Many people with eczema recognise that periods of stress can trigger a flare-up of their condition. But what is the link between emotional stress and the skin? Why is this happening? Is stress actually the cause of eczema? And most importantly, what can be done about it? These are some of the questions I will examine here.
There are many recognised triggers for eczema – that it, things that result in a flare-up. Stress is well recognised as one of these triggers. This doesn’t mean that everybody with eczema will have a flare-up every time they get stressed, just that some people will. Therefore, like with all triggers, learning how to manage and limit exposure to the trigger is one of the keys to improving your life with eczema.
Stress can also be a consequence of eczema – it may be the persistence of symptoms such as itch, which can interfere with sleep, that causes stress, or it may be the appearance that causes stress, particularly for teens and young adults who may be more conscious of the appearance of their skin, and how this impacts their social interactions.
I’m not going to cover the management of eczema here, rather look at what we can do to manage stress in order to reduce exposure to this trigger. This advice is really intended to be followed at all times, not just when you have flare-ups – remember you want to avoid / reduce stress levels to try to reduce flare-up frequency. Some will also find themselves depressed, or with very severe levels of stress, which warrant a chat with your doctor or seeing a psychologist.
Managing stress, in addition to eczema, and everything else that life throws at you, is not easy alone. So as best you can, try to enlist help, from family, friends, from a counsellor, from support groups. You are not alone managing these problems, and while your situation is unique to you, there are always things we can learn from others, and also things we can share with them that reduce our stress levels.
Try to think about what makes you stressed, external events, work, social situations, etc, and what exactly it is that creates the stress, for example, at work it might be too much to do in too little time, socially it might be embarrassment about the appearance of my skin. This may allow us to tailor solutions to reduce stress. This might be starting the day with ten minutes of meditation to clear and cleanse the mind, it might be learning tools or using technology to help me prioritise tasks at work, or break them down into more manageable pieces, or it might be finding a new style of clothing that helps conceal the parts of skin that I don’t like others to see, whilst still looking good, allowing me to forget about my skin and enjoy my social interactions.
Mediation and yoga are often helpful in generally reducing stress levels and helping us to become more relaxed people – both are worth a try, but you need to approach with an open mind. Some of what you hear or experience will seem like complete rubbish to you, but try it once, give it a go, and just see what happens!
Exercise can be a great support in reducing stress and clearing the mind, but if sweat is a trigger for your eczema, you need to find a way to reduce sweating, and maybe plan a shower for directly after your exercise. If exercise isn’t your thing, well I would encourage you to give it a go – but also try to devote a little time each week to exclusively do something you really like and enjoy, which might be as simple as watching a movie.
Finally, you need to get enough sleep, and good quality sleep. If your eczema keeps you awake with itch, try to find a cream that will relieve this and allow you to sleep. If your partner snores too much – kick them out of the bed! Avoid caffeine later in the day, and try to limit too much stimulation of the brain before sleep.
Stress is real, and it is a very real trigger for many people with eczema. There is no simple solution to reduce stress, but the key thing is to try something, and to get the support of others.