Feeling itchy and scratching the skin is a hallmark of atopic dermatitis or eczema. One of the major triggers for this response is stress.
I am going to list a few of the more common sources of stress.
- Losing your job
- Having a major life change (losing a loved one, conflicts with friends and family)
- Trying not to scratch
- Feeling insecure about your inability to stop scratching, or feeling insecure about yourself in general
- Being a worry-wart
- Exhaustion and too much activity
- Major hormone changes (puberty, menopause, starting or stopping the birth control pill)
- A high-pressure job or home life, with major demands
- Feeling out of control about your skin and life in general
What they do the stressors have in common?
All sources of stress activate our hormone system, and the fight-or-flight response. This response increases inflammation in the body, and changes the ability of our immune system to be balanced and healthy.
Stress-induced inflammation activates the inflammation already in skin with eczema. It becomes increasingly more difficult to control scratching itchy, inflamed skin when the only thing you can control is itching itself. The cycle itself is so difficult to interrupt once it stops.
So, rather than beat yourself up (if you have eczema), or continue to admonish people you love to stop scratching (if you are a family or friend support), let’s consider other options.
3 Stress-Busting Tips to Reduce Scratching in Eczema
- Making scratching more conscious. There are actually a number of apps for itching with conscious tracking and noticing when itching. Rather than criticizing or putting “names” on the itching itself, it can help to just pay attention in general.
- Identifying your external triggers for stress. If you feel uncomfortable in certain situations, you more likely to itch. Try to identify when this happens. There are other ways to calm yourself down before you are in a situation (deep breathing, taking breaks, imagery) and if you can accept and identify them in advance, you may be able to itch a bit less.
- Identifying your own anxieties surrounding this condition. You may feel overwhelmed, and hopeless. You may also feel like you have no control over your body. These thoughts and feelings about your body can be challenging, especially when they are on a running loop. What is important to notice in these moments is a few items:
- While the disorder is very uncomfortable, you are not dying. The crisis is only that you feel you cannot escape the discomfort, which is distressing. The unknown can be scary. This does not mean your suffering is not important, this just means that the moments of intensity will pass, as they always do.
- As flared as the skin can be, there are solutions. You just may not have identified them yet.
- What are some good and positive things about yourself, not just with this condition, but in yourself as a whole? While you have eczema, you are not eczema.
These few things alone can help to link the deep connection between the mind and body, and improve it. Who knows? You may be able to name the elephant in the room, and as a result, your body has an opportunity change its responses.
Thoughts on stress and eczema? Feel free to post below!
Next week I will post on some physical supports for the skin to relief the itch in a pinch.