Everyone deserves to feel good about themselves and enjoy healthy relationships with their loved ones. For people living with eczema, this can be uniquely challenging.
Eczema can impact so many areas of life. Besides chronic dry, itchy skin, people with eczema often find that the condition can severely affect their emotional well-being. Dealing with these effects can interfere with your self-esteem, maintaining a healthy body image, managing relationships, and enjoying sex.
It’s not always easy, but there are things you can do to build confidence, trust, and intimacy.
In this article, we’ll discuss some of the more taboo topics that you might not necessarily feel comfortable talking to your doctor about.
Eczema and the mind-body connection
It’s easy to underestimate the link between mind and body when it comes to our well-being. Mental health needs are often viewed as being totally separate from physical needs. But anyone dealing with a chronic condition like eczema will know that the two are deeply linked.
Dr. Anthony Bewley, a Consultant Dermatologist at Barts Health NHS, explains that there is even a brain-skin connection:
Nerves in our bodies have neuropeptides that connect the brain to the skin, so it’s not surprising that if you’re feeling anxious or depressed, it may have an effect on your skin.
Equally, we know that living with eczema can cause stress, anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. Poor mental well-being is both a trigger and a side-effect of eczema, meaning the cycle between the two things can loop on repeat.
So, how might the mind-body connection specifically affect people living with eczema when it comes to body image, relationships, and sex?
More than one-third of people with eczema say they ‘often’ or ‘always’ feel angry or embarrassed by their appearance because of their condition. If eczema has made you dislike how your skin looks or feels, it can be tough to feel good about yourself.
Equally, if eczema has chipped away at your self-esteem, you may struggle to appreciate all the other ways your body is doing well – like pumping 5.5 liters of blood per minute or sending information along nerves at about 400kmph.
One-third of adults with eczema have reported that their condition has interfered with establishing relationships, with up to one-half avoiding social interactions altogether because of their appearance. Sometimes, the fatigue and irritability that comes with a flare-up can make people with eczema feel withdrawn and disconnected from their friends, family, and loved ones.
Most people consider sex and intimacy a fun and integral part of their partnerships. For people with eczema, sex can also be a source of embarrassment, anxiety, and pain – adding an unwanted layer of complexity to physical encounters. A 2017 study found that more than 80 percent of adults with eczema said their condition affected their sexual behavior.
Reducing the effects of eczema on body image, relationships, and sex
Having a healthy body image is about more than liking what you see in the mirror; it’s also about confidence and self-esteem. When you prioritize feeling valued and respected, you’re more likely to think and feel positive, have compassion for yourself and recognize the strengths and qualities that make you attractive and unique.
What are some tried and tested ways to build confidence, trust, and intimacy with yourself and your partner?
It can be challenging to be kind to yourself if you’re going through a hard time but slipping into self-loathing isolates both you and your partner. You are much more than your skin condition. People that want to be physically intimate with you are attracted to all the different things that make you who you are.
Self-care and self-acceptance can help you receive care and acceptance from others. Practicing self-love and sexual stimulation helps you to accept your body and can have a positive impact on your shared sexual experiences and allow for intimacy when your skin is too painful for sex with a partner.
Doing right by myself gives me the extra boost in self-confidence that I need, not only in terms of dating but in every part of my life, from work to friendship to going to the gym.
Mindfulness practices have been found to positively affect quality of life. Mindfulness is all about being aware of and accepting the present moment. By practicing mindfulness regularly, you’ll be able to identify your eczema triggers and respond to stress in a healthy way.
Stress relief can play a significant role in improving your body image and confidence. Meditation and other mindful relaxation techniques can help you reconnect with your inner self, observe the impact eczema has on your self-image, and begin to move away from negative thought patterns.
Sleeping to improve your sex life may not make much sense at first, but getting a good night’s rest when sex isn’t on the agenda will help you make the most of the times when it is.
Sleep deprivation is one of the most common difficulties eczema can cause. Lack of sleep can have a number of consequences and leave you feeling on edge, less able to cope with stress, and at higher risk of a flare-up.
Sleeping well is vital to every cell in your body. It impacts your physical and mental state the following day, regulates the immune system and metabolism, and also reduces the risk of chronic diseases.
By paying close attention to the quality of your sleep, you’re more likely to stay on top of your general well-being, leaving more room for spontaneity when the mood strikes you.
Track your triggers
Eczema triggers vary from person to person, but the most common include heat, sweat, allergens, emotional stress, and pollution – all of which can set off the itch-scratch cycle.
Having the most current information about your eczema and avoiding your triggers will empower you to manage your skin condition more effectively, leaving you with more energy for the people and things that bring you joy.
I didn’t realize how much stress triggered my eczema. When 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.
Be open and communicative
Consider how being open and honest about your sex life might be beneficial. Does your partner know that eczema affects your sex life? Do they feel empowered to help with eczema concerns during intimacy? Discussing this with them could change things for the better.
Keep talking about your concerns, wants, and needs. While you may be worried about what your partner will think when they run their hands over your skin, they might be equally anxious about hurting you. One way to get intimate while alleviating these concerns is to apply emollient cream to each other’s bodies to get to know what you are both comfortable with.
Treatment is key
For people with eczema, a crucial part of maintaining a healthy romantic and sex life is seeking the appropriate treatment and establishing a positive healthcare routine. With the right partner, treatment and routines can also become part of your intimate lives together.
We try different bath products to see which ones we like and which don’t trigger an allergic reaction. Taking a bath together does wonders for my skin and my mentality. And it has brought us much closer too.
Tracking your symptoms, committing to self-care, and getting the right support delivered with compassion are invaluable when living with a chronic condition.
The eczema program from Sidekick is designed to help you reduce stress through daily mindfulness and stress-management techniques. The program also connects you to a health coach and an online community of patients so you can access support whenever you need it. Explore the Atopic Dermatitis program and find your eczema Sidekick today.