As noted above, stress can exacerbate eczema symptoms for some people, resulting in a not-so-fun cycle. According to the National Eczema Association, tense feelings spark the fight-or-flight response, which increases the production of cortisol, the so-called stress hormone. The body can then respond to these high cortisol levels in the form of inflammation in the skin, potentially resulting in an eczema flare-up in those who are susceptible.
You’re having a hard time focusing.
Eczema can make it challenging to focus on your daily responsibilities in work and life. For starters, the intense itching can be distracting as heck. And, again, sleep issues caused by eczema can also add fuel to the fire. As Dr. Guttman-Yassky points out, losing sleep can disrupt your mental and cognitive function, making it difficult to think, concentrate, and go about your day.5 A 2020 study in The British Journal of Dermatology found a connection between eczema severity and work productivity. According to the findings, the more severe the eczema, the more work productivity declines, which can negatively affect a person’s quality of life.6
Your self-confidence is taking a hit.
As with many skin conditions, eczema can take a toll on body image and self-esteem, so much so that you might even feel like avoiding other people, something Dr. Guttman-Yassky says she’s noticed in her own patients. This is especially likely if your patches are oozing, crusting, or if they’re on visible areas of the body, like your face or hands. In these scenarios, seemingly routine interactions like shaking hands or hopping on a Zoom meeting can feel like a waking nightmare.
Your relationships are suffering.
“Eczema can interfere with building relationships,” Dr. Guttman-Yassky says. This includes relationships with romantic partners, as heightened stress and poor self-esteem stemming from eczema can potentially impede your ability to maintain these connections. Your rashes and patches might also hurt when touched, further complicating intimate interactions.7 In some cases, these intimacy issues can contribute to breakups, according to Dr. Guttman-Yassky.
As for family members and friends? They might be unable to grasp how crappy you’re feeling—or, in some cases, you may be tempted to pull back on socializing due to embarrassment or physical pain. In turn, you might feel less connected with loved ones, which can further erode your mental well-being.
How to find mental health support when you have eczema
Okay, so eczema is clearly more than skin deep… but what can you do about its mental health effects?
While there’s no cure for eczema, one of the first steps toward finding relief from both its mental and physical symptoms is establishing a long-term treatment plan with a dermatologist or primary care doctor, according to Dr. Guttman-Yassky. (If you don’t have access to one, check out the National Association of Free & Charitable Clinics or the HRSA Data Warehouse to look for free or low-cost health care providers near you.) Treatments like topical creams, biologics, and immunosuppressive medications can help you manage the physical manifestations of eczema, and ultimately, the mental symptoms, notes Dr. Guttman-Yassky.
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