Stress is common for just about everyone who deals with a job, family and responsibilities. Many stress symptoms are emotional, like excess worry and impaired concentration. But stress can manifest itself physically, too. Most have reactions like rapid breathing and heart rate, tense muscles, sweating and trembling. Stress can also affect you internally, triggering hormone releases and suppressing the immune response. It can even cause outbreaks of a skin problem called eczema.
Eczema is often thought of as a specific skin condition, but the American Academy of Family Physicians, or AAFP, explains that it is a general name for a variety of rash-like skin outbreaks. The most common type is an allergic reaction called atopic dermatitis. No specific cause is known, but the AAFP states it frequently runs in families and can be worsened by stress. It looks unpleasant but is not contagious.
Eczema often starts out with reddened, itchy skin. The Mayo Clinic states it can appear anywhere, but breakouts are most common on the hands, arms and behind the knees. It gets inflamed and will break out if you scratch it frequently. This can lead to infections, the AAFP warns, as bacteria can invade the cracks. Eczema usually starts as early as infancy and may continue into adulthood. It can also make its first appearance during the adult years, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The Mayo Clinic explains that stress does not directly cause eczema. However, it can make a person more likely to get an outbreak or worsen it. There may be a link between eczema and an immune system problem, and stress hormones are known to impair the body's immune response.
Eczema often gets worse during the winter for sufferers who live in a cold climate, the AAFP warns. Frigid air and low humidity dry out your skin and make it more prone to develop a rash. The Thanksgiving to New Year's holiday period also occurs in the winter. This is a high-stress time for many and they are more vulnerable to eczema because of the emotional tension.
The AAFP recommends combining stress management with changes in lifestyle and medical care. Protect your skin from irritants by wearing gloves and moisturize regularly. Avoid getting sweaty and scratching the rash.
The Mayo Clinic advises taking warm oatmeal baths and applying cool compresses to the itchy patches. Over-the-counter hydrocortisone creams often soothe inflammation. A doctor can prescribe topical steroid cream for severe eczema if it does not respond adequately to self-care.
A good stress-fighting program includes activities like yoga, working out regularly, meditation, breathing exercises and self-care activities like massage, advised the Helpguide.org self-help website.