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Stress & Hormones
Many eczema sufferers find their symptoms are worse when they are stressed. It is not fully understood why, but it is thought to be linked to the release of the stress hormone cortisol.
Stress is a common part of life, and at times it can be difficult to reduce. When you are stressed, your body releases cortisol which prepares the body for “fight or flight”. Fortunately, in modern day living, there is often little need to run away from danger or get into a combat situation, so this reaction to stress is often disproportionate to the threat. A knock on effect of this release of cortisol is that it supresses your immune system, and this leads to inflammation, particularly on the skin.
When you are anxious, there is evidence to suggest that it is physically harder to ignore the urge to scratch the skin. This can lead to the itch-scratch cycle where you damage the skin by scratching, it becomes infected or allows allergens to aggravate the skin, so the itching worsens.
When you are anxious or stressed, you may have difficulty sleeping, and this too can make your eczema symptoms worse. Eczema, of course, may be the cause of your stress! If going out in public with eczema makes you feel embarrassed, then your anxiety levels will increase and your eczema may flare-up.
Tension, fatigue, anger and tiredness can all lower your defences and impact your body’s immune system leaving it vulnerable to an eczema flare-up. Stress affects your overall health in many ways, and not being 100% fit and well reduces your body’s ability to cope with the factors that may cause your eczema to flare-up.
Female hormones may also be responsible for eczema, and many women find their eczema is worse at certain points in their monthly cycle (usually in the days before their period) or during pregnancy. It is thought that more than half of all pregnant women with eczema find that their symptoms worsen.
Learn some techniques for reducing your stress. Whilst it is not always easy to eliminate stress from your life, there are ways in which you can help your body to cope with the stress a little better. Try to take some time for yourself and learn breathing or meditation techniques.
Just a few minutes a day of “mindfulness” can help enormously. Get plenty of rest, eat well and take some gentle exercise. Ask for support from family and friends if you can, or your GP if you need to.