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A Vicious Cycle Connects Eczema and Mental Illness

While the interconnectedness between eczema – a chronic inflammatory skin disease – and mental health conditions – notably anxiety and depression – is indisputable, it is also manageable.

Each Condition Triggers the Other

The stress of coping with skin discoloration, incessant itching, social stigmatization and sleeplessness caused by eczema can trigger anxiety and depression. In fact, people with eczema are four times more likely than the general population to develop depression.

Conversely, anxiety and depression can trigger eczema flares, which can, in turn, deepen mental illness. People with eczema, for example, experience an increased risk of suicidal thoughts and actions.

Not all of America’s 32 million eczema patients are trapped in the vicious cycle. The scope of the eczema and mental illness connection is large enough and severe enough, however, to warrant serious attention.

Stress Relief Strategies

While all the causes of the eczema and mental illness connection are unknown, one widely recognized trigger for both is stress. Fortunately, some strategies can help with stress management. Among them:

  • Engage in physical activity. Regular exercise is well recognized for its ability to relieve stress and improve mood. Patients should check with their doctor about the intensity and frequency of physical activity that is appropriate for them.
  • Eat consciously. There is a strong, although not scientifically proven, belief that certain foods can trigger eczema flare-ups and the stress that comes with them. For example, dairy, gluten, nuts and fish are widely associated with allergic reactions in people with eczema.
  • Focus on sleep. Getting enough sleep is an important but sometimes elusive asset for people with eczema. For some, taking an antihistamine or having a warm bath with skin moisturizers can help calm irritating symptoms and ready them for bed. The National Eczema Association has compiled a list of sleep strategies for those who may need alternative options.
  • Practice mindfulness. There are many physical and emotional approaches to relieve stress and reduce its related effect on eczema. These include deep breathing, listening to soothing music or practicing yoga. Reserving time each day for an enjoyable activity or to get out in the sunshine can also help with stress relief.

This October, during Eczema Awareness Month, is an opportune time for patients to incorporate a stress relief strategy into their routines. Small health changes can provide benefits, even for those whose eczema is controlled and mental health is good.