So many things can stress us out and weigh us down--things like work, school, debt, bills, and even things we love, like family and friends. We all know that stress can be detrimental to a person's mental and physical health, but did you know that stress can impact your piercings, too?
Common Effects of Stress
In addition to causing psychological issues like anxiety, depression and irritability, stress can have physiological effects on the body. These issues may range from simple stress headaches and tight muscles to much scarier problems like chest pain, obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, and even diabetes. Stressors can negatively impact your sleep schedule, too, and the less sleep you get, the more prone you are to a variety of health issues.
Stress also tends to negatively effect people's behavior. For instance, you may eat more when you're stressed out, which can eventually lead to obesity and diabetes, or you may smoke more cigarettes or drink more alcohol in hopes of escaping your problems rather than facing them head-on. The latter two behaviors are particularly detrimental to new piercings, and they aren't the only stress-induced behaviors that can negatively impact a healing piercing.
How Stress-Induced Negative Behavior Effects Piercings
A new piercing is just like any other wound. It has to be kept clean, it needs time to heal, and it requires a healthy immune system to aid in the healing process. While your new piercing is healing, it's very important to get plenty of rest, eat well, avoid nicotine, aspirin and alcohol (i.e. blood thinners), and generally take good care of yourself. If you get run down or engage in stress-induced behavior, your new piercing may not heal properly. Here are how some of the most common stress-induced behaviors can negatively impact a new piercing:
Loss of Sleep
The less you sleep, the worse your body functions as a whole. You have trouble thinking clearly, you make bad judgment calls like over-eating or chain smoking, and your immune system eventually suffers as a result. If your body is working hard to battle infection and fatigue, it will be distracted from healing your new piercing, plain and simple.
If stress is negatively impacting your sleep habits, it's important to do something about it before you get too run down. There are over-the-counter sleep aids available for those who really need them, prescription sleep medicines for those who don't get relief from over-the-counter remedies, and many natural alternatives that will be better for your overall health than either of the other options. You might consider trying yoga, meditating, drinking a warm cup of milk before bed, taking a hot bath or shower at night, or even using a natural sleep remedy like Valerian root to get yourself back into a normal sleep routine and ensure that you get the rest your body needs to stay healthy and heal your new piercing.
To a smoker, a cigarette is often a first line of defense when battling stress. The problem is, the more stressed you are and the more you smoke, the more your piercings and general health will suffer. Nicotine slows down the body's natural ability to heal, which is the primary reason why surgeons ask patients to refrain from smoking for a set time period before going under the knife and for the first few weeks after surgery.
If you have a new oral piercing or have just undergone oral surgery, it's even more important for you to avoid smoking during the initial healing phase. The reason is that, on top of nicotine slowing down your body's ability to heal, smoke is drying. Dry skin around a piercing makes you more susceptible to infection, and if you've just had a tooth pulled, it can lead to an uncomfortable problem known as dry socket.
When you're feeling stressed, try chewing gum, stretching or meditating before reaching for a cigarette. Ideally, you should put cigarettes down completely during the first month to six weeks after getting a new piercing, and chew Nicorette Gum or wear the patch if you need a nicotine supplement. If you've tried those options without success, consider buying an e-cigarette to use instead of smoking regular cigarettes while your new piercing is healing. Water vapor will be gentler on your system and healing piercing than smoke would be. If you have a new cheek, labret, tongue, or oral web piercing, you should also rinse your mouth with a sea salt-based oral rinse morning, night and after meals. It will keep your piercings flushed of debris and help maintain moisture within your mouth.
Drinking Alcoholic Beverages
At the end of a long day, many people like to reach for a beer, a glass of wine or a mixed drink to help them relax. When you've had a really stressful day, one drink may lead to another, and another. Drowning out your problems with alcohol may seem like a good idea at the time, but it usually turns out to be a bad idea in retrospect, when you wake up dehydrated, hungover, and with the same problems looming over you that lead you to drink in the first place.
In the moment, it may feel like drinking is a good way to unwind, but it does little to resolve the issues that are stressing you out. It can actually make problems worse, if you keep putting off dealing with them in favor of drinking more. Alcohol can also negatively impact a new piercing in a couple different ways. It thins the blood, which is why piercers avoid piercing people who have been drinking; they could bleed too profusely when pierced, if their blood is too thin and won't clot properly. Some piercings are prone to light bleeding off and on during the first week or so of the healing process, so you're putting yourself at risk if you drink alcohol or take aspirin during those early days. Alcohol is also dehydrating, and a dried out piercing will take longer to heal and be more susceptible to infection.
If you're tempted to reach for a drink after a hard day, pause and try another stress reliever first. If you have access to a pool, go for a swim. Even if you just take a walk through the lap lane, the water will relax you from head to toe. Yoga, exercise, meditation, cooking, watching a movie, and talking to friends are also great ways to unwind, and sometimes you'll find you can work through your problems or come up with potential solutions in the process. When you're feeling stressed, that's the best time to do whatever you enjoy most--whichever activity tends to get your endorphins going and make you happy. At a minimum, try to limit yourself to one alcoholic beverage while doing something else you enjoy; once your chosen activity is underway, you'll be less likely to reach for another drink.
Over- or Under-Eating
When you're burdened with an overwhelming number of stressors, you may be tempted to reach for something salty or sweet, or you might do the opposite and not eat enough. Unfortunately, both things can really hurt your health. Not getting enough nutrition is just as bad as eating too much of the wrong things. Your body needs vitamins, minerals, and even a healthy amount of fat to stay strong, keep your immune system functioning properly, and heal a new piercing.
If you're craving something salty, try eating raw veggies with ranch dressing or another flavorful dip. When you want something sweet, reach for apple slices with peanut butter or cheddar cheese. Even popcorn is a good snack, as long as it's just lightly buttered and salted. There are tons of healthier alternatives to the chocolate bar or bag of potato chips you want to reach for when you're stressed out. Be creative!
If you're inclined to avoid food altogether when feeling stressed, try to remember how important nutrition is to staying in top mental and physical shape. The stronger your mind and body are, the better you'll be able to address the problems causing you stress, and the better your new piercing will heal. You don't have to eat a lot; just make sure that what you do put into your body in a day is packed with vitamins, minerals, and even a few carbs to keep you going. Eating a protein bar, a banana, an apple, a small salad, or something else light is better than not eating at all.
Stay Healthy & Heal Well
No matter how overwhelming our problems may feel sometimes, they can all be overcome. To be in top form and capable of finding solutions to your issues, though, you have to maintain good mental and physical health. It's important to take time to let off steam, but you have to do your best to engage in healthy activities that will help you reset and recharge your mind and body. Cook a good meal with your partner or friends, kick back and watch a funny movie or TV show, go for a swim or a run, meditate, do yoga, stretch, get a massage, have a guys'/girls' night and play goofy games... Do whatever activity makes you feel best! Remember that you don't have to overcome your problems right this minute, but if you aren't actively working on a solution, you should be taking time out to relax so you'll be in tip-top shape to face your challenges head-on the next day.
The less you drink and smoke, the more rest you get, and the more healthy stress-relieving activities you engage in, the better off you'll be overall. You'll be protecting your immune system and general health, which will only help your new piercing heal faster and more completely. If you can't manage your stressors yourself, don't be afraid to ask for help. Talking to family, friends or a therapist will do you much more good than reaching for a drink or a cigarette.
For additional tips on managing stress, visit Helpguide.org.