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The Connection Between Skin Conditions and Mental Health in Athletes

by Manoj Sonavane 05 Feb 2024 0 Comments
The Connection Between Skin Conditions and Mental Health in Athletes

Athletes usually experience a variety of skin problems. Though not all athletes may be affected by the skin issues, there is a high probability of otherwise. Apart from the sweat and ultraviolet (UV) rays that have adverse impact on an athlete’s skin, there is another vital component associated with skin woes and that is mental health. The connection between mental health and skin conditions is complex and, in some cases, psychosomatic in nature, meaning connecting both mind and body. There has been a substantial body of research which elucidates that the health of an athlete’s skin can be interconnected with their mental health in many ways.

Stress can cause skin issues

 

Psychological stress can impact the health of an athlete’s skin. Stress triggers the release of certain hormones, such as cortisol, which can lead to inflammation in the body. This inflammation can exacerbate existing skin conditions like acne, eczema, psoriasis, and rosacea, and vitiligo, to name a few.

 

Physical looks and self-image

 

It is quite common to see that skin conditions can have a significant impact on physical looks and self-image. Many athletes tend to get affected with skin issues like acne, scarring, vitiligo, or visible skin conditions which eventually negatively impact confidence, social interactions, and overall psychological well-being. Negative feelings about one’s appearance can lead to stress, anxiety, or depression, further affecting mental health.

 

Impact on social life and emotional well-being

 

Skin conditions can tend to have a bearing on an athlete’s social life and emotional well-being. Generally, athletes with evident skin ailments may experience stigma, embarrassment, or discrimination, which can negatively affect their mental health and subsequently their performance. Other feelings like self-consciousness, shame, or isolation can also arise, contributing to anxiety, depression, or even social anxiety.

 

Itchiness and scratches

 

Athletes experience itchiness, which is a common symptom of various skin problems. Constant itching can be stressful, and can disrupt sleep, concentration and daily activities. For any athlete, sleep is of paramount importance and if they do not get adequate sleep, they may find it difficult to perform their best. In addition to itchiness, the athletes may develop scratches which can worsen skin conditions and trigger a continuous cycle where the skin becomes damaged, leading to more itching and further psychological distress.

 

Types of skin conditions linked to mental health

 

There are multiple types of skin conditions linked to mental health. Some of them include acne, eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, and vitiligo.

 

  • Acne: Acne is one of the most common skin conditions that can affect athletes. It could be due to excessive sweating or over exposure to sun. Besides, mental issues like psychological distress, anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem can lead to acne. Once the athletes develop acne lesions, they could suffer from low self-consciousness, social withdrawal, and negative self-esteem.
  • Eczema: Eczema is a chronic inflammatory skin condition. Its symptoms include itchy, red, and dry patches on the skin. Chronic eczema can significantly impact quality of life and lead to feelings of frustration, irritability, and disturbed sleep, thereby adversely affecting athlete’s performance. Additionally, eczema can result in stress and psychological distress.
  • Psoriasis: Psoriasis is an autoimmune skin condition. If an athlete is affected by psoriasis they experience rapid buildup of skin cells, which ultimately result in thick, red, and scaly patches. Like other skin issues, psoriasis can lead to depression, anxiety, and bad quality of life. The visibility of psoriasis lesions, its chronicity, pain and discomfort can all contribute to the negative psychological impact.
  • Rosacea: In simple terms, rosacea is a chronic skin condition, the symptoms of which include redness, flushing, and sometimes pimples or visible blood vessels on the face. The persistent facial redness and potential changes in appearance can lead to athletes losing their self-confidence, embarrassment, and negative self-image.
  • Vitiligo: The most common way to identify if an athlete is suffering from vitiligo is to look out for white patches of the skin or depigmented areas. Since this skin condition is quite visible, it can affect an athlete’s emotional well-being, self-image, and self-esteem. Vitiligo also has the ability to cause anxiety, depression, and social isolation.


Stress affects skin and can trigger skin issues

 

Stress is very dangerous for an athlete’s mental health and skin. It is an intense emotion that can cause the aforementioned skin issues. Besides stress, the feelings of anger, fear, or pressure, can lead to skin problems.

The way it works is when an athlete is stressed, their body releases 'stress hormones', such as adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones affect one of the important body functions, which is the flow of blood to the skin. A common sign of stress is skin irritation or a rash. In addition, when an athlete is anxious or stressed for prolonged periods, the body releases more cortisol. This can increase oil production and lead to acne.

Effect of mood on skin

Broadly, mood can be categorised into two types: happy and sad. Happy mood is a safe place since it does not cause any skin ailments. However, a sad mood can lead to a lot of skin issues. It is therefore important for the athletes to stay calm in the face of such pressure to avoid the worst effects of it on their skin. Also, frowning or scowling can tense the facial muscles, and constant occurrence of such feelings can result in acne and wrinkles.

 

Depression can cause skin problems

 

There is seldom any doubt that the vicious cycle of stress, depression and other kinds of psychological disorders can aggravate the skin woes. The common dermatological issues that have been documented by researchers undertaking the study of connection between mental health and skin conditions in athletes are acne, rosacea, psoriasis, itching, eczema, pain and hives, inter-alia. In today’s day and age, it is quite common to hear about athletes taking mental health breaks. Since mental health can impact athlete’s skin and eventually their performance which could be in the way of low energy and confidence, the signs of depression should not be turned a Nelson's eye to.

 

Concluding remarks

It is very crucial for all athletes to remember the connection between mental health and skin conditions. Though the psychological impact can vary from person to person, seeking help of healthcare professionals, such as dermatologists and mental health experts, can be extremely useful in managing the psychological and the physical symptoms.

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