Does it feel like your eczema flares up during your busiest weeks? Right before an important meeting? If so, you’re probably not wrong! Stress is one of the most common triggers of eczema, and it can lead to a never-ending, frustrating cycle if not properly managed.
You see, many people find eczema flare-ups themselves to be stressful. So picture this: You’re stressed, which causes your eczema to worsen, which stresses you out more!
That’s why it’s so important to have a stress management toolkit to be able to calm cortisol (stress) levels when they happen. Because let’s face it, no matter how calm your life, we all experience stress at least every once in a while.
So let’s dive into stress eczema and the connection between eczema and your mental health.
What Research Says About Stress and Eczema
When you’re in a stressful situation, the body goes into fight-or-flight mode. This response causes an increase in the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. When your body creates excess cortisol, it can suppress the immune system and set off an inflammatory response. That inflammation is thought to be one of the reasons eczema worsens during times of stress, though stress seems to impact eczema in a number of ways.
Research also shows that psychological (or mental) stress significantly slows wound healing. So when you’re in the middle of a very taxing and stressful situation when suddenly your eczema flares up, leaving you itchier and more uncomfortable than ever, you scratch away at the red, flaky rash in order to get some sense of relief… but in the midst of your fervent scratching, you break the skin and cause cuts, leaving your body more susceptible to infection. Now, not only has stress caused your eczema to worsen, but it’s also slowed your body’s ability to repair the skin.
That’s why reducing stress can play a major role in keeping eczema symptoms at bay and protecting your overall skin health.
It’s important to note that minimizing stress likely won’t cause your eczema to go away for good — but it will help you manage your skin condition and keep you feeling better in your own skin!
How to Reduce Stress & Manage Flare-Ups
The last thing we want is for you to start feeling even more stressed or guilty that you’re feeling stressed. Remember that we all encounter stressful situations at different points in our life, and minor stressors can come up every single day. What’s most important is having the tools to support your mind and body when those stressful situations arise.
Here are a few ways to help you lower your stress levels and fight the itch:
Finding time to squeeze a workout into a busy schedule can feel like a daunting task, but research shows just 20 or 30 minutes of aerobic exercise can help reduce stress. Not sure what aerobic exercises are? Think cardio — workouts like running, walking, biking, jump roping, kickboxing, etc.
A 2016 study found that experienced meditators had reduced stress and inflammatory responsiveness… and the best part? You can begin implementing a meditation practice in as little as five or 10 minutes each day. Simply set aside quiet time to focus on your breathing and allow your thoughts to flow away. There are plenty of online resources and apps to help get you started if needed.
Interestingly, research has shown yoga to have a similar effect as meditation on cortisol levels.
Get Enough Sleep
The National Sleep Foundation recommends healthy adults get between seven to nine hours of sleep each night, yet most adults are reporting getting less than that amount.
Sleep allows your body to recharge and is necessary for many human functions. Without proper rest, your immune system may weaken, mood changes can occur, your metabolism may slow, and your concentration may plummet… Plus, a lack of sleep has been shown to cause an increase in cortisol levels.
So aim for seven to nine hours of sleep each night and see how that affects your overall stress long-term. Your whole body will thank you!
Sometimes the best way to help alleviate stress is to just “let it out.” Journaling your feelings and frustrations can be an effective way to release pent up stress and tension. While you’re expressing your feelings, don’t forget to also write down three things you’re grateful for. Gratitude has been shown to reduce cortisol levels by 23%. What you’re thankful for can be as simple as the cup of coffee you had in the morning or as big as the house you live in! The important part is just to note the (little or big) things that make you grateful.
Spend Time with Loved Ones
Laughing, hugging, and talking with your close friends or family can effectively reduce cortisol levels. Even if you can’t get together with your loved ones in person, talking on the phone or via video call is the next best thing! Knowing you have a supportive community around who encourages you and brings joy to your life can make all the difference.
Stress wreaks havoc on your whole body when the fight-or-flight response shuts down important organ functioning to keep your body in preservation, or survival, mode. It’s no surprise then that research shows a strong connection between stress and eczema flare-ups.
For your overall health and skin health, it’s important to find effective ways to help keep stress at bay. Exercising, meditating, getting the recommended hours of sleep each night, journaling, and spending time with friends or family tend to be effective strategies for most people! Everyone is unique, though, so find the stress management techniques that work best for you personally.
With some trial and error — and a healthy dose of patience — you’ll have those pesky eczema symptoms back under control again.
And always remember that you’re not alone on this journey. We at Gladskin are here to support you… and if you need some extra encouragement, check out Sasha’s story and learn how she manages stress eczema with Gladskin Eczema Cream and other alternative therapies.