doing it each morning. The technique is said to stimulate the creative right side of the brain and the logical left side with oxygen promoting clarity and composure. It’s also a great way to start the day and can be done as you apply your skincare or makeup.

Set a digital curfew in the morning
Many of us create a digital sunset, downing our devices an hour before bed in order to stop the blue light they emit from disrupting our sleep (LED light being the worst culprit). However, we’re all-too-eager to reach for our smartphones the moment we wake. Start the day with calm by setting a digital curfew in the morning as well as the evening. Consciously refrain from checking any devices (or news) for the first hour or so. Instead, use the time to focus, frame your thoughts and set your intentions without allowing an email to derail your day before it has even started.

Reset with rest
Nothing beats sound sleep if you can get it, but don’t underestimate the power of rest if you can’t. Resting while awake has been shown to reduce stress, increase cognitive function and improve memory. Lie down and focus on relaxing the body, breathing slowly and observing thoughts as they come and go. Understanding that your body benefits from downtime helps curb those anxious thoughts about not sleeping, which inevitably leads to even less sleep.

Beat stress with massage
To further eliminate stress from showing on your skin, massaging your skin in the morning or after a nap is a great way to depuff a swollen and tired looking complexion and helps centre yourself. And you can even go one step further by introducing Lancôme’s Advanced Génifique Serum to your daily routine, helping to strengthen the skin’s barrier function and leaving your skin looking healthier and younger.

Rebuild boundaries
Work and home life have blurred into one during lockdown, and there is no escaping that stressful work situation when it’s happening right there on your sofa. Build boundaries by ensuring you have at least one designated no-work space. Whether it’s the bedroom or an armchair in the corner, no matter what or where the space, reserve it for disengaging from the day and keep it free from anything that triggers anxiety (that includes your smartphone). Wind-down routines can also help create a psychological transition, whether it’s soaking in a bath or indulging in each step of your skincare routine.

Support your gut health
There is a strong brain-gut connection. As a result, stress can have a very real effect on our digestive system, which in turn can affect our overall immunity (the gut plays a vital role in our immune system). It’s worth supporting your gut with healthy bacteria in the form of prebiotics and probiotics daily. You can support your skin health in the same way: Lancôme Advanced Génifique Serum contains a complex of seven prebiotic and probiotic-derived extracts that work in optimal affinity with skin. The skin, just like the gut, has a microbiome of beneficial bacteria that is sensitive to stress.

Green walk
Forest bathing originated in Japan where it is known as shinrin-yoku. The practice of immersing yourself in nature has been shown to have positive benefits on mental wellbeing and stress, as well as energising the mind, body and skin. We can’t all dart to a forest with ease, but studies show that taking in the trees, sky and birdsong in cities also improves wellbeing, and has benefits for several hours afterwards. So, take that walk around the park you promised yourself.

Lower the intensity
High-intensity exercise has many benefits, but it can also increase cortisol levels, particularly if you work out in the evenings. Due to the body’s 24-hour clock, the circadian rhythm, your cortisol level declines at night, but an intense exercise session just before bed can keep it elevated. If you are already wired, try slowing down and performing your usual exercise at a 75% intensity or switch to a morning workout instead. Better yet, try yoga, which has been shown to help modulate stress responses in the body.

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*This article was originally published on theguardian.com as part of the Lancôme Génifique and Guardian Labs 'Skincare gets gutsy' campaign.