The relationship between the mind and the body is now well established in medical circles. Most of us can relate to an unwelcome stomach upset before an interview, or heart palpitations when in fear. Such symptoms are not surprising when you understand the profound interconnectedness between the central nervous system, and every other organ system of the body.
Interestingly, in developing foetuses, the same tissue that forms the brain also forms the skin1. The mind-body connection is, therefore, particularly pertinent when it comes to diagnosing and assessing skin conditions. According to the British Association of Dermatologists, this mind-skin link is very real1, so we would do well to anticipate that our skin may be negatively impacted during times of psychological upheaval and anxiety.
Circumstances surrounding every aspect of the coronavirus phenomenon cannot be underestimated as a powerful potential cause of skin dis-ease. Fear of illness, anxiety caused by unprecedented withdrawal of freedoms, upset caused by social distancing, family and household tensions arising out of being cooped up for indefinite periods, stress caused by job losses and loss of work routine, grief caused by sickness and death of loved ones – every single one of these is a major life upset, and places us at risk of triggering flare-ups of existing conditions and also seeing new ones arise.
Stress kick-starts inflammation and there are many skin conditions that can be triggered as a result. These may appear as a flare-up of an existing skin concern or a completely new one, but in both cases the stress activates the condition that you will already be predisposed to. Some of the most common include acne, rosacea, psoriasis, hair loss, alopecia, urticaria, eczema and generalised skin rashes. You can find more information about these conditions by exploring our website via the link here. This may help you identify any symptoms you may be experiencing. If you have suffered from any of them in the past, you may be more susceptible to flare-ups at this stressful time, so do not be alarmed or surprised.
While stress is proven to cause skin conditions, the reverse is also true. Skin conditions can induce painful emotional states such as helplessness or depression, and seriously impact on quality of life2. This raises the spectre of a vicious cycle being set in motion, which is to be avoided at all costs.
But forewarned is forearmed! Do not let the appearance of a skin lesion be another source of stress to add to your load. This is easier said than done, but certainly one of the reasons we wanted to draw attention to this subject now. Knowing what we might expect can serve to de-escalate a problem, if and when it arises.
The British Association of Dermatologists defines psychodermatology as ‘the treatment of a skin disease using psychological techniques’1. It is often combined with physical modalities, such as topical, oral or phototherapeutic treatments. Techniques include:
Mindfulness – this covers mental practices aimed at decreasing general stress levels, as well as addressing specific conditions;
Behavioural therapy – this covers guidance to help intervene on repetitive habits that can make a condition worse, such as scratching or picking at skin;
Counselling – counselling in this context aims at addressing the social consequences of living with skin conditions, which can cause social anxiety, especially when the lesions are in visible areas, like acne on the face, or psoriasis on the limbs.
Such techniques can be very effective. A study in 2014 showed that, among patients who undertook this approach, 94% reported reduced stress, 92% reported increased confidence and 90% reported a better understanding of their condition3.
In keeping with these findings, the British Association of Dermatologists has created a new website dedicated to providing emotional support for patients with skin conditions.
At Dr Haus Dermatology in Harley Street, we’ve been treating inflammatory skin conditions for over twenty years. We can therefore provide you with the necessary medical and surrounding support to get on top of your particular problem.
While the clinic is currently operating at a reduced capacity, we are still available to support existing patients and answer new enquiries. At times like this our understanding and experience comes into its own.
Whether you are an existing patient with a skin flare-up or have found your way to this article because you have new symptoms that are causing concern, we will be happy to hear from you. The best means of contact, in the first instance, is by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
We look forward to welcoming you to our clinic as soon as possible.