Ask the Expert: Mental Health & COVID-19

Q: I’m feeling anxious about COVID-19 – how can I cope with the stress of the situation without making my eczema worse?

A: ESC invited psychologist and fellow eczema sufferer Dr. Shawn Reynolds to share his expertise on this topic.

“Eczema sufferers know all too well that increased stress and anxiety can sometimes make eczema worse. These feelings can unfortunately trigger flares, while also impacting our ability to manage our symptoms optimally.

It is rare for us to experience an event that has such a global impact. This may be the biggest world event most of us have seen. Everyone is experiencing some level of stress. We are worried about our own health, the health of our friends and family, and the health of people around the world. We are stressed about our jobs, school, missing out on important life events, and the future in general. This stress and worry can make us feel more irritable, tired, anxious, and/or sad.

The good news is that we are not alone in these feelings and there are things we can do to help cope:

  1. Connect with others: In a time of social distancing, this may seem challenging, but there are ways to make meaningful connections without being in the same room. Identify the people in your life who are good listeners and who give good advice. Reach out to them by phone, video conference, or text – pay attention to the kind of connection that works best for you. For example, if you are an introvert, it might be enough to speak with your friends over text or talk on the phone. If you are an extrovert and miss going out, utilizing tools like video conferencing can help fill your need for human interaction and physical connection. It’s not a bad idea to reach out to someone outside of your home every day in some way. This is likely best done in a personal way like a call or text, rather than through social media.
  2. Move your body: Try to find a way to get appropriate exercise, or even just some sunlight, while practicing safe social distancing. Taking walks, participating in a YouTube exercise video or a live stream yoga class can help lift your mood and ease stress.
  3. Be kind: Give others – and yourself – extra grace during this time. If you’re a parent, it’s possible you may feel additional stress about things like extra screen time, juggling work and home school, and keeping your kids on a productive schedule. A good solution is to practice “airport parenting” – imagine you are traveling as a family in an airport. In this scenario, your expectations are typically lower, and your goal is to keep everyone happy, calm, and intact. By using this approach, we are kinder to ourselves and recognize that while things are not perfect, there is lots of quality family bonding taking place. Lowering expectations can also help with stress whether you are a parent or not – simple acts like getting dressed every morning or keeping a daily routine (such as bathing and moisturizing to help with eczema symptoms) can help. The act of being kind to ourselves counts as self-care and is a great coping strategy.
  4. Go back to basics: If your stress and eczema are flaring, it can be helpful to identify and record things that have worked in the past, regardless of how simple or obvious they may be. Has increasing the number of times you moisturize helped your skin in the past? Are you following your medication treatment plan closely? If you had been seeing improvement, have you stopped using strategies that worked before? If you are scratching, has keeping your nails smooth and short or using a stress ball or other distraction technique helped in the past? By writing ideas out, it can bring clarity and some sense of control over our situation.

The silver lining to this situation is there is an increase in health care providers offering therapy and consultations via video or teleconferencing. These services make mental health care more accessible, especially for those who live in remote regions. There is also increased understanding and compassion around working from home, changes in how we see productivity, and flexible scheduling – hopefully improving what some eczema sufferers have struggled with in the past as a result of living with a chronic condition.

While these suggestions are meant to help ease feelings of stress and anxiety, it is important to remember that if you are experiencing feelings of sadness, depression, or anxiety that are not getting better and/or interfere with your ability to function day to day, please speak with your health care provider.”

ESC sincerely thanks Dr. Shawn Reynolds Ph.D., R.Psych (AB) for his generous contribution and ongoing support. Dr. Reynolds is a registered psychologist based in the Edmonton area.