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Published On: Oct 16, 2017
Last Updated On: May 1, 2023
People living with eczema are at a higher risk for experiencing depression, anxiety and stress. Rather than focusing solely on treating the physical symptoms of this disease, we should take care of our mental health as well. Severe eczema can often lead to sleep disturbances, increased risk for social isolation, or other negative impacts on an individual’s self-esteem. The mental health of children and and adolescents can also be affected by severe eczema.
Dr. Charles Raison, professor in the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health’s Department of Psychiatry, is a healthcare professional leading the charge in research related to inflammation and the development of depression in response to illness and stress.
We asked Dr. Raison to provide some helpful tips for how people with eczema can help lower their inflammation, while also boosting their mental health. Here are his top four recommendations:
Changing how we cope with stress is the first step to lowering our body’s inflammatory response, and studies conducted by Raison and others (such as NEA’s own 2013 study) have found that various forms of meditation can work wonders in this department.
“Interestingly, the most relevant study was done by my close colleague at the University of Wisconsin, Dr. Melissa Rosenkranz,” Raison says. “They took folks that were basically healthy and half of them got mindfulness training and half got what we call a ‘comparator condition’ designed to be good for people’s health. Subjects received a superficial wound in the skin to see how much inflammation that wound would generate during a stressful situation.
“It turned out that while both health intervention and mindfulness were effective in making people feel better emotionally, only the mindfulness training reduced inflammation in the skin,” he continues. “This suggests that mindfulness and meditation practices have real potential for not only making people feel better emotionally, but possibly quelling inflammatory responses in the body.”
“Exercise has very clearly documented anti-depressant and anti-anxiety effects and helps turn down inflammation,” Raison says. “So, we have good reason to believe that being more active, exercising and getting our heart rate up on a general basis is very beneficial.”
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150-300 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity each week for adults and 60 minutes or more of physical activity every day for children.
“Not sleeping enough is pro-inflammatory,” Raison says. “Getting a good seven to eight hours of regular sleep a night is hugely beneficial to our health. If one is depressed or anxious, it’s hard to sleep, but there are things you can do to improve your sleep hygiene.”
This includes powering down electronics an hour or two before bed and limiting caffeine intake after lunch. Here are some additional tips from a sleep expert.
Is it possible to have too many friends? Not if you’re living with eczema. Studies show that people who have positive social connections have lower levels of inflammation than those who don’t, Raison says.
“Humans are astoundingly social animals,” he points out. “As a species, we need to have at least one person in our life who is really on the inside with us, who knows us, and who we feel supported by. If you can have one or more people like that in your life, it’s a hugely beneficial to our health.”