Combating the Emotional Impact of Atopic Dermatitis

Living with atopic dermatitis can be difficult.

The effects of atopic dermatitis can impact many areas of your life. From the unpredictability of flares to disrupted sleep and feelings of self-consciousness, it’s not surprising that people with atopic dermatitis are more likely to struggle with negative emotions. But stress itself can lead to increased itchiness and scratching and may even trigger the flare-ups you’re trying to avoid. So how can you help break the cycle?

Practicing self-compassion may help.

One place to start is by developing more self-compassion. Self-compassion means treating yourself with kindness and understanding, rather than criticism. Unlike self-esteem, which is a measure of how positively you view yourself, self-compassion is about caring for yourself without judgment or criticism. It’s an important skill to develop, because research has shown that an increase in self-compassion can lead to decreased self-criticism, depression, and anxiety.

Common Thoughts

These are a few common thoughts among people with atopic dermatitis. Do these sound familiar?

"Sometimes I don’t even want to leave the house, because I feel like everyone is staring at my rash"

Flare-ups aren’t just uncomfortable. They can be frustrating and embarrassing, and they can make you feel incredibly self-conscious. It's understandable that you’d want to avoid feeling that way. But remember—you are not your atopic dermatitis. Consider ways you can think about yourself and your atopic dermatitis differently.

You may want to talk with other people who also have atopic dermatitis. In addition to support, you may find new ways to manage your condition. And sharing your experience with your healthcare provider may help him or her better understand the impact that atopic dermatitis has on your life.

"I'd love to be doing all the things my friends do, but I don’t want to have a breakout. I hate having to be so careful all the time."

You may find that it helps to talk about it. Explain atopic dermatitis to your friends. You may also want to suggest an alternative activity that is friendlier to your disease. And talk to your healthcare provider about whether you're doing everything you can to manage your atopic dermatitis.

Although you may have more limitations than people without atopic dermatitis, it doesn’t have to control your life. Think about what triggers your flare-ups. What are some ways you can avoid those triggers?

Talking to Your Friends & Family

Help others understand what you’re going through.

Emotional support from friends and family can make it easier to manage the ups and downs of living with atopic dermatitis. But sometimes even the people you love don't completely understand your experience. Although it would be easier sometimes if they understood what it's like to walk in your shoes, you may find it difficult to talk about how you feel. Because your atopic dermatitis is visible to everyone around you, you may also encounter questions from coworkers and even strangers. In all of these situations, it can be tough to know how to respond, especially in the moment. Planning how you want to talk about atopic dermatitis can help you feel more prepared to respond to questions in the future.

Choose your words.

The following are examples of the types of questions you may be asked. Select each question to reveal a possible response. Your individual experience with atopic dermatitis is unique, so use these as a starting point to help you find an explanation that is right for you.


  • What's wrong with your skin – is that contagious?

    What's wrong with your skin – is that contagious?

    It's a disease called atopic dermatitis. And no, you can’t catch it. My immune system overreacts, causing constant inflammation inside my body and this rash, which is really uncomfortable. Even when I don’t have a rash, the inflammation is still there.

  • You haven't had a rash in a few weeks now. Does that mean you're cured?

    You haven't had a rash in a few weeks now. Does that mean you're cured?

    Atopic dermatitis is chronic, and has no cure. So even if you can't see it, my immune system is still overreacting, causing inflammation inside my body. While there are some things I can do to help prevent flare-ups, they can still happen at any time.

  • Why are you tired all the time?

    Why are you tired
    all the time?

    My rash is really itchy and painful. It's worse at night, especially when I'm trying to sleep, so I spend a lot of time tossing and turning, and I don't get much rest. Even when I don't have a rash, my atopic dermatitis doesn't go away and my skin is still itchy.

  • Why can't you go jogging with me?

    Why can't you go
    jogging with me?

    I have atopic dermatitis, and I try to stay away from activities that get me overheated or make me sweat, because that can cause me to break out in a really itchy, painful rash. Could we go for a walk instead?

  • It’s just a rash.
    Why can’t you work?

    It’s just a rash.
    Why can’t you work?

    It's not just a rash. I have atopic dermatitis, which can be intensely itchy, especially at night, and I was up all night last night suffering from it, which is why I am calling in sick. Atopic dermatitis is a chronic disease that makes my immune system overreact. It causes inflammation inside my body and flare-ups of really itchy, painful rashes.

  • Why do you always make such a big deal about it? It's just atopic dermatitis.

    Why do you always make such a big deal about it?
    It's just eczema.

    Atopic dermatitis is a chronic disease of my immune system that makes my skin react from the inside out. It causes constant internal inflammation. And it’s disruptive enough to my life that even when I don’t have a visible flare-up, I’m always worried about when the next one will come.