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The Mental Health Impact of Skin Conditions

Your skin is the body’s largest organ; and is vitally important to our wellbeing. And as with other organs, it can be affected by a number of factors, many of which can be both physically and emotionally debilitating. 

The Mind and Skin Connection

Did you know skin conditions, including eczema, psoriasis, and rosacea, can have significant psychological effects on patients?  Living with a skin condition can be downright challenging to our mental wellbeing.  Studies have consistently shown a link between the experience of skin conditions and an increased likelihood of developing mental health issues, most commonly depression and anxiety disorders. 

Multiple studies have shown consistently poorer quality of life and psychosocial functioning scores among patients with visible skin conditions compared to those who do not have such conditions. This is likely due to patients experiencing psychological challenges which in turn, impact on their social functioning. Patients may become fearful and uncomfortable interacting with others, even when symptoms are not present, and consequently develop avoidance-coping mechanisms. This may prevent them from fully participating in social and recreational activities or employment. 

Trapped in a cycle 

Stress and anxiety are common triggers that make skin disorders such as eczema, psoriasis, and rosacea worse. This creates more anxiety and stress for patients, which then leads to more flare ups. This vicious cycle is often referred to as the “itch-scratch cycle”. So how do we break this cycle?

Take care of your mental health

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, if a person has experienced some of these symptoms for two weeks or longer, they may have depression and should consult a healthcare provider:

  • Feeling sad, empty and/or anxious
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Lost of interest in hobbies or other activities
  • Decreased energy, feeling tired more often
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Restlessness, unable to sit still
  • Problems sleeping
  • Weight change
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Talk to a healthcare provider or mental health specialist if you are experiencing these symptoms of depression. 

Stress-relieving activities 

As mentioned earlier, emotional stress can cause flare ups of the skin. Learning to relax mentally and physically may help relieve stress, reduce inflammation and alleviate skin condition symptoms. Some ways to manage and relieve stress include: 

  • Stress management courses 
  • Meditation 
  • Exercise (e.g. tai chi or yoga)
  • Music therapy 
  • Massage therapy 
  • Mindfulness 
  • Hypnosis 
  • Sleep 
  • Trying creative activities
  • Spending time with loved ones 
  • Trying a digital detox 

Getting enough sleep 

A 2016 study by the National Eczema Association found about one-half of the participants reported they were bothered by poor sleep and symptoms of mental health issues like depression and anxiety caused by eczema. The discomfort and itchiness associated with eczema often interferes with sleep for patients, and people with depression may find it difficult to fall asleep, sleep deeply, and get enough sleep. 

Here's some ways you can improve your sleep: 

  1. Create a consistent bedtime routine - go to bed and wake up at the same time every night and set 15-30 minutes aside before bedtime to have the same quiet routine every night (e.g. brush your teeth, read, set your phone aside, lights out). 
  2. Make bedrooms a place for sleeping - this means going technology-free and keeping the bedroom cool, dark and comfortable. 
  3. Limit caffeine - caffeine taken even 6 hours before bedtime can have disruptive effects on your sleep, so make sure your last coffee is well before bedtime.

Importance of successful management of visible symptoms

Studies have shown successful treatment, which improves the patient’s visible symptoms, can lead to an improvement in mental health and quality of life. At Grahams, we receive regular testimonials from customers who say our products have improved their quality of life. This is often through improved self confidence and relief in knowing a product is working for them. Of course, our treatment isn’t a “one product that treats all”. However, it’s great to know our products have helped customers with their mental health. 

Do you have any questions about our products? We’re happy and available to answer any questions you may have.Contact us here. 

Seeking help 

If you’re feeling low, or your condition is stopping you from doing things or holding you back, it’s important to let your primary care physician know. The misery of the itch-scratch cycle, and the challenges of having a skin condition, often result in depression, anxiety, and other types of mental illness in people living with a skin disorder. But there are mental health providers who can address these conditions. 

Having healthy positive relationships with friends and family can help counteract the isolating nature of skin conditions. If you don’t have a strong group of friends or family that regularly provide emotional support, consider finding a support group with others who have chronic skin conditions, in person or online. Your healthcare provider may be able to assist you with finding a local support group. There are also a number of communities online, such as the  International Eczema Support Group on Facebook,  Psoriasis Australia, and the  AAFA Community.