Stress and Eczema - Breaking The Cycle [Step-By-Step Guide]
What Is Stress?
Stress is the body’s reaction to feeling threatened or pressured. It can benefit us in many ways and acts as a strong motivator to achieve daily goals related to work and family life.
But when we experience stress often and at high intensity, we tend to become overwhelmed. This can lead to feelings of loss of control, resulting in anxiety, irritability and low self-esteem. ¹
Stress can manifest in various ways. Here are the common signs:
Frequent racing thoughts
A lack of self-confidence
Avoidance of social interactions
Changes in appetite
Turning to harmful behaviours such as drinking or smoking
Over long periods, this can lead to anxiety and depression. This is when stress causes a constant impact on our quality of life. As it relates to eczema, stress also has other unintended consequences…
Eczema and Stress: What’s The Relationship?
Eczema and stress have an unfortunate relationship. Whenever we experience stress, our body surges with fight or flight chemicals. Over time, this can increase the activity of the body’s immune system. And eczema is strongly related to an upregulated auto-immune system.
This means that the body in those with eczema is hyper-alert. As a result, it’ll react to the materials on the skin more than those without eczema.² This is what leads to the inflammation commonly seen during flare-ups. Unfortunately, stress only serves to make this even more likely.
The Stress-Eczema Cycle
We’ve covered how stress can act to worsen our eczema. But the opposite is also true. Because worsening eczema leads to increased anxiety. This is understandable as the condition goes well beyond the skin. It can impact our relationships, work and overall confidence. In fact, over 50% of people with eczema report mental health difficulties due to the condition. This is related to the stress-eczema cycle.³
This process explains the two-way effects of stress and eczema. Stress leads to a worsening of our skin due to a heightened immune system and more flare-ups. But worsening eczema leads to increased stress levels, and the process continues. It’s what’s known as a vicious cycle.
It can be easy to let this slide and be caught up in the process multiple times each month. But the research shows that we can use many tried and tested techniques to break the cycle effectively. And it all begins with awareness - so you’re already halfway there…
Breaking The Stress-Eczema Cycle
The gold standard in tackling the stress associated with eczema is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT aims to tackle overwhelming problems with a more positive outlook by breaking them down into smaller parts.⁴ It evaluates your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and actions and serves to re-wire these connections. In turn, this helps to cope with stressful situations related to eczema.
It’s a therapy that has proven to be highly effective at tackling several mental health difficulties, including stress and depression.⁵ But often, this therapy isn’t specific to eczema. At Proton Health, we’ve developed the world’s first cognitive behavioural therapy programme for eczema. The course is delivered via the app over 6 weeks. It also helps to tackle eczema-related challenges, including self-esteem, confidence and relationships.
Other Tips To Reduce Stress
There are several other techniques that you can use to combat stress and reduce eczema flare-ups. Here are a bunch of techniques to help you break the cycle:
Identify Your Stress Factors
Increasing awareness of your high-stress periods will help you discover your stress factors. Stress factors are anything in your environment that gets you feeling down.
You can identify these by regularly tracking your mood and how it relates to your skin. An easy way to do this is to regularly journalling using the Proton Health app, where you can pinpoint the things that impact your mood the most.
Break Down Tasks
If a task is daunting, break it down into smaller goals. This has been proven to improve productivity and prevent our minds from becoming overwhelmed. In addition, by hitting these smaller but more achievable goals, we boost the happy chemicals in our brain, which also keeps us motivated.
Our brains aren’t designed to remember much information and can quickly become daunted by large projects. So another way to break these thoughts down is by planning ahead. Ensure you’re using a to-do list or a calendar to prevent this.
Writing our thoughts, feelings and experiences is scientifically proven to reduce stress. This is because it helps to bring the events in our lives into perspective, which prevents anxious thoughts.
Sometimes the best way of staving off negative thoughts is to focus on the positives. As the saying goes, every day may not be good, but there’s always something good every day. So practising gratitude by recalling 3 positive things that happened each day is a great start.
It is a great way to improve your mood by releasing the happy chemicals in your brain. In addition, it’s been shown to significantly reduce stress, so try a new sport or hobby such as walking, running or playing squash.
Practising mindfulness has been shown to improve quality of life and significantly reduce stress. At its core, it’s a technique that helps you live in the present and avoid thinking about past worries or future anxieties.
In addition, mindfulness helps to remodel our thinking and improve our reactions to adverse events. You’ll be able to find several meditation focussed sessions within the app!
Challenge Your Thoughts
The way we think impacts how we feel. If you find yourself frequently having negative thoughts, challenge them. Otherwise, over time they seep into our minds and make us believe they’re true. Instead, confronting them and creating reasons why they aren’t true can help to counteract these thoughts.
Eczema Support Groups
Joining an eczema support group is a helpful way to connect with others to discuss and receive support in managing eczema. Proton Health features a support group of fellow Protoneers to assist with the journey.
Talk To Someone
Friends and family act as a great support network and can often help to show us the bigger picture. So make sure to tap into their advice regularly to prevent becoming overwhelmed. And remember, if you’ve been feeling low in mood for over 2 weeks, it’s essential to seek further help and talk to a healthcare provider.
Make sure to maximise all features within the Proton Health app to break the stress-eczema cycle. This includes our CBT programme, daily day brighteners, various therapy sessions and personalised tips to boost your mood. In addition, you’ll find more techniques to break the Stress-Eczema cycle as part of the Proton Health programme!
Stress - every mind matters [Internet]. nhs.uk. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/every-mind-matters/mental-health-issues/stress/
Mittermann I, Aichberger KJ, Bünder R, Mothes N, Renz H, Valenta R. Autoimmunity and atopic dermatitis. Curr Opin Allergy Clin Immunol [Internet]. 2004 [cited 2022 Aug 12];4(5):367–71. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15349035/
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) [Internet]. nhs.uk. [cited 2022 Aug 12]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/talking-therapies-medicine-treatments/talking-therapies-and-counselling/cognitive-behavioural-therapy-cbt/overview/
Hofmann SG, Asnaani A, Vonk IJJ, Sawyer AT, Fang A. The efficacy of cognitive behavioral therapy: A review of meta-analyses. Cognit Ther Res [Internet]. 2012 [cited 2022 Aug 12];36(5):427–40. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10608-012-9476-1