Breaking the psychological acne battle
Suffering with acne is more than a physical condition. The psychological effects should not be underestimated.
Research conducted by the British Journal of Dermatology (1999) has shown, “62% of adults with acne reported experiencing anxiety and/or depression, including clinical levels and long-term psychological damage”.
I include myself in this 62% as I also suffer with depression and anxiety, which I believe was initially brought on by my acne as a teenager.
Looking back, I made mistakes in my method of dealing with acne. The pursuit of clear skin became an obsession. I refused to accept that I was an acne sufferer and my view of life became very distorted. The one and only thing I wanted was clear skin and the longer I went without it, the more depressed, anxious and stressed I became.
Probably some of the best advice I can give is not to make the same mistakes that I did. This can be achieved by changing your mindset and your behaviours in response to living with acne.
Suffering as a result of living with acne is very difficult to avoid. It only takes a brief glance in the mirror to be confronted by the reminder that you are living with a problem usually associated with adolescents. There is no hiding place with this condition.
However it is important not to think about it too much. Why? For these 3 reasons:
- Stress contributes to acne. The more we think about having acne, the more stressed we become, causing a vicious cycle that is difficult to break. Conversely, the less we think about it, the less stressed we’ll be. Minimising stress is hugely important for healing acne.
- The more attention and energy we give to acne, the longer it is likely to persist. If you find yourself looking in the mirror and thinking your acne “must” go, the chances are it will not.
- The more we look at it, the more distorted our visions become and we can truly see more than is actually there. Your skin will definitely look a lot worse to you than it does to everybody else.
Let’s consider ways to minimise the amount of time you spend thinking about your skin:
1. Don’t look in the mirror too much. It’s not a true reflection.
I have spent a lot of my life shutting myself away at home, moving from mirror to mirror, relentlessly scrutinizing my skin. Looking at my acne became an obsession.
I constantly needed to check if it really looked as bad as I thought it did or if, by some miracle, it had improved since the last time I looked. The problem being, the more I looked, the more stressed and depressed I became about it. This distorted the way I viewed myself and made my inevitably acne appear worse to me than it actually was.
The reality is that people don’t view you the way you view yourself. Your skin is just one of many facial features and people view the ‘whole picture’.
It may be easier said than done, but my advice (through experience) is to try not to obsess over having clear skin. It will only have a negative impact on your life.
Mirrors can be very unforgiving. Particularly when you are focusing on one thing you dislike about yourself. Bad lighting and bad angles will all give you a false picture of how you look in the eyes of other people.
I never look in the mirror after showering or cleansing as normally my skin is a lot redder (flushed), which makes acne seem more prominent. I am also aware of mirrors with lights directly above them or of standing next to a window with direct sunlight, as these are likely to show more flaws in my skin than are actually visible to the human eye.
If you find yourself constantly looking in mirrors like I did, perhaps consider removing or covering the mirrors in your home and only use them when you actually need them. I also used to write notes next to my bathroom mirror to permanently remind me that the image before me was not a true reflection.
Doing something similar may help you to be happier at home. Without being reminded of your acne, your stress levels will reduce.
I am not saying that the answer is complete avoidance; it’s about being rational with yourself and finding the right balance if, like me, you find yourself persistently looking in the mirror.
2. Don’t battle acne, embrace it.
This piece of advice is perhaps the most important I can give. Remaining rational is crucial. The hardest thing for me in all aspects of my acne journey is actually accepting that I do not and will not ever have flawless skin.
You need to accept that you have acne. It is an easy thing to say but perhaps the hardest thing to do. Try not to battle it and instead embrace it
This is not something you can switch on and instantly become more relaxed about living with acne. It takes a lot of time and soul searching to become confident in your own skin. However through acceptance you might finally break the dreaded cycle of stress causing acne and acne causing stress.
3. Don’t isolate yourself. Stay social.
Through acceptance you will also find that your behaviours, such as tendencies to seek isolation, become altered.
Through my teens and twenties I would shut myself away from the world due to feeling embarrassed and ashamed of having acne.
Even though it felt like the right thing to do at the time, I was alienated from friends and family, which gave me the more difficult issue of having to deal with acne alone and unsupported. Feeling alone contributed to my depression, causing me more stress and inevitably worsening my acne.
4. Find a distraction such as a new hobby.
Finding a distraction can help to get acne off our minds. Consequently, we’re not stressing about it so much and making it worse as a result. If you find yourself obsessively thinking about your skin, perhaps channel that time into something more productive, such as a new hobby. Go for a run, watch a movie, do some gardening. In fact, do anything that makes you happy! :)
5. Be patient. Set realistic goals.
One of the biggest frustrations is that it can take a long time before you see the positive results. Regardless of what acne regimen you follow, you are not going to be completely clear overnight. Your skin takes 28 days to regenerate so any new regimen takes time to take effect.
Acceptance and patience are once again vital to keeping your stress levels low whilst your positive changes kick into action. I recommend taking before and after photographs to remind yourself where you started and for a more obvious comparison.
Just looking at yourself in the mirror on a daily basis is not going to show you the improvements so obviously, as it is easy to forget what your skin was like in the beginning.
Referring to before and after photographs on a monthly basis will give you a visual impression so you know you are heading in the right direction. Set yourself a realistic target over a 6-month period so you do not put too much pressure on your new regimen taking effect.
6. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Do not underestimate the power of the mind when it comes to living with acne. The skin-stress connection is crucial and it is further exacerbated by the fact that acne itself is stressful and totally unpredictable. An acne sufferer lives with the sense that they can never be completely sure about what will happen next and they have no control over their skin. Through acceptance you can take back control.
Living with acne should not spoil our lives. It’s not your fault. It’s not something you did. It’s not something that should embarrass you. It’s not something you shouldn’t talk about. It’s not something to be ashamed of. It shouldn’t stop you from doing anything you want to do. Acne shouldn’t have that power. I hope now that you’ve read this, it will have less influence on you.