Living with a chronic skin condition, I feel the far-from-fun effects of skin-related stress more often than not. But I know I’m not alone: millions and millions of Americans suffer from skin afflictions like eczema, psoriasis, and acne, and the fact is that most of them are inherently stressful lifelong battles, so though there aren’t necessarily cures for these skin ailments, there are ways to control the symptoms—and stress management is a major one.
I learned this lesson early in adolescence when the effects of stress on my skin became impossible to ignore. If I was anxious about a test I didn’t study for, or got into an argument with a friend or family member, my skin would become unbearably itchy and inflamed almost immediately. Then, of course, there are the symptoms themselves—the redness, dryness, and incessant flaking—that cause anxiety, too. It all takes a physical and emotional toll, and it can feel extremely hard to keep up. That being said, I’m happy to tell you that I’ve finally found some ways to keep my stress, and in turn, my skin condition, under control (for the most part, that is). And today, I’m sharing them with you.
Find a physician you trust
I really can’t drive this one home enough. Take it from someone who’s seen countless doctors since she was born: If you’re not seeing someone you trust and respect, and who makes you feel trusted and respected in return, it’ll only result in more anxiety and worsened symptoms. The last thing you want is to be relying on someone who doesn’t have your best interests at heart (i.e. someone who doesn’t listen to you or shrugs off your concerns), so if you don’t have one already, set aside the time to find a physician you can count on. It might take more effort than you wish it would, but it’ll ultimately be so worth it in the long run when you find the right doctor for you.
Don’t sleep on meditation or breathwork
Nearly every expert I’ve interviewed on the subject of skin-related stress brings up breathwork and meditation, and that’s because they’re very legitimate, time-tested methods to help reduce stress. “Stress management techniques such as yoga, breathing exercises, and meditation can all be beneficial; there are the studies to back it up,” says Washington, D.C.-based dermatologist, Adam Friedman. He also recommends visual imagery, which is the practice of envisioning images or memories of a time you felt healthy and happy to make you feel at ease.
Get moving—and do it regularly
This is another piece of advice that almost every expert in the game will tell you makes a difference. At first, I didn’t want to believe them because physical activity is not my favorite (I’m more of a Netflix-and-takeout type of gal), but when I relented and started running on a daily basis, I did notice an improvement. I didn’t overdo it, either, just 30 minutes a day did the trick. I not only felt less stressed overall, but I also noticed that it became easier to deal with the daily struggles of having a skin condition. “Regular exercise has been proven to improve stress, and in turn, lessen the impact on skin,” explains Friedman. To this point, I’ve also seen a change in the severity of my symptoms since I started exercising, which is definitely enough for me to get over my couch potato syndrome.
Connect with the skin condition community
Feeling alone? Overwhelmed? Sad? Like you’re the only one suffering and it’s never going to get better? I’ve been there too many times to count. But believe it or not, social media has made it better because there are so many people getting candid and vulnerable about their conditions now. It doesn’t matter if you have acne, eczema, psoriasis, or something else entirely, with just a few clicks and swipes, you can find someone else on Instagram or Twitter who’s going through it, too. This way, you can commiserate with people who get the struggle, swap advice, and simply support one another during tough times.
Disconnect and rest
When it comes down to it, there are always going to be days when you just can’t deal. And that is 100 percent OK. While not everyone has the privilege to take a day off and disconnect, I’d definitely recommend doing it if you can, as it can make a world of difference to let your body rest and work on repairing itself. Don’t even *think* about feeling guilty, either—healthy folks take days off, too, y’all! And the fact is, we need more relaxation and downtime for our bodies to have a fighting chance. Remember: less stress equals fewer symptoms.
If taking a personal day isn’t an option, there are still measures you can take to protect your mental health and keep your stress at a minimum. For starters, remove yourself from any and all stressful situations whenever possible. The world will keep spinning if you have to step out of a tension-filled meeting, or if you can’t have the same argument with your sister again. On top of that, and it might sound trivial, but really take the time to breathe and check in with yourself. If you’re in pain or can’t stop scratching to the point where it’s impossible to focus, speak up. Skin conditions can be debilitating at times, and sometimes people turn out to be more understanding than you’d think.
Oh, and whatever you do, make sure you get at least 15 minutes to yourself, whether it’s to eat lunch, moisturize for the second time that day, or to simply allow yourself to sit and be for a little while.
Written by Kaleigh Fasanella for Youth To The People