Managing the emotional impact of having a skin condition

  1. STRESS AND THE SKIN: BREATHE SLOWLY

    There is a strong connection between stress and many skin conditions. Stress has a negative impact on the skin, and research shows that biologically it can cause the condition to flare.

    • Simple breathing techniques can help. Stop what you are doing and breathe slowly, in through your nose for 3 seconds and out from your mouth for 5 seconds.
    • If you are a visual person then, visualise breathing in the colour blue and breathe out the colour red. This technique regulates your breathing and is calming. Practice slow breathing daily (even just for 30 seconds) when you don’t feel stressed so it becomes familiar and therefore, more effective when you are stressed.

  2. BUSY BEE: GET ORGANISED

    Having a busy week, where you are overloaded with work, can negatively impact how you feel and your skin condition. Plan your week - balance work, play and make sure you have time to relax. To change your current routine, initially only add one activity, and then gradually build them up, whilst maintaining this balance. Change can be difficult, so make sure you plan your week, and keep notes you can refer back to, to be more likely to complete set tasks.

  3. GOAL SETTING: START SMALL

    Having big goals, which we don’t initially realise are unachievable, may make us feel stressed and overwhelmed as we are never able to meet our expectations. Instead, try to make small, achievable goals on a daily or weekly basis. Give yourself one a day and evaluate how it is going to then change/build up the amount and type of goals accordingly.

  4. OLD HABITS: REMEMBER THE HELPFUL STRATEGIES

    When we have a bad day or a flare up it is very easy to fall into old bad habits and have negative thoughts. Be prepared for this and make a list of what is helpful to you. For example, include putting skin cream on as recommended, relaxing, planning the week, or meeting friends. The next time you have an off day you can revisit the list to remind yourself to get back on track.

  5. POOR ADHERENCE: STICK TO THE PLAN

    Research shows that approximately a third of people with eczema have well- controlled/clear skin, because skincare regimes (prescribed by their doctor or pharmacist) are followed strictly. For other skin conditions, following the treatment plan is equally important.

    Once you have found recommended products that work for you, make sure that you stick to your plan. If you find this tricky, then write it down, and put it up in your bedroom to remind you, or discuss this with your doctor. You may need to think of a different strategy or an interesting way to remember your regime. Doctors or pharmacists can offer practical advice; for example they may suggest making thick emollients easier to apply by adding water or thinner creams. Using a towel after applying emollients can also reduce how greasy your skin feels.

  6. FLARE UPS: BE PREPARED

    We all have a busy life and sometimes forget to follow a strict skincare regime or neglect our skin altogether, resulting in flare-ups. Being organised is very important. Keep a travel-sized amount of your recommended emollient cream, everyday cream, serum, or treatment with you, so if you have a flare-up you can manage it.

    Flare-ups may feel itchy, and can easily lead to what is known as the “itch-scratch- cycle” (the more you scratch, the more the skin is damaged, and this in turn causes the skin to itch). This cycle is very powerful, so to help our skin to heal, we need to be prepared and organised to manage any initial flare up.

    You could also use a stress ball or any other activity that keeps your hands occupied when watching television, rather than scratching. Research shows that the itch will go away if you ignore it. If you are still scratching then you may need to ask your doctor for a referral for ‘habit reversal therapy’ as a simple and very effective treatment option.

  7. SOCIAL ANXIETY: FAMILIAR PLACES

    Anxiety is very common and natural if you are having a particularly bad skin day or just feel you don’t look your best. When you are out in public, you may fear other people’s reactions to your skin; or you may feel that others are embarrassed to look at you. These feelings are normal and common to those living with skin conditions. If you believe this is the case, ask them,”are you ok?” If it is a stranger then you can always walk away and just assume they were being curious about something else. If you feel anxious about meeting people, do some slow breathing beforehand and plan a short meeting with a friend initially in a place you feel comfortable. Then build up to spending more time socially – maybe adding on 15 minutes each time to one location, followed by changing location, and then trying to meet different friends.

  8. AVOIDANCE: ENJOY ACTIVITIES AGAIN

    Having a skin condition can be self-limiting, or you may feel limited by others due to negative reactions or judgements. Avoidance, albeit helpful, in the short-term, can have a negative effect in the long-term as it inhibits you from facing your fears and moving forward positively.

    Two techniques can help to challenge you when in these situations:

    • Before the activity, do some slow breathing. Once you feel calmer then try to do the activity for a short period of time (a time that you can cope with) and then gradually build up the time.
    • Write down your thoughts before the situation and during it. If there are negative thoughts, try to think about what your best friend would say to you, or vice versa if you shared the thought (e.g. she may say “you have had bad days before and you have coped”, or you might say “try to think positively, how can we make this better?”)

  9. POSITIVE THINKING: WRITE IT DOWN

    Some people with skin conditions report feelings of low self-esteem; and often say self-defeating statements about themselves. It is very easy to notice the negative things in our lives and over time this can make us feel low and may lead to fatigue. To boost your self-esteem and to encourage a positive mind-set, make a positive comment about yourself, or something that you have achieved, every day – even if it is just following your skincare regime! Note down the positive comment and remind yourself of it daily to help put it into practice.

  10. RELATIONSHIPS: IMPORTANT TO MAINTAIN THEM

    Living with a skin condition can interfere with family, social and intimate relationships. This could be because of numerous factors, such as low self-esteem and lack of confidence. Also, many do not accept that they have a skin condition, and may deny/never talk about the condition or even undress in front of their partner.

    Research shows that if you have good supportive networks then positive treatment outcomes are more likely. So it is important to talk about your condition with your partner/family to encourage understanding and support.

    Having a skin condition can affect everyone in the family network as every member influences one another. For example, on a bad skin day stress and feeling uncomfortable may hinder your work, and then once home you may argue with a family member. By increasing the understanding of those close to you it may be possible to diffuse these situations.


Disclaimer: These are brief tips, and if you feel seriously distressed, whilst you may find these tips helpful, you should also consult your General Practitioner who may be able to refer you on to receive face to face support.

Please also check our:

  • helpful resource library with a selection of books and videos to help you gain self-confidence, build self-esteem and get the best out of life
  • skincare solutions to learn how SEQuaderama can further help you take care of you and your skin
  • skin dedicated digimag with more of Reena’s knowledge shared with you

By DR REENA SHAH BSc (Honors), MSc and Doctorate (DClin Psych), CPsychol Chartered Clinical Psychologist