This post is an add-on to last week’s post about my general anxiety and panic attacks. Read that first or this one won’t make much sense!
So last week I talked about how I’ve been dealing with general anxiety this year and even a few panic attacks.
This is all new to me, but I shared about how I found this guy’s website to be incredibly helpful. His explanations about what’s really going on when you have anxiety and worries, and his advice about phobias and “anxiety humour” made a HUGE difference for me.
After reading and implementing his info, I pretty much immediately saw a huge relief in my anxiety. And now it’s not like I never get anxious thoughts, but they go quickly and I don’t feel controlled by it anymore.
Anyway – while my general anxiety these days is more about scary “what ifs” like death and illness and crippling accidents rather than acne, I saw a lot of parallels between my general anxiety and the usual experience of acne anxiety (which I’ve certainly had my share of!)
This also means that a lot of the advice about how to solve general anxiety and panic attacks can also work to make your life dealing with acne a lot better.
So first of all:
It All Begins With A Thought
Anxiety of any sort starts with a thought, which in turn leads to an emotion that feels scary and yucky and nasty and awful.
Most of that can’t really be helped too much.
You can definitely get adept at changing your focus away from the thought onto the present moment or away to a humorous “anxiety song“.
But for the most part, you can’t really help that thought popping into your head in the first place.
What you can do though is change how you react to those thoughts and emotions. It’s the reactions and actions that end up elevating that stress and creating that crippling box of anxiety around yourself.
Here’s The Deal with Acne & Anxiety…
So in regard to acne … here’s what usually happens:
You get a pimple. Or you think you will.
And most of the worry that comes along with it is in terms of the big ol “what ifs”.
The biggest “what if” is mostly “what will people think?” and the endless iterations of it, like “will I be loved and accepted if I look like this?” “will my boyfriend or girlfriend look away in disgust?” or “can I accept myself like this?” etc etc.
While the anxiety may not come to you in so many words, above is generally the root of the acne anxiety.
So What Do You Do?
In response to these thoughts and anxieties, most people start taking action to make those nasty feelings go away, or at least try to avoid them.
There are a million ways in which we react to this acne anxiety and make it go away… I’ve written about this several times on the blog already.
- You avoid people and cancel work and plans when you break out
- You check the mirror obsessively
- You get absolutely addicted to your skin care or diet or supplement routine and tremble in fear if you miss even one tiny step in the routine
- You constantly try new products
- You pick, pop, and squeeze your skin into oblivion trying to get the gunk out of it
After writing the advice in my last post and having seen first hand with my own anxiety that it is totally legit and totally works, I can say this again:
The more you “do” in response to acne… the more behaviours and actions you take in order to make it go away, the worse the anxiety gets. Each action might give you a very temporary relief, but it creates a larger snowball of anxiety around you.
In order to make your life with acne feel a lot better, and get away from it absolutely controlling you, you need to face your fears.
And in a lot of ways when it comes to acne, “facing your fears” means just chilling. NOT taking action. Focusing on your life as if you were a person who doesn’t have acne.
Which means when you want to cancel plans, don’t. When you want to look in the mirror even though you just did, resist. If it looks like you have to stay overnight somewhere without your skin care stuff, just roll with it. And so on.
Here’s a Hug, Because This Ain’t Easy
This is going to be hard. The temptation will be incredibly strong to freak out and take action on that fear and anxiety.
However, the more you do in response to the fear, the more you are training your nervous system to freak out and fear acne. (just like those people who have unreasonable phobias of dogs and spiders … you essentially have an acne phobia!)
Which means that when you do get a pimple, you’ve trained yourself to feel like it’s the most soul crushing, terrifying experience. And no matter how much you to try talk yourself out of feeling that way, it doesn’t work.
The only way to remedy that is to re-train your nervous system with action – or should I say, lack thereof.
The more you just hang out with the feelings and don’t act on them (as incredibly unpleasant as this is), the more you will show your nervous system that acne isn’t THAT big a deal.
And eventually it won’t feel so bad.
Don’t get me wrong – acne will never feel good. You’re never going to go “oh yay, a zit”. But when it happens, you’ll see that you can just get on with life. It won’t cause the same awful, nasty, soul crushing emotions that it does now.
And it will feel better because you no longer have that extra anxiety that you were actually CREATING by doing all those actions (like avoiding plans, picking, controlling your diet with an iron fist etc etc).
How Do I Get Rid of Acne if I Can’t Act On Getting Rid of It?
I know this seems like a contradiction. If you’re telling me that I shouldn’t act on my anxiety about acne… but if I don’t… how do I get rid of acne?
Well I think there’s a difference between thoughtful, contemplative action and the typical action that usually happens in the moment as a direct response to the anxious emotions (usually caused by a fresh spot showing up).
Acne is something that we don’t like and it’s fine to try and get rid of it. But it’s better to make your decisions about that when you aren’t at the height of emotion.
Making your decisions in that state is what leads to things like switching your skin care routine far too much, which can end up making things worse.
It also, like we said, trains your nervous system to fear acne.
So if you’re contemplating trying something new, or switching something up in your routine, I say give it a week or two and see how you feel then. If you still want to make changes, go for it.
*Here’s a hug. Be strong.*