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The Mind-Skin-Health Connection.

Feel Emotions in Your Heart

In many cases, skin problems may be intimately linked with emotional issues the person is dealing with.

"Skin symptoms like other symptoms are often well-intentioned but doomed attempts to make our lives better," says Grossbart. "They are doomed because we're trying to use our skin to do things the skin is not designed for. I tell my patients, 'try to feel your emotions in your heart, not in your skin.'"

For example, Grossbart recalls one patient who was caring for a difficult baby, with little help.

"She developed a rash on her hand, on her ring finger, and it was so severe her wedding ring had to be cut off," he says. "Meanwhile, she was wearing similar rings on other fingers with no problem. This is a kind of body poetry, a physical metaphor."

One way to deal with stress is to use mind-body techniques, forming mental images of a safe, nurturing environment. Hypnosis and self-hypnosis can be effective too, Grossbart says.

"But when you're dealing with stress, the problem may not be the stressful situation, as much as the effort to avoid that situation and the feelings it arouses," he says.

Grossbart urges patients to use focused psychotherapy to explore and deal more effectively with situations that trigger skin symptoms.

"When you look at what's going on underneath, most often we find unacknowledged anger. Next, we often find people crying out for more love and caring." How, and whether, to express these emotions will depend on each person's particular situation. "The first thing is to feel what you feel. Experience your emotions and don't kid yourself," Grossbart says.

Originally published Nov. 5, 2001.
Medically updated July 20, 2004.

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