It is estimated that up to 17 percent of Canadians will suffer from eczema at some point in their lives. Studies show that symptoms of eczema are associated with stress. Researchers have also observed that more than 50 per cent of people with eczema reported that at least one stressful event occurred in the month prior to the worsening of their disease.
Dr. Sandy Skotnicki, a consultant dermatologist at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto and an expert in allergic skin disease says, “eczema is itchy and uncomfortable. Patients often have decreased quality of life due to appearance and sleep problems.” Because eczema makes the skin itchy, it can lead to scratching. Scratching makes the skin even itchier, which then leads to more scratching. So, many people find themselves in an itch-scratch cycle that can also cause stress.
Seventy-three percent of adult respondents with moderate or severe atopic dermatitis reported stress as a trigger for the itch that comes with eczema and many eczema sufferers have difficulty refraining from scratching when stressed, which makes their eczema worse and itchier).
What can you do to reduce your stress? Try these strategies.
Meditation is generally a formal, seated practice focusing on breathing techniques and turning the mind inward. Ongoing research suggests that practicing meditation regularly can help with depression by changing how the brain responds to stress and anxiety. If you’re new to meditation, use an app to help guide you or sign up for a yoga class where meditation is part of the practice.
Research suggests that mindfulness may improve physical health, reduce chronic pain, strengthen the immune system, reduce fatigue and reduce anxiety and depression. Mindfulness involves being in the moment, paying attention to your senses, and letting sensations and feelings pass without judgement. It can be a focused practice, as part of meditation or an overall state of being.
Try progressive muscle relaxation, a focused mindfulness practice that involves tightening muscles to create tension, then progressively releasing this tension.
Speaking to a psychologist or mental health professional can help you manage your stress and identify behaviours that may be increasing your stress. Another option, could include a program like Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction, which teaches people how to help manage their stress, usually through eight-weeks of guided sessions.
Sleep is often a challenge for eczema sufferers. Create an oasis that makes you feel safe and comfortable and reserve the bedroom for sleep and intimacy, only. Try to regulate your wake-sleep cycle by going to sleep and waking up at the same time each day, spending time outdoors and putting your phone down at least 30 minutes before bed. As creatures of habit, creating a bedtime routine signals to the brain that it’s time to sleep. About an hour before bed, you might take a bath, drink herbal tea, read a book or journal.
Moving your body is one of the most effective ways to reduce stress, improve sleep quality and boost overall health. Exercise lowers the levels of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol while stimulating production of feel-good endorphins. Aerobics, yoga, running and walking—especially in nature—are all great ways to improve your mood and health.