The connection between stress and eczema

Studies show that symptoms of eczema are often associated with stress. Improve your workday and learn to relax with these tips.

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A 2021 survey by Microsoft found that in a typical work day, 51 per cent of Canadian workers feel stressed and, compared to the global average of 39 percent, 47 per cent of Canadian workers say they feel exhausted. Over time, consistently high stress levels can increase the risk of health problems, such as elevated blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, anxiety and depression. 

Research also shows that symptoms of eczema, or atopic dermatitis, which affects up to 17 per cent of Canadians, are often associated with stress. Seventy-three per cent of adult respondents with moderate or severe atopic dermatitis reported stress as a trigger for the itch that comes with eczema. This itchiness can significantly impact sleep, concentration, work, productivity, learning and relationships and 71 per cent of people who suffer from severe eczema say that their skin condition negatively impacts their mental health . 

“It is important to discuss and recognize the effects of eczema on patients’ ability to sleep, exercise, feel confident and the resulting effects these have on patients’ mental and emotional health,”  says Dr. Sandy Skotnicki, a consultant dermatologist at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto and an expert in allergic skin disease. “Eczema is itchy and uncomfortable. Patients often have decreased quality of life due to appearance and sleep problems.” Because eczema makes the skin itchy, it can lead to scratching. Scratching makes the skin even itchier, which then leads to more scratching. So, many people find themselves in an itch-scratch cycle that can also cause stress. 

Seventy-three per cent of adult respondents with moderate or severe atopic dermatitis reported stress as a trigger for the itch that comes with eczema and many eczema sufferers have difficulty refraining from scratching when stressed, which makes their eczema worse and itchier.

What can you do to reduce your stress? Try these strategies.

Track your stressors

Start writing about how you feel each day. Record what your day was like, how you coped and how you slept the night before. Try to determine what triggers lead to difficult days and then brainstorm changes you can make to avoid those triggers. 

Develop healthy coping mechanisms 

When we’re stressed, we often turn to things like junk food, alcohol or harmful substances. Instead, try walking outside, calling a friend, exercising, listening to music or dancing. Remember to take breaks during the workday—preferably outside—and do some simple stretches and deep breathing.  

Prioritize self-care and relaxation

Take time to recharge. Play a game with your kids, go for a run, bake a special treat or meditate. Choose activities you enjoy that give you energy. Learning how to relax—away from screens and to-do lists—is a worthy endeavour. 

Seek professional support

One-on-one therapy, group support or stress management programs can help. Many employers offer anonymous, free counselling—often done virtually—to help employees during times of need. While it may feel intimidating, talking to human resources or going to your boss to share the stress you’re under can ensure you get the support you need.


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