Eczema is a chronic, inflammatory skin condition, but the effects go much deeper than that. Changes in the color and texture of the skin can impact self-esteem, and constant itchiness, discomfort, and self-consciousness can cause emotional distress.
Collectively, these symptoms can lead to significant mental and physical health concerns, including:
- anxiety and depression
- sleep disorders
- attention deficit disorders
- suicidal ideation
Emotional distress can also cause the body to release chemicals that cause inflammation, which can worsen eczema symptoms and lead to flares. Especially during the transition from childhood to adolescence, stress can commonly become a trigger of eczema symptoms.
In this article, we take a closer look at the role of mental health care in eczema symptom management and provide strategies for managing your mental health with eczema.
Because emotional well-being can be significantly affected by eczema symptoms (and vice versa), caring for your mental health is an important component of eczema care.
In a recent study, people with eczema who participated in an internet-based therapy program had
Compared with people who only received education on their disease and treatment but didn’t participate in the therapy program, those who received therapy also were found to have:
- less intense itching
- lower stress levels
- fewer sleep problems
- lower levels of depression
There are many benefits of therapy for people with eczema, including physical and emotional relief. Therapists can also offer tips for coping with the stress of living with eczema and techniques to avoid constant scratching.
People with eczema may be prescribed a variety of therapies to help manage their mental health, such as:
- mindfulness-based therapy
- cognitive behavioral therapy
- anti-anxiety medications or antidepressants
Cognitive-behavioral therapy, also known as CBT, is a type of therapy that focuses on changing your mindset and way of thinking to prevent unwanted behaviors. For people with eczema, that may mean developing strategies to stop you from scratching in stressful situations.
Therapists can also help with relaxation techniques that can help you take care of your mental well-being by reducing stress. These may include exercises such as:
Like the therapy program used in the study described above, some people may prefer internet-based therapy. Even before the pandemic, online therapy was a growing industry that made it easier for people to connect with a therapist from their own homes.
But everyone is different, and some people may prefer in-person therapy over online sessions. If you’re experiencing severe depression or anxiety from your eczema symptoms, your therapist may prefer to start in person as well.
In addition to therapy, there are steps you can take on your own to protect your mental health.
The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) offers some tips for coping with stress related to eczema.
- Connect with others who have eczema. Having eczema can feel isolating, but it’s actually one of the most common skin conditions. Connecting with others, such as through online support groups, can help boost self-esteem, reduce feelings of isolation, and help you learn new ways to cope with living with eczema.
- Learn effective strategies for stress management. If you find that you’re unable to relax or handle your stress on your own, a therapist can help you identify healthy coping strategies.
- Practice healthy habits. Try to eat nutritious, well-balanced meals, prioritize quality sleep, and try to get regular physical activity. This also means practicing healthy skin habits, such as moisturizing often and using medications prescribed by your dermatologist.
- Connect with an eczema specialist. Dermatologists are experienced at treating eczema, which means their patients often have fewer eczema symptoms and, in turn, eczema-related stress than people treated by non-specialists. If you haven’t already, talk with your regular healthcare professional about how to connect with a dermatologist in your area.
If you’re interested in meeting with a therapist, talk with your dermatologist about finding someone who has experience working with people with eczema. They may be able to provide recommendations for someone who’s already attuned to the unique needs and concerns that go along with living with a chronic skin condition.
You may also try using an online directory for therapists in your area. You can filter by specialties like chronic pain or chronic illness, as well as insurances accepted.
Your dermatologist can also connect you with eczema support groups or communities that may be able to recommend therapists in your area (or online) with experience with eczema.
Before your first appointment, be sure to call your insurance company or the clinic to determine whether therapy is covered by your medical plan and what costs you can expect.
The relationship between mental health and skin symptoms in eczema is complex and bidirectional. Itchiness, irritation, and discoloration can be stressful, and stress can make the symptoms of eczema worse. This leads to a cycle of physical and emotional distress that can cause low self-esteem and mental health concerns.
Research shows that people with eczema may benefit from seeing a therapist who can help them develop healthy coping strategies and relaxation techniques to reduce stress, which in turn can help relieve symptoms related to eczema.
If you find that you’re experiencing intrusive or negative thoughts related to your eczema, your dermatologist can help connect you with a therapist who understands your unique needs.
Help is out there
If you or someone you know is in crisis and considering suicide or self-harm, please seek support:
- Call the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.
- Text HOME to the Crisis Textline at 741741.
- Not in the United States? Find a helpline in your country with Befrienders Worldwide.
- Call 911 or your local emergency services number if you feel safe to do so.
If you’re calling on behalf of someone else, stay with them until help arrives. You may remove weapons or substances that can cause harm if you can do so safely.
If you are not in the same household, stay on the phone with them until help arrives.