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  • She's only a few feet away.

  • The closer he gets, the more nervous he becomes, the budding zit on his nose growing bigger and bigger until it practically eclipses his face.

  • She looks at him hovering nearby, sees the massive zit, and giggles.

  • He slumps away, feeling sick.

  • Stress can sure make a mess, and it happens to both teens and adults.

  • But how does it happen?

  • Let's rewind to before the zit, to before Justin even sees his crush.

  • Already late for school, Justin got to class just in time to hear the teacher say "pop quiz."

  • He hadn't done his homework the night before, and felt more unprepared than the ambushed World War II soldiers he was supposed to write about.

  • A sudden rush of panic swept over his body, leaving him with sweaty palms, a foggy mind, and a racing heart.

  • He stumbled out of class in a daze, and ran straight into his all-time crush, spiking up his stress.

  • Stress is a general biological response to a potential danger.

  • In primitive caveman terms, stress can make you fight for your life, or run for your life, if, for example, you're confronted by a hungry saber-tooth tiger.

  • Special chemicals called stress hormones run through your body, giving you more oxygen and power to run away from danger or to face it and fight for your life,

  • hence the term "fight or flight."

  • But when you don't fight, or take flight, you face the plight.

  • When we're taking final exams, sitting in traffic or pondering pollution, we internalize stress.

  • It all begins in the brain.

  • The hypothalamus, the master controller of your hormones, releases something called corticotropin-releasing hormone.

  • This triggers the pituitary gland, a pea-sized gland found at the base of the brain, to release adrenocorticotropic hormone

  • which then stimulates the adrenal gland sitting on top of the kidneys to release cortisol, the major stress hormone.

  • These natural chemicals are a great help when you need to run away quickly, or do superhuman feats of courage,

  • but when you're simply sitting, these stress hormones collect in the body and affect your overall health.

  • Stress hormones increase inflammation in the body, suppress the immune system,

  • which makes you more susceptible to infection by acne-causing bacteria, and can even increase oil production in the skin.

  • And this is the perfect storm for forming a pimple.

  • Cortisol is a major stress hormone involved in making skin cells churn out oily lipids from special glands called sebaceous glands.

  • But when there's too much of these oily lipids, called sebum, they can plug up the swollen, inflamed pores and trap the pesky, acne-causing bacteria inside,

  • where they set up house and thrive.

  • Add a dash of inflammatory neuropeptides released by the nervous system when you're -- well, nervous -- and angry zits follow.

  • To make matters worse, Justin is a boy, meaning he's got more testosterone than girls.

  • Testosterone is another hormone that increases oil production in the skin.

  • So, his already oily skin, together with a boost in oil and inflammation from stress, is the perfect environment for bacteria to swell, swell, swell up into a major zit.

  • So what could've Justin done to avoid the big pimple?

  • Stressful situations are unavoidable.

  • But we can try to change our responses so that we're not so stressed in the end.

  • And had he been confident in approaching her, she might not have noticed the pimple, or he might not have had one.

She's only a few feet away.

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