THE ITCH STRESS CYCLE

Eczema is the name for a group of skin conditions which cause the skin to be inflamed, red, itchy and dry. Eczema can be soothed with topical creams and oils. However if you suffer from severe eczema like me, you may have to manage your stress levels to avoid an extreme outbreak.

Sadly, stress can impact your skin in numerous ways. Stress is a general trigger that can make the skin misbehave in whichever way the skin is prone to, and for me that results in severe eczema outbreaks. Stress doesn’t cause eczema but it can provoke symptoms. Persistent anxiety or stress causes the body to release the hormone cortisol which, over time will increase inflammation throughout the body and can lead to eczema flare ups.

The inflammation caused by stress makes my skin feel irritated. When I’m feeling super stressed, like clock work my eczema will flare up. It starts with itching my scalp and my arms, a few days later I’m itching my arms so much sometimes they will bleed. The more stressed I am, the more I itch. The more I itch, the more I stress about my skin. It can be a never ending cycle. In dermatology this is known as the itch-scratch cycle.

 



Managing my stress is now a crucial component of how I stay in control of my eczema. I find it easy to let my itching be a form of de-stressing which isn't helpful. I try hard not to itch the places where I’m prone to eczema breakouts - my scalp, face and arms - and drink water to distract my mind or the temptation. Sometimes I’ll even rub my arms, like a child with chickenpox and oven mitts to soothe the area. 

Realising that stress adds to my eczema flare ups has helped me immensely. However, sometimes life gets in the way, I’m not always in control of my stress levels and therefore not always able to control my flare ups. During this time I soothe my eczema as best I can, with cold showers, avoiding very warm climates and slathering on moisturisers and oils. Most importantly, I try my best not to worry about it. I listen to my body and do my best to unwind. 

If your skin is stressing you out or your stress is irritating your skin, perhaps try speaking to a psychotherapist or explore psycho-dermatology, which can delve deeper into the stress-skin connection. Here are some useful links to seek help:

https://www.royalfree.nhs.uk/services/services-a-z/dermatology/psychodermatology/psychodermatology-faqs/

http://skinsupport.org.uk/content/psychodermatology

http://skinsupport.org.uk/