Eczema, also called atopic dermatitis, is a common skin condition that produces red or discolored, irritated, and painfully itchy skin. The condition is influenced by genetics and often triggered by allergens and irritants.
Emotional stress has also been linked to eczema flare-ups. Anxiety and eczema symptoms form a negative feedback loop — feelings of anxiety trigger an eczema flare, and an eczema flare produces feelings of anxiety — that can make it hard to control and prevent eczema symptoms.
MyEczemaTeam members have shared how stress has affected their eczema. “My rash was doing better, but then I had a stressful week. Now the rash is back on my stomach,” one member said. “I guess it’s true that stress and eczema are related.”
If you’re living with eczema and stress triggers your flares, here are some ways to manage stress to help control symptoms and improve your quality of life.
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To learn how to best manage your stress, it helps to have an understanding of stress, how it works in the body, and what might cause these intense feelings. With that awareness, you can learn how to manage your sources of stress and deal with feelings of stress that may be unavoidable.
Emotional tension, such as fear, anger, or nervousness, can activate the body’s stress response. The stress response is a chemical reaction in your body that releases stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones help you overcome dangerous situations by raising your heart rate and preparing your mind and body for a fight or flight.
Stress is a natural body response that, in small doses, is beneficial to your well-being. It can motivate you to complete a project on time or alert you to danger. However, when your stress response stays activated for long periods, considerable damage to your body can occur.
Inflammation is a negative effect of chronic (ongoing) stress. Eczema is an inflammatory skin disorder caused by an overactive immune system. Stress can aggravate eczema and worsen symptoms.
Unfortunately, sometimes stress goes under the radar, and we don’t realize how much it’s affecting our mental and physical health. To help identify your stressors, keep a journal about how you’re feeling and what’s on your mind.
Pay attention to anything that keeps you up at night or causes you emotional tension. Next, consider if certain activities and events (like big family gatherings or stressful work deadlines) may be associated with your eczema flare-ups. Until you understand what your stressors are, you can’t start to manage them. That’s why self-reflection and awareness are such critical first steps.
There is no cure for eczema, but there are various ways to manage and reduce symptoms. If stress triggers your eczema symptoms, getting enough quality sleep might help. A well-rested body is best equipped for a stressful day or recovery from a stressful experience.
A MyEczemaTeam member stated, “Stress and no sleep equals bad skin.”
Sleep requirements vary from person to person, but according to the Sleep Foundation, most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep per night. If you tend to sleep late on days off work or rely on caffeine to get you through the day, you might not be logging enough quality sleep. Eczema symptoms like itchy skin may be making it difficult to get a good night’s rest. Taking steps to improve your sleep hygiene, or sleep health, can help you better manage stress and, thus, eczema symptoms. Many medications that treat eczema are designed to reduce itch and aid sleep.
You can improve your sleep habits by sticking to a regular bedtime/wake-up schedule. In addition, developing a relaxing nighttime routine — which includes cutting off screen time — and preparing a comfortable bedroom environment can help promote better sleep. Make sure your bedroom is cool and dark enough. To drown out disruptive sounds, try turning on a white noise machine or a fan.
Eczema requires delicate skin care to relieve dryness and promote skin hydration. Rather than viewing these tasks as a burden, consider them time well spent to help you manage stress and care for your well-being. You can even incorporate skin care as part of your bedtime routine.
A skin care routine for managing eczema typically includes:
A MyEczemaTeam member shared how a relaxing bath with oatmeal helps combat daily stressors and irritants: “The summer heat, stress, and food allergies are all causing my eczema to be a pain to deal with. I soaked in an oatmeal bath and applied my cream medication, which has helped.”
Physical activity raises levels of feel-good hormones in the brain, boosting self-confidence and reducing depression and anxiety. Unfortunately, many people with eczema experience itching and other skin symptoms when they sweat. As a result, they may be reluctant to exercise and miss out on the mental and physical benefits of an active lifestyle.
If you’re concerned about how sweating affects your skin condition, make sure to exercise in a cool environment. Choose fabrics that let your skin “breathe” and don’t trap sweat. If you’re working out in a gym or other facility with showers available, consider rinsing off and changing into clean, dry clothes immediately after your workout. You can also opt for less vigorous exercise options, like yoga or tai chi, to bring down your stress levels without getting overheated.
It’s been said that laughter is the best medicine. For some people with eczema or other chronic health conditions, it may take extra effort to find humor and happiness in the midst of a flare-up. Additionally, the people we spend time with can have a strong influence on our perspective and outlook. Although you may not be able to completely avoid critical or negative people, you can work on building connections with those who lift you up and bring joy to your life.
Be mindful of the media and messages you’re exposed to. Whether you’re watching the news, viewing scary or disturbing shows and movies, or reading books that bring you down, it’s important to also seek sources of positive energy that foster a sense of balance and peace. The next time you’re looking for an event to attend, consider a stand-up comedy show or a funny movie. Listening to upbeat music or a podcast with positive messaging can also provide relief from mental stress.
If you’re having increased symptoms of stress, anxiety, or depression and the above tips don’t seem to help, consider reaching out to a therapist or medical professional for support and treatment suggestions.
Whether your symptoms result from stress or a combination of eczema triggers, it’s important to consult with a board-certified dermatologist to get a treatment plan that works for you and your condition. A common eczema treatment plan includes a combination of skin care, home remedies, trigger management, and medication.
Over-the-counter moisturizers and prescription topical skin medications can help manage eczema symptoms. Common products include:
In addition, new medications are being developed every year to treat the underlying causes of eczema. Current therapies include biologics like dupilumab (Dupixent) injections, which reduce inflammation and help treat an overactive immune system associated with eczema. Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors like upadacitinib (Rinvoq) pills act on specific immune pathways to address eczema symptoms while avoiding the risks of broader immunosuppression.
As you continue the journey to improve the way you manage stress, ask your dermatology provider about other opportunities to help your skin.
MyEczemaTeam is the social network for people with eczema and their loved ones. Here, more than 46,000 members from around the world come together to ask questions, offer support and advice, and connect with others who understand life with eczema.
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