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How Atopic Dermatitis Can Harm Your Mental Health

Finding ways to reduce mental and emotional stress should be a part of your treatment plan for atopic dermatitis.

A young woman struggles with the mental and emotional burden of living with a chronic skin disorder.

Atopic dermatitis is the most common form of eczema and a condition that affects millions of adults and children in the United States.

Atopic dermatitis causes intense itching, inflammation, rash, and changes to the skin, such as dry skin and blisters. Scratching causes damage to the skin, makes symptoms worse, and can lead to infection. Symptoms typically get better at some times and flare at others. Flares can be triggered by exposure to environmental factors, such as irritants and allergens, as well as triggers like anxiety and stress.

The emotional and mental burden of AD

In addition to the physical symptoms of atopic dermatitis, the condition is often a burden on a person’s mental and emotional health. People with atopic dermatitis are diagnosed with depression and anxiety in higher numbers than those without the condition. Emotional stress is a potential trigger for atopic dermatitis flares, resulting in a frustrating cycle, where emotional stress triggers flares, which cause more emotional stress.

Taking care of yourself, mentally and emotionally

Finding effective methods for reducing mental and emotional stress should be a part of every treatment plan for atopic dermatitis. If you don’t know where to start, try one of these stress relieving activities:

  • Yoga. The deep breathing in yoga has been shown to ease symptoms of stress and anxiety.
  • Meditation. One of the world’s oldest stress-busters, meditation is shown to reduce stress and improve emotional wellbeing.
  • Exercise. Physical activity is shown to reduce stress in numerous ways, including a boost in endorphins and improving self-confidence.
  • Take a walk outside. Spending time outdoors, especially in natural environments, can reduce stress.
  • Sleep. Getting adequate amounts of sleep is one of the best things you can do to reduce stress. If you are having difficulty sleeping or do not feel rested after sleep, tell your healthcare provider.
  • Counseling and support groups. Some people with AD find sharing their experiences with others is effective for relieving the mental and emotional burden of the condition.

Sometimes, reducing stress is also about what you avoid. Take care to avoid situations that are stressful. Also avoid activities that may temporarily relieve stress but are also harmful to your health, such as substance use, smoking, or unhealthy eating habits.

Symptoms of depression

It’s also important for anyone diagnosed with atopic dermatitis to recognize the symptoms of depression. Depression is a serious illness, and the risk is greater for a person who has atopic dermatitis. Symptoms of depression can include:

  • Persistent feelings of sadness, anxiety, hopelessness, and worthlessness
  • Loss of interest in normal activities and hobbies
  • Feeling tired and fatigued
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • A change in appetite, weight loss or weight gain
  • In severe cases, thoughts of death, self-harm, or suicide

If these symptoms persist for two weeks or longer, speak with your healthcare provider. If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, call or text 9-8-8, or chat 988lifeline.org.

Licensed mental health professionals are also available at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. These professionals can listen to what you have to say and guide you through steps that can keep you safe. To contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, call 1-800-273-8255.

Treatment for atopic dermatitis

While atopic dermatitis is a chronic condition and there is no cure, there are many treatment options available that can help. These include topical creams, light therapy, and biologic medications.

Remember, you are not alone. Atopic dermatitis is a condition that affects millions of people. Work with your healthcare provider. Find treatments that work for you. Find ways to reduce stress and feel happier. Find support where you need it.

Article sources open article sources

National Eczema Association. Atopic Dermatitis.
UpToDate. Patient education: Eczema (atopic dermatitis) (Beyond the Basics).
MedlinePlus. Atopic dermatitis.
Matthew Gavidia. Understanding, Managing Flares in Atopic Dermatitis. The American Journal of Managed Care. January 29, 2022.
Yochai Schonmann, Kathryn E. Mansfield, et al. Atopic Eczema in Adulthood and Risk of Depression and Anxiety: A Population-Based Cohort Study. The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 2020. Vol. 8, No. 1.
National Eczema Association. Eczema and Emotional Wellness.
Mayo Clinic. Stress relievers: Tips to tame stress.
MedlinePlus. Learn to manage stress.
National Institute of Mental Health. Depression.
MedlinePlus. Recognizing medical emergencies.

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