Stress is one of the more common triggers of an eczema flare-up. Studies revealed that babies, young children and teenagers all suffer from stress, and usually go unnoticed by the parents. Stress can come from many sources, such as separation from parents in preschool, academic pressure, peer pressure, knowledge of financial or work difficulties faced by parents, divorce, illness or death in the family and (depressing) world news.
Chronic stress, such as from divorce or death, affects the child more; and note this, stressed parents can pass on the stress to their children.
For an eczema child, stress may trigger a flare-up because
– Stress results in more hormones release, which in turn lead to over-production of cytokines that cause immune cells to release inflammatory substances which sensitive skin is allergic to.
– Stress suppresses the immune system, through the increased level of cortisol produced by the adrenal gland. The skin is less able to produce sufficient defense proteins, making it vulnerable.
– Stress leads to lower skin cell growth and weakening of the fat/lipid skin barrier, resulting in drier skin. Dry skin is vulnerable to irritant.
Apart from triggering eczema, stress has other negative effects such as
– Impair the connection of brain circuits, resulting in smaller brain, slower learning and poorer memory
– Over-reactive to small problems, resulting in an inability to handle stress
So, how can you tell if your child is stressed?
– Behavioural/Emotional – acting out, refusing to go out, complaining, mood swings/outburst, withdrawn, too shy, fear of failure, worrying all the time, spent time alone, sucking thumb, twirling hair, biting nails, nightmares, clingy/fear being alone, anxiety, irritability, rocking, freezing up, obsessive about objects/food, constantly asking what’s next
– Physical – bed wetting, problem sleeping/eating, stomach ache, headache, regression in toileting, excessive crying, trembling, accident prone, over-react to sudden loud noise, sweaty palms
– Intellectual – Lack of concentration, inability to complete homework
And how do you help your stressed child?
– Establish a routine
– Ensure your child gets plenty of rest, and not ‘hurried’ to too many activities
– Give your child proper nutrition
– Spend time, listening and being there
– Exercise/ share activity with your child
– Encourage your child to keep a journal
2012 update: Read my interview with Stress Free Kids founder Lori Lite on how to reduce stress for kids; Lori has built a business helping kids to be stress free, inspired by her own journey with her children. She was a featured contestant on first season of Shark Tank.
2012 update: Read my interview with psychiatrist with interest in dermatology Dr Christopher Bridgett on his take on stress management for children.
2013 update: Read my interview with neuro-scientist & TEDx speaker Dr Claudia Aguirre on how the brain communicates with the skin.