“I’m so stressed.” “This is so stressful.” “My stress levels are off the charts.” – and so on. You only need to be human to have uttered one or all of these statements at one point in your life.
While short-term stress can be a good thing, a booster to inspire and motivate you, it can quickly become something that hinders your quality of life – especially for people with skin conditions like eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis.
What’s the link between eczema and stress?
When humans experience stress, the body responds by entering fight-or-flight mode, which releases stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol from the adrenal glands to prepare the body for what’s coming. So far, so good. Cortisol is a great ally when the body is in balance.
However, if we produce too much cortisol, the immune system becomes overactivated, which unsettles the balance between inflammatory and anti-inflammatory forces in the body.
This imbalance can cause an inflammatory skin reaction, like eczema. Stressful situations can unleash these itchy flare-ups, which, in turn, lead to more stress.
Unfortunately, people with eczema are particularly vulnerable to this inflammatory response, and they often find themselves stuck in an itch-scratch cycle that’s difficult to break.
The result? Possible sleep problems, anxiety, and even depression.
The exact relationship between eczema and mental health is not entirely clear, but a recent survey conducted by the National Eczema Association showed that more than 30% of people with atopic dermatitis were diagnosed with depression and/or anxiety.
The good news is that stress and the vicious circle it may cause can be managed with better habits, patience, and consistency over time.
How can you manage your stress?
Learning to manage stress is so important because, left undealt with, it can lead to more serious mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression.
Molly, who lives with nummular eczema, says:
I didn’t realize how much stress triggered my eczema. When I was going through stressful situations in my personal life, I was absolutely covered in eczema and couldn’t stop itching. It wasn’t until I made a conscious effort to reduce my stress levels that I saw an improvement.
Here are some ways that you can help yourself reduce stress and hopefully keep severe eczema outbreaks to a minimum:
Know your triggers
Sometimes we don’t know what stresses us out until it’s too late, and our hearts are pumping out of our chest, our palms are sweating, and our minds are racing. But if you can learn to identify your eczema triggers, you’re giving yourself a much better chance of either avoiding them or responding to them in a healthy way.
While you might be familiar with your physical triggers, such as food allergies, certain fabrics, weather, temperature, humidity, skin oiliness, etc., it might be harder for you to pinpoint your mental triggers.
To get on top of this, really listen to your body and learn to recognize when the flutter of stress is coming. Try keeping a daily trigger journal to help you keep track of life events, and when your eczema symptoms worsen – there might be a link!
According to the Cambridge dictionary, ‘mindfulness’ means “the practice of being aware of your body, mind, and feelings in the present moment, thought to create a feeling of calm.”
These days it’s easy to get caught up in the past, the future, and endless worries about both, but mindfulness requires you to stay present. This might be easier said than done, but if you feel like a stressful situation is on the horizon, take a few minutes to breathe deeply and focus on your body. Mastering this will really help you develop a mind-body connection, something that will come in handy when stress is looming.
The eczema program from Sidekick Health can help you practice mindfulness and introduce you to other daily habits that are useful for identifying and managing stress triggers. Medical professionals love the app, too; London-based Consultant Dermatologist, Professor Anthony Bewley, says:
Patient-centric education and support programs are immensely important for the holistic management of patients with the dermatological disease, especially programs which recognize the importance of patient’s psychological wellbeing. The app developed by Sidekick is a great way of empowering patients through the app’s programs and modules.
When we’re stressed, it’s totally common to comfort eat, drink more alcohol, or ramp up the caffeine. However, while all of these feel good in the moment, they can all lead to more stress, especially if you get itchy skin as a result. Plus, they won’t do your health any good.
Instead, stay hydrated, feed yourself nourishing food and try to avoid too many coffees because caffeine is known to increase anxiety. Try to stay below 300-400mg of caffeine per day which is about 3-4 cups of coffee.
Research shows that being outside can reduce stress and anxiety. Outdoor activities such as walking, biking, swimming, and hiking can improve your mood and self-esteem. Physical activity also gets your blood circulation going, which increases the release of brain chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins which can improve your overall mood.
Find a support group
Living with eczema can sometimes feel lonely, especially if you don’t have any family or friends who can relate to your condition. Whether online or in-person, finding a support group where you can talk with others living with eczema could give you feelings of comfort, solidarity, and “finally, someone who understands!”
Talk to a professional
While these tips can help reduce stress, if you or a loved one continue to experience feelings of low mood, we recommend that you seek the help of a healthcare provider.
Learning to take control of stress and understanding how to manage it takes practice, which is why we encourage you to check out the Sidekick Health eczema program. Stress management tools are central parts of our program, and, ultimately, we want these tools to become second nature to you and your wellbeing.