2022 A Level exams: Stress and Skin

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Skin problems, skin anxiety and psychological stress are extremely common in teenage years and are closely interlinked.

How does this all work?

Skin conditions are very complex and lots of factors play a role. The hormones we produce when we’re stressed can increase inflammation and can make common skin conditions such as acne, eczema and psoriasis worse, in people who are prone to them. Additionally, when we’re stressed or anxious it affects our behaviours. We might itch more, have some compulsive habits like hair-pulling or our anxiety or low mood stops us from keeping up with the skin management routines that we know are successful. In worse cases, we also see self-harm, such as cutting of skin.

Things certainly work the other way round too. Skin problems are often a cause of stress, anxiety, lack of self-confidence, and low mood. The way your skin feels and looks can impact on all aspects of life; ranging from your ability to concentrate, your friendships and relationships, how well you sleep, what you wear and what you feel comfortable doing.

All this means that it’s easy to get into an unhelpful spiral of worsening skin and worsening stress and anxiety. What’s critical is to find ways to break this damaging cycle.

So what can be done?

Breaking the cycle requires addressing the skin condition itself but, importantly, it also needs efforts to recognise how it is making you feel and behave and to address that too.

There are effective treatments for many skin conditions and if your skin has flared up then get advice from your doctor or nurse to make sure you have the best treatments. Letting your school know you have a skin problem is important as they should be able to give appropriate allowances. If, for example, you are struggling with a flare of eczema they may be able to give you breaks or extra time in an exam. Your doctor can help support this.

To help address the way the condition makes you feel, the first thing to remember is that this is not your fault. Your skin does NOT reflect how healthy you are or how stressed you are or how you cope with stress. Young people, in particular with a chronic skin condition like acne, eczema, psoriasis or alopecia will already often blame themselves unnecessarily and further judgement is not helpful or appropriate.

It may also be helpful to remember that some stress is good.

It can motivate you to revise for an exam and it can help you perform better in the exam itself. Try to think of it more positively as pressure rather than stress. There are proven ways to help manage stress and anxiety if it is becoming problematic. This should help you get into a more positive place. These are important life skills which will help you be better able to manage your skin and also face the full range of challenges that life will throw at you.

For more information:

Skin conditions in young people. A practical guide on how to be comfortable in your skin gives reliable facts on the diversity of ‘normal’ skin, why skin conditions develop, what can be done, what treatments work and ways to manage the impact in particular on mental wellbeing. This will be a helpful resource to understand what you can do whatever you are struggling with in your skin and where you can seek further help if needed.

Tess McPherson, Author of: Skin condition in young people. A practical guide on how to be comfortable in your skin.