If you find that your eczema flares up right before a big presentation or in the middle of tax season, it’s no coincidence. Experts have known for years that stress can make eczema worse. In fact, a branch of medicine, called psychodermatology, examines how the mind affects the skin.
"During times of stress, the inflammation in the skin increases, as a way to protect the skin from harm," says Donald V. Belsito, professor of clinical dermatology at Columbia University. "So if you already have inflammation in your skin, as with eczema, stress will worsen your condition."
The key is to try to manage your stress. Studies have found that managing the effects of emotional stress in your life might be one of the best ways to help control your eczema. Here are seven tips to help manage the stress in your life.
1. Get Enough Sleep
Getting a good night’s sleep can help reduce stress. But it’s not always easy to sleep when your eczema is itchy and flaring. If eczema is keeping you up at night, talk with your doctor about controlling your symptoms. "A lot of patients find relief from taking a sedating antihistamine before bed," Belsito says. Antihistamines can help ease itching, and they have a sedating effect that may help with sleep.
2. Find Support
Having eczema can add to your daily stress. "Eczema can make it difficult just to get through your day," says Belsito. "It can feel embarrassing if you’re itching all day at work or can’t get comfortable." But talking with other people who have the same problem can help. You can find support groups for eczema online or in your local community.
"It’s touching to see the sharing that happens in our online chat rooms and support groups for eczema," says Julie Block, president and CEO of the National Eczema Association. "It’s an important way for people with eczema to connect with others. And it really seems to help people find ways to deal with their eczema."
3. Try a Relaxation Technique
From deep breathing to yoga and visualization, there are many ways to relax. Find out what’s offered in your community and then see what works best for you. "What helps someone relax is an individual choice," says Belsito. "While some people may enjoy biofeedback or meditation, those options aren’t for everyone." Other options include progressive relaxation and listening to a relaxation CD. Another idea is to take a few minutes each day to write your concerns down on a piece of paper. You can rip up the paper when you’re done.
4. Get Some Exercise
Exercise is another great stress buster. Whether your exercise of choice is walking, running, or playing tennis, it can improve your physical and mental health. Exercise also releases chemicals in your brain that can make you feel good. But if sweat is a trigger for your eczema, make sure to take a cool or lukewarm shower soon after your workout to remove sweat.