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Anxiety May Make Your Eczema Worse

Henry Vyner, MD, Psychiatrist
Anxiety May Make Your Eczema Worse

Eczema, which is also called atopic dermatitis, is a very difficult skin disease that causes rashes to appear all over your body. It can drastically compromise the quality of a person’s life. It is a chronic condition, and it is also an allergy. It is an allergy in the sense that it is caused by the same kinds of bodily processes that cause asthma and a runny nose due to allergies

The central and most distressing symptom of eczema is incessant and unremitting itching. Patients, especially children, will often scratch themselves incessantly. The itching can be so bad that it will keep a person up at night, and make it difficult to have a good night’s sleep. 

In addition, eczema can be debilitating in that it causes blisters, running sores and inflamation that are a source of pain. And the pain and itching make it difficult for a person to focus on the present moment. Which can lead a person to be ashamed of both their appearance and their preoccupation with their itching and pain. As a result, many people who suffer from eczema avoid social social situations and are dissatisfied with their lives.

The typical course of eczema is that it is a chronic condition that has flare ups and remissions. Flare up are periods in which the itching increases and the rashes become more prominent.

Furthermore, eczema often occurs in tandem with two other allergic conditions: asthma and allergic rhinitis — which is simply a runny nose caused by allergies. All in all, eczema is a difficult illness to live with.

Stress and Eczema 

We don’t know a whole lot about the relationship between anxiety and eczema, but we do know a fair amount about the relationship between stress and eczema. For example, stress clearly causes eczema to flare up. Many people with eczema find that their flare-ups start or intensify with an increase in stress levels. Stress is thus known as one of the triggers for the frequent flare ups of eczema.

Secondly, the cause of eczema is unknown, which leaves the possibility that it is caused by stress in the first place..

Thirdly, several scientific studies have shown that many of the exact same chemical and cellular mechanisms that actually cause stress to manifest in your body also appear in patients who have eczema. 

In other words, people who have eczema often have the same physiological changes that occur in stress. This suggests at the very least that people with eczema are experiencing stress, and that stress may actually cause eczema. 

Anxiety and Eczema

Anxiety is a state of mind in which a person is also in a chronic state of bodily stress. Stress is a bodily response to a distinct threat. The threat might be a person who seems dangerous to you, a tornado that is coming your way, the nearby roar of a lion at night when you can’t even see it, or any number of things. Stress is an adaptive response to a threat that helps you deal with that threat. It is a gift from evolution, and it is often called the flight or fight response.

Anxiety is a state of constant stress that is not a response to an actual threat. It is a state of mind in which you feel you are constantly under threat in the absence of a tangible threat.

Given that anxiety is a stressful state, it seems likely that anxiety could play a role in causing and exacerbating eczema. Indeed, several studies have shown that patients with eczema are more likely to have problems with anxiety. We do not yet know for certain if anxiety plays a role in causing eczema or whether eczema causes anxiety. The greater likelihood is that both things happen.

Control Anxiety to Control Eczema

Eczema is rarely "caused" by anxiety, so relieving your anxiety is unlikely to make your eczema go away completely. But if you control your stress and anxiety you should be able to decrease some of your symptoms.

Here is a list of the things that was drawn up by a group of people with eczema. These are the things that the people in this group do to reduce stress when they are in the midst a flare up of their eczema:

  1. Yoga. Will try more Eastern arts, like Qigong and simple meditation as my daughter gets older.
  2. Guided imagery and meditation.
  3. Anything and everything. Sometimes hanging out with friends is the best thing because it makes you focus on something else. At home: video games, music, dancing, reading, whatever happens to be available. And if I get worried about my skin, I just remind myself that it takes time for things to get better, and to keep working on not scratching.
  4. Try to free your mind of any thought that could cause stress.
  5. I try to get extra sleep and moisturize.
  6. I use an unscented Aveeno product and I use apple cider vinegar to kill off some surface bacteria. Moisturizing is a constant since I have full body eczema. Sometimes nothing helps, and I just try to be quiet about it and sit up all night.
  7. I keep a close eye on my children during times of high stress. I have found that my stress levels rub off on them. When they flare, I try to limit new experiences and change. One son digs his skin in new situations that are uncomfortable. I spend more time cuddling and reading books, and generally try to stay more available to them.
  8. Pray
  9. I ask my three-year-old daughter to talk about her favorite things — like a recent trip to the zoo or aquarium or her visits to her friends and cousins — even when she is awake at night. She actually stops scratching and engages herself in a conversation, which helps.
  10. I do crossword puzzles and knit.
Article Resources
  1. 10 Tips For Dealing With Stress to Avoid an Eczema Flare. https://nationaleczema.org/tips-for-dealing-with-eczema-stress/
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