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Psychodermatology

Hopefully, the change of clocks didn’t affect you too much!  It’s a topical time to talk about this month’s topic. Last month we talked about ways to slow down ageing. This month we’re going to discuss ‘Psychodermatology’. Dr Karen Mallin, lecturer in the departments of psychiatry and dermatology at the University of Miami, USA, gives the best explanation of this field of medicine. "Psychodermatogy addresses the impact of an individual's emotion as it relates to the skin." In a nutshell this means that the state of our mind affects our skin. You may have heard of the phrase ‘mind-body’ link, well, how our mind affects our skin (and vice versa) is one example of this.Let’s look at how this works. "The skin and mind are connected on many different levels. The skin contains a huge number of nerve endings. Our emotions trigger the release of many nerve signals in the brain.  These signals can travel to the skin (and other parts of your body) and conversely nerve signals in the skin travel to the brain.  A well-known example of this is the ‘butterflies’ we get in our stomach when we are nervous or anxious.  Another example is that during exam time stress, many students will

Let’s look at how this works. "The skin and mind are connected on many different levels. The skin contains a huge number of nerve endings.  Our emotions trigger the release of many nerve signals in the brain. These signals can travel to the skin (and other parts of your body) and conversely nerve signals in the skin travel to the brain. A well-known example of this is the ‘butterflies’ we get in our stomach when we are nervous or anxious. Another example is that during exam time stress, many students will suffer with acne. Research shows that at least 30% of all dermatology patients have an underlying psychological problem.

Good dermatologists have gradually been embracing a more integrated (blended) approach with other fields of medicine such as psychology, psychiatry, and even complementary medicine. This integrated approach encourages doctors to try alternative treatment possibilities (instead of or as well as the usual medications/creams they prescribe). These treatments can include antidepressants, relaxation therapy, or counseling. It is thought that these additional treatments and management strategies can help alleviate the mood problems that cause or result from skin problems.

Mindfulness is one of these management strategies and is a really important one for managing the stress that is caused by or is causing skin conditions.  Mindfulness is an amazing technique that helps us be more aware of what we are doing and thinking.  It has multiple benefits and there is fantastic research showing its benefits for depression, anxiety and many other medical conditions. There are also many resources on Mindfulness, from introductory books such as the ‘Frazzled’ book by Ruby Wax all the way up to full residential courses. An example of how Mindfulness helps in skin conditions is by making us more aware of what our hands are doing.  Often patients with skin conditions will itch their skin without even being aware they are itching. By being mindful about what their hands are doing, patients are much more able to refrain from itching. Mindfulness is one of the techniques that I use with my Wellness patients and it is extremely satisfying to see the benefits they gain.

I’ll finish this month’s column with an extremely useful Mindfulness tool.  Whenever you feel a bit ‘frazzled’ S.T.O.P. This stands for Stop, Take a breath, Open and Observe (your thoughts), Proceed mindfully. Have a great month.

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