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Stress and eczema

This section will look at:

  • How do I know if I'm stressed?
  • Things you can do to manage stress
  • Relaxation techniques to help with stress

Stress and eczema

Most people would agree that living with eczema can be stressful at times.

People with eczema have told us that they can feel fed-up when treatments they try don’t work. Or feel hopeless when they get an eczema flare-up, even though they have been doing everything they can to look after their skin.

On top of this, you may feel tired if your itchy eczema has been keeping you up at night. Or you may be sick of people nagging you about looking after your skin or trying not to scratch.


I used to worry so much about what people thought about me and how my eczema looked to other people. Now, I worry about this a lot less. I still have the odd bad day where I can get down about it. But most of the time, I just try not to let it stop me from doing the things I want to do.


These feelings are normal. Everybody feels stressed from time to time. It’s a normal response to difficult times. But being too stressed for too long can have bad effects on your health, mood, and wellbeing.

Some people with eczema also find that stress can make their eczema worse.

This section will take a closer look at ways to help you deal with stress. It will also look at relaxation techniques you might find helpful.

At first, I didn’t think I was that stressed. I just thought I was really busy, which is pretty standard around exam time. Then I started getting headaches and my shoulders felt achy. I think that was my body’s way of telling me to take more study breaks.


How do I know if I'm stressed?

Everybody reacts differently to stress. Getting to know your own signs of stress is one of the first steps in learning to deal with it.

  • Many people notice changes in their body. They may get tense shoulders, feel tired all the time, or get headaches.
  • You may notice changes in your mood. You may feel more easily annoyed, worried, or angrier than usual.
  • When people are stressed, they may notice that their thoughts become more negative. These thoughts are often putting ourselves down. For example, thinking, “why am I so stupid” or “I can’t cope with this”. Thoughts like these are called unhelpful thoughts, and they can have a big impact on our confidence and the way we manage stress.

I find myself being quite snappy with people when I’m stressed. If I catch myself doing it, I try to take a break from what I’m doing. I might go for a 5 minute walk when I have a break or take a few deep breaths.


What things can I do to manage my stress?

Click on the options below to go through techniques that you may find helpful for coping with stress. You can choose the techniques best suited to you.

1. Look out for what is making you stressed

We often feel stressed when we are faced with things we think we can’t manage. The first step is to spot what is making you stressed. This may be an issue that comes up from time to time, like going to a doctor or nurse appointment. Or it may be an ongoing stressful situation, like taking exams.

Once you know which situations make you stressed, you can look at ways to make these easier.

2. Keep tabs on your stress

Try to notice when you start to feel stressed. The sooner you notice, the quicker you can do something about it.

It may help to write down when you feel stressed. Was it at a certain time of day? What was the situation? How did you feel? What did you do to cope? How did it work out?

Thinking about this can help get a fresh perspective on your situation. It can also help you spot when and where you get stressed or worried. 

3. Confront the cause of your stress

It is often tempting to hide away from people, places, and tasks that make life difficult.

Removing yourself from the situation may make you feel better for a short time – but the sources of stress will never go away unless you confront them.

For example, if your stress is because you are finding it difficult to get control of your eczema, try tackling the stress by going to see the pharmacist to discuss your treatments.

Taking control of a situation can help you feel less stressed. It can be good for your general wellbeing too.

4. Plan your time

Planning your time can make you feel more in control and better able to handle difficult situations.

  • Spot your best time of day. Do the important tasks that need the most energy and focus at that time. For example, you might be a morning person or an evening person.
  • Make a list of the things you have to do. This might include putting on creams. Put the most important things at the top, and the least important at the bottom. Try to do the most important and urgent things first.

Set goals that are small and can easily be met. When you are stressed, it’s easy to set yourself big goals that are difficult to achieve. It can make you feel more stressed if you don’t meet your goals. Small and easy goals can make you feel more in control.

5. Look after your body

Taking steps to look after your body can help you look after your mind.

  • Get plenty of sleep. Things can feel worse when we are tired. The smallest of tasks can feel too much. Getting more sleep can help you deal with difficult situations.
  • Get active. Being active is good for your body and mind. Even a 10 minute walk can make you feel much calmer.
  • Eat healthy. What you eat and when you eat can make a big difference to how you feel. It’s tempting to skip meals or eat the wrong kind of foods when you are stressed. But this can make you feel even more tired, down, and easily annoyed.

6. Be kind to yourself

  • Forgive yourself when you feel you have made a mistake or don’t meet your goals. Nobody is perfect and putting extra pressure on yourself doesn’t help.
  • Accept the things you can’t change. There are lots of things that we can take control of. But there are also some things that are outside of your control. Understanding this will help you focus your time and energy in ways that are more useful.
  • Reward yourself for the things you do well. Even the small things, like washing your hands with moisturising creams, instead of soap. Treat yourself to a good book or play your favourite computer game. Or simply tell yourself ‘well done’.

7. Talk to someone

Talk to your family and friends – often just telling the people who are closest to you how you are feeling can make a big difference.

Your doctor or nurse can also help point you to resources and support that you might find helpful, such as talking therapies.

In the ‘other resources’ section, you can find out more about helplines and support groups for families of people with eczema. You can get to this section from the ‘more about treatments’ menu above. Taking steps to look after your body can help you look after your mind.

8. Relaxation

Learning to relax is a great way to calm your worries and help our body and mind recover from everyday rush and stress.

Relaxation can help you:

  • feel less tired
  • sleep better
  • stop scratching by distracting yourself
  • feel more confident
  • feel better able to deal with difficult situations

Some people can relax by listening to music, reading a book, having a long soak in the bath, or going for a walk in the park. But, it’s not so easy for others.

Learning to relax takes practice, as with any new skill. The next page will give you some relaxation techniques you can practice at home.

We know it can be hard to find the time to practice relaxation. So you’ll also find some tips for quick relaxation below that you can use wherever you are.


Relaxation techniques

Go to a calm place (listen or read)

This guided relaxation takes 5 minutes. It helps you to relax your body and mind. It takes you to a safe and calm place that you can visit in your mind whenever you are feeling stressed. Click play in the box below to listen to the guided relaxation.


Read this guided relaxation

Allow yourself to sit or lay in a comfortable position. Close your eyes and take a deep breath…in through your nose…hold it…then out through your mouth…in through your nose…and out through your mouth…slowly allowing your breathing to become steady and calm.

I would like you to focus on your head and your neck and become aware of any tension that you might be holding in those areas. Allow them to become relaxed. Moving to your chest and your stomach…notice any tension that you are holding in those areas…and then allow them to become relaxed. Moving to your legs…let the muscles just become calm and relaxed. Gently squeeze your fingers and your toes…hold them…and then allow those to become relaxed.

Continue with your calm deep breathing and let your body begin to enjoy the sensation of being calm and being still. Imagine that it is a warm and sunny day and, as you are laid down, you enjoy the feeling of the warm sun on your skin. Next to you is a sparkling blue pool and you decide to take a swim to cool down. Slowly you walk towards the water and with each step your body becomes in contact with the soothing cool and calm water. As you become more and more submerged in the water, you appreciate the cool relief that the water gives to your warm skin. It feels wonderful to be cool and calm and relaxed. You feel weightless and free as you swim slowly through the shimmering water of the pool. You step out of the pool and lay down in the glorious sunshine. You feel the warmth of the sun, you feel comfortable safe and secure as you allow yourself to become more and more relaxed.

Anytime that you are stressed or anxious, you can allow yourself to become more calm and relaxed by bringing yourself to this safe and calm place. Breathing in slowly and breathing out. Tell yourself that you are calm, you are in control, you are strong, and you are wonderful.

Just take a second

This quick relaxation can be done wherever you are. It only takes a few seconds.

  • Stop what you are doing for a moment.
  • Let your shoulders relax and go down.
  • Take 2 or 3 slower, deeper breaths.
  • Carry on with what you were doing, but just a little slower.


Breathing space

It can be useful to take a short breathing space when you are facing a stressful situation. It can let you catch-up with yourself and take stock. Stepping aside for just a few minutes can help you to think about your problems from a calmer place and see them from a different point of view. Click play in the box below to listen the guided breathing space.



Read this guided relaxation

Firstly, rest your hands somewhere comfortable on your legs. Notice how you are sitting. How is your body feeling? Actually sense the feeling of the seat you are sitting on … your right and left sitting bones and the backs of your legs. You may find yourself naturally sitting a little more upright – without straining. Sense your legs … and your feet resting on the floor.

Next, allow yourself to become more aware of your surroundings: where you are and what’s around you. Give yourself some moments to settle into this. Notice how it feels – any feelings anywhere in your body and any feelings about being where you are. These could be pleasant or unpleasant, and probably are a mixture of both. At this stage, we’re aiming to simply become more aware, without trying to change anything …

Doing this, you’ve probably already become more aware of your breathing – actually feeling the air you are breathing in and out. Give yourself some moments to settle into this. Again, don’t deliberately change how you’re breathing – just let it be … You may notice after a while that your breath starts to get a little longer, just by itself.

If you find you’ve become lost in thoughts, just return your awareness to the sensations of your breath and your body. Congratulate yourself that you noticed getting lost, rather than telling yourself off for it. We’re aiming at this stage simply to be more aware of thoughts and thinking, rather than trying to get rid of them.

By now, you’ve probably spent about three minutes (or so) taking a breathing space. Bring this exercise to a close slowly and gradually, again feeling the chair beneath you, the room around you, where you are and how you are feeling. Give yourself some moments to do this – there’s no hurry … Like anything, if you practice regularly, it will come more easily to you and you’ll notice more effect from it.