Could your state of mind be affecting your eczema?
Experts say yes! We talk a lot about the link between eczema and other health factors, such as diet and environment. However, another important component that is less frequently discussed is the link between mental health issues - such as depression and anxiety - and eczema flare ups. To help break it down, we’ve got the answers to your most common questions. Keep reading for the full scoop.
Do emotions have any effect on skin issues like eczema? As you likely already know, our emotions are very complicated, but the simple answer is that our mental and emotional well-being can definitely have a significant impact on our physical health. Therefore, it only makes sense that our emotions can play a part in affecting the body’s largest organ - aka your skin. The skin is actually one of the first places to display signs of imbalance when our minds and/or bodies are under any kind of stress.
What happens to the skin when we feel stressed or depressed? Essentially, when we are in a state of distress, the body’s natural defense mechanisms (known as flight or fight modes) kick in and we experience an increase in stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol.
This is a completely normal response. However, for someone with eczema, this extra production of cortisol can create the same kind of inflammatory response that triggers an outbreak. Additionally, studies have shown that struggling with depression for periods of time can weaken the immune system, making it more difficult for your skin to heal and repair as it normally would.
Unfortunately, when this happens, experts say it can create a cycle of distress around uncomfortable eczema symptoms, such as dry skin, itchiness, and painful flare ups. You may even experience more difficulty sleeping as a result, and these factors can take an added toll on your overall well-being.
What can be done to prevent feeling stressed out? The good news is that there are lots of tools out there that can help with lowering stress levels, boosting your mood, and navigating depression. Mindful activities like meditation, yoga, journaling, and exercise can be beneficial for day-to-day management. You might also want to consider talk therapy, either in-person or via online platforms, as a way to work through difficult emotions, including chronic stress, anxiety, and depression.
Can going to therapy actually help clear up your skin issues? Because therapy has many benefits in addition to healthy skin, it’s a great option for anyone who struggles with eczema flare ups during difficult times. Although a visit with a therapist may not clear up your eczema overnight, experts say that talk therapy can be very helpful for learning to cope and manage your mental health long-term. Over time, this type of intervention can begin to lower your body’s inflammation levels and create more internal balance, meaning you may be able to keep eczema symptoms minimized.
References: Psychoneuroimmunology of Psychological Stress and Atopic Dermatitis: Pathophysiologic and Therapeutic Updates by Andrea L. Suarez, Jamison D. Feramisco, John Koo, and Martin Steinhoff https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3704139/
The Link Between Eczema and Depression by Emily Cronkleton, medically reviewed by Reema Patel, MPA, PA-C https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/eczema-and-depression
The Link Between Eczema and Mental Health by Kristeen Cherney, medically reviewed by Nicole Washington, DO, MPH https://www.healthline.com/health/eczema/the-link-between-eczema-and-mental-health