By Erin Reimel. Photos: Emily Kemp.
When I see a zit or two or more like, ten on my face, there's usually something at play. I'm either about to get my period. Or I'm feeling crazy stressed. For the past few months, I've been consistently dealing with the latter and I just couldn't seem to chill out.
For weeks I wasn't sleeping, I was constantly tense, and I just wasn't being kind to my body. I wasn't eating the healthiest things and I was skipping workouts pretty regularly. Plus my new blemishes were giving my seemingly calm exterior away.
No matter what I tried, my zits were not going away. After a few quick Google searches into the connection between stress and acne I realized my lack of chill was making my stress hormones turn on my skin. Obviously I needed to find a way to relax.
I reached out to Dr. Liana Ashenden, dermatologist and founder of the natural skincare line Nudu, to find out if this was something that could actually help me out and it turns out, it is. She recommends meditation, exercise, or whatever gets you to ditch your phone for a hot second and focus on yourself to anyone dealing with stress-related skin issues. She told me that stressors, big or small, trigger survival responses that produce hormones like adrenalin and cortisol, the number one hormone that can wreak havoc on your skin. These hormones are supposed to temporarily spike when we need them to, you know for survival. But when you're juggling a busy schedule, crazy deadlines, and whatever else is causing stress, you can end up feeling these effects 24/7.
"We are not supposed to feel like we're being chased by a lion every Monday morning!" Dr. Ashenden says. "Chronic stress and feeling overwhelmed can be deeply disruptive to our sleep cycle, digestive process, inflammatory response, and other delicately balanced internal systems that keep us happy and healthy." So it's important to find ways to slow down and pay attention to your body and mind.
I've tried guided meditation apps and videos in the past to calm myself, but I never stuck with them. And I'd been to the MNDFL Mediation studio in New York City once before for a work event. A teacher there explained that mindfulness is just the practice of being aware of the present moment. It seemed pretty in tune with what I needed—a break from worrying and obsessing about daily life stuff—so I figured I'd give it a try.
Lodro Rinzler, the co-founder and Chief Spiritual Officer at MNDFL, suggested coming to classes regularly over the course of a few weeks to really notice a difference. "Some may think, 'Ugh I tried it once and I don’t feel immediately peaceful,' which is about the rough equivalent of ‘I went to the gym once, I didn’t lose ten pounds,'" Rinzler says. "Over time, around the 3-week mark, doing any kind of positive habit like meditation actually begins to become habitual."
So I made a goal: Meditate for an entire month and see what it does for my skin.
My meditation classes focused on mindfulness, which thankfully isn’t just emptying your head for 30 minutes. Instead, you focus on the present by using things like your breath or an intention. And if other things pop into your head, you just acknowledge them and move on—no pressure.
I started taking a 30 minute class every morning at 7:45am. And, of course, waking up an hour earlier was brutal at first, but after a week I started naturally waking up earlier and looking forward to going to class. And while some days I left class feeling like a zen rockstar, other times I'd beat myself up as I sat on my cushion because instead of slowing my mind down, I was making mental to-do lists.
But as the days and weeks went by, I felt so much better. I was more motivated to work out, I wasn't so engrossed in my phone, and I didn't want to scream whenever my train was delayed. After a couple weeks I remembered why I started this in the first place—my skin. When I really looked at it, it was more radiant, less dry and irritated, and my zits had finally cleared. It also helped that I looked more at ease.
"Since one of the most wonderful benefits of meditation is that it helps us to modulate our response to daily stress, this may have a direct impact on our stress hormone levels," Dr. Ashenden says. Because my hormones weren't totally raging, my sleep was more peaceful, even my digestion was improving, and my skin was looking pretty awesome.
Rinzler suggests integrating meditation into your life by jumping in all at once like I did—every day of the week (with the odd skip day, of course). You can find a mediation studio, download an app, or just watch MNDFL's guided mediation videos. He says sitting for ten minutes a day will make a noticeable difference. And if you don't have time, you can do a quick body scan starting at your feet and scanning up through your legs and spine, noticing where your tension lies while you're waiting for the train or taking the elevator. "That’s such a short little practice that we could actually do regularly throughout the day," he says. "And it goes a long way in countering some of the stress we carry around with us."
Taking these extra few seconds to just be throughout my day feels great. It reminds me that I don't have to rush around all the time and I can just focus on what I'm doing. I came to meditation for the possibility of clear skin, I stayed for the mind- and heart-calming benefits. The age-old practice may seem buzzy right now, but there's no way I'm giving it up.
This story originally appeared on Glamour.
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