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Is Your Eczema Out of Control? Stress Could be to Blame


September 23, 2020 | Published by

Eczema, also called atopic dermatitis, is a skin condition consisting of a rash-like appearance. There are many triggers for eczema, including: overly dry skin; bacterial, viral, and fungal infections; and irritants such as metals, cigarette smoke, fragrances, and fabrics like wool and polyester. Another trigger for eczema is stress.1

How Does Stress Worsen Eczema Symptoms?

It’s important to understand the connection between stress and eczema. When we experience a stressful moment, our body goes into fight-or-flight mode, which causes our body to increase the production of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. If our body produces too much cortisol, it can result in the suppression of the immune system and cause an inflammatory response in the skin. This inflammatory response effects individuals with skin diseases, such as eczema, more than others.2

This cascading response from the immune system imbalance increases the production of immunoglobulin E antibodies, which cause allergic reactions. This causes the body to experience various other physiological changes that affect the skin.1

One example includes the increase of mast cell production. These white blood cells release a compound, called histamine, that causes itchiness. Additionally, stress also causes our blood vessels to dilate, which releases even more histamine. These and other responses work together during stressful events and can increase eczema symptoms.1

Eczema and Mental Health Issues

A recent survey by the National Eczema Association revealed that more than 30% of individuals with eczema were diagnosed with anxiety and/or depression. Our body brain connection is one explanation of why people with inflammatory skin diseases such as eczema are more susceptible to mental health issues.2

During inflammatory eczema responses, the body — notably the skin, which is the body’s largest organ — communicates with the brain through assorted sensations, such as heat, pain, itchiness, and discomfort.1

Additionally, the psychological stress of having eczema can often lead to even more issues. Various external factors, such as school or work, can cause stress, resulting in worsening eczema symptoms. For some, flare-ups result from the stress of knowing they have eczema.1

Sleeping Well When You Have Eczema

The itchy, uncomfortable skin associated with eczema can make getting to sleep challenging. Lack of sleep can cause stress and exacerbate eczema symptoms, especially if sleeplessness occurs the night before an important activity or tiredness interferes with important activities during the day.2

In a 2016 survey by the National Eczema Association, about one-half of the respondents said they were bothered by inadequate sleep and symptoms of mental health issues such as depression and anxiety due to eczema. The skin condition also affected their ability to effectively engage in self-improvement activities. Research has even shown that even one night of sleep loss can increase inflammation.2

If you are suffering from sleep issues that may be affecting your eczema, here are some tips to help relax you and help get a better night’s sleep1:

  • Take a warm bath or shower shortly before bed.
  • Apply an eczema-friendly moisturizer after bathing to help sooth itches.
  • Limit the use of electronics before bedtime.
  • Limit caffeine consumption after lunch.
  • Keep your bedroom dark.
  • Take over-the-counter, sedating antihistamines shortly before bed to fight itchiness and make you drowsy.

Although ridding your life of stress won’t eliminate your eczema altogether, it will help alleviate some of the common symptoms of this disease. Here are some strategies for cutting down stress, reducing anxiety and learning how to live well with eczema4:


This is the most natural kind of breathing, although it may feel unfamiliar initially. If you have ever watched a baby breathing you have seen belly-breathing; the belly, rather than the chest, expands and contracts. This allows the air to reach the lower part of your lungs, where there is a rich blood supply. This triggers the relaxation response within a few minutes.

Slowing Down Your Breath

Whenever you notice you are feeling tense and uptight, check and see how you are breathing. Most people under stress either alternate holding their breath with taking barely perceptible short breaths, or take rapid shallow breaths. After you become aware of your own breathing, consciously relax your belly and slow down your breathing.

Counting Your Exhalations

This is a variation on slowing down your breath that should be done when you can set aside 10 minutes of time to focus. Get comfortable in a relatively quiet place and begin belly-breathing. This time, count slowly from 5 down to 1 with each exhalation. Your mind will probably wander many times, but that’s okay. Calmly bring it back to counting from 5 to 1 during each exhalation. Do this for at least 5 minutes.

Repeating a Mantra or Affirmation

First you need to choose a word, phrase or sound that is calming to you. Some examples that other people have chosen are, “relax,” “peace,” “I am still,” and “I open my heart.” Take 15-20 minutes in a quiet place where you will not be disturbed. Sit or lie down with your back straight and close your eyes. Focus your attention either between your eyebrows (mind center) or in the middle of your chest (heart center). Allow your breathing to slow down and deepen.

When you feel settled, begin repeating your word/phrase/sound out loud or silently. Do this for at least 15 minutes once or twice a day and you will be amazed at the change in how you feel.

Progressive Relaxation

This is a particularly good exercise if you have a lot of stress-related aches and pains or if you have difficulty relaxing. With practice it trains your body to release tension and relax more easily. This exercise takes about 10-20 minutes and is best done lying down. Some people use it to help themselves fall asleep. Take a few slow breaths to get settled and then, starting with your toes, first tighten the muscles in your toes as tight as you can, hold for about 10 seconds and then relax your toes. Next tighten up the muscles in your feet, hold for 10 seconds, and then relax. Repeat this procedure all the way up until every part of your body has been tensed and then relaxed.

The Quiet Pond

Spending some time by a quiet pond, or other still place, allows your cares and burdens to slide down off your shoulders and slip away. It is amazing how refreshing a few minutes beside a pond can be. If you have not had that experience, maybe you have had one of your own–a place you can go that is so peaceful, comforting and renewing, and is hard to leave.


  1. https://www.everydayhealth.com/skin-beauty/eczema/eczema-stress-connection/
  2. Eczema and Emotional Wellness. The National Eczema Association. https://nationaleczema.org/eczema-emotional-wellness/
  3. 10 Tips For Dealing With Stress to Avoid an Eczema Flare. The National Eczema Association. https://nationaleczema.org/tips-for-dealing-with-eczema-stress/
  4. Wilson, J. Got Stress? Dr. Wilson Says Relax. Adrenalfatigue.org. https://adrenalfatigue.org/got-stress-dr-wilson-says-relax/

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