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From its red, rash-like appearance to the relentless itch and sleepless nights, living with eczema can be downright challenging on our emotional well-being. Anxiety and stress are common triggers that cause eczema to flare up, which then creates more anxiety and stress, which then leads to more eczema flare-ups. So how do we break this vicious cycle?
First, it’s important to understand the scientific link between eczema and stress. When we experience a stressful situation, the body goes into fight-or-flight mode and responds by increasing production of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. But when the body produces too much cortisol, it can suppress the immune system and cause an inflammatory response in the skin. People living with skin diseases like eczema are particularly susceptible to this inflammatory response.
Although ridding your life of stress won’t eliminate your eczema altogether, it will help alleviate some of the common symptoms of this disease. Here are some strategies for cutting down stress, reducing anxiety and learning how to live well with eczema:
A recent survey by the National Eczema Association revealed that more than 30% of people with atopic dermatitis were diagnosed with depression and/or anxiety. One explanation for why people with inflammatory skin diseases like eczema are more susceptible to mental health issues, such as anxiety or depression, is because of the way their bodies communicate with their brains during an inflammatory response. However, much is still unknown about the relationship between eczema and mental health issues.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, if a person has experienced some of these symptoms for two weeks or longer, they may have depression and should consult a health care provider:
It’s good to be aware that atopic dermatitis and depression may be connected. Talk to a health care provider or mental health specialist if you are experiencing symptoms of depression.
Note: Mood changes, including anxiety and depression are side effect of the asthma medication montelukast. If you are taking montelukast and experiencing symptoms of depression/anxiety contact your health care provider right away.
When it comes to relaxation and self-care, what works for one person might not work for another. Thankfully there are many options to explore. Practice deep breathing while listening to soothing music or nature sounds. Download a guided meditation app. Enroll in a yoga or tai chi class. Allot a certain amount of time each day to reading a book or cuddling with your pet. Make it a daily habit to stroll along a nature trail. Distract your mind from negative thinking with creative activities to do with your hands, such as writing, painting, knitting, baking or playing video games or chess.
Easier said than done, right? People living with eczema know how difficult it is to sleep when your skin is itchy and uncomfortable. If eczema is keeping you or your child awake at night, talk with your doctor about how to get a better handle on your symptoms. Taking an antihistamine before bed can help you become drowsy. Enjoying warm, relaxing baths or showers and lathering on the moisturizer before bed can induce sleepiness and stave off itch. It also helps to turn your bedroom into a sleep sanctuary by keeping the room dark, cool and clean, and limiting the use of electronics an hour or two before bedtime.
Even though eczema is a common disease affecting more than 31 million Americans, many people say they are too embarrassed or ashamed to talk about it. Oftentimes, they report covering up their skin and thus go through life not knowing if the person standing in line next to them also has eczema. It’s human nature to want to talk with others who have the same problem and know what you’re going through. The National Eczema Association can help. Connect with us on Facebook and Twitter to discuss the latest news and research with others in the eczema community. Join Eczema Wise, an online support group where people living with or affected by eczema can post discussion topics, exchange ideas and make new friends.
Exercise is one of the most effective ways to combat stress, anxiety, depression and other negative emotions. Whether you prefer walking, running, swimming, boxing or playing tennis, exercise is believed to trigger certain neurotransmitters and hormones that can dramatically improve your mood. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults get a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week, in addition to muscle-strengthening activities. However, if sweat is a trigger for your eczema, remember to take a cool or lukewarm shower soon after your workout and change clothes.
Although there is little scientific evidence connecting diet to eczema flares, or diet to stress, it’s common for people with eczema to experience allergic reactions to foods such as dairy, gluten, nuts or fish. On the other hand, some people have found success eating a “Mediterranean diet” containing anti-inflammatory foods, such as fish and other sources of omega-3 fatty acids, or probiotic-rich foods such as kefir or yogurt. Others have said consuming sugar, caffeine, alcohol, processed foods or foods high in trans fats tends to exacerbate or worsen their eczema symptoms. While it’s common sense to stick to a healthy, well-balanced diet, it’s also important to remember that what is helpful to some may be harmful to others. Always consult with your doctor before making any changes to your or your child’s diet.