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Itching, Another Example of Mind-Body Interaction

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

"The American Journal of Pathology" recently published a report adding further evidence to support the fact that mind and body are not separate. In this case, the report discussed research findings that there is a direct relationship between stress and itching.

As the report explains, the skin forms part of the defense against invading infection. As a result, skin is loaded with white blood cells that attack bacteria that can harm the body. The immune system gears up its protective system by signalling the brain that something foreign has invaded the skin barrier. The brain then orders the immune system to send out its "soldiers" of white blood cells to surround and kill the dangerous intruder.

However, the immune cells in the skin can overreact resulting in inflammatory skin diseases such as psoriasis and dermatitis. It is stress that seems to cause this overreaction and this can either cause a skin disease to develop or irritate and already existing condition.

What is so interesting about itching is that it stands at the threshold between pain and pleasure. Upon first becoming aware of an itch, it usually feels good to scratch to make it go away. However, it is a common occurrence that the itch returns followed by more scratching. A point is reached where the scratching results in pain because the skin becomes injured.

What must be made perfectly clear is that the research Does Not Mean that itching is "in your head," or that skin disease are not real. Skin diseases are all too real and should be treated by a Medical Doctor. What the research does show is that, once again, stress can and does cause the immune system to operate in such a way that our health can be damaged.

I have seen a number of cases in which an individual experiences a sharp increase in itching accompanied by injury to the skin by constant scratching when the individuals were under severe stress in their marriage, at work or within their family. One becomes aware of this problem when skin sores appear.

Whether the individual with the chronic itch is yourself or someone who is close to you, the first thing to do, or to tell the other to do, is go to a Dermatologist. In addition to the medical visit, psychotherapy, particularly the Cognitive Behavioral type, is important as a means of learning how to reduce stress levels.

It is always a good idea to learn self help techniques in reducing stress. There is a self help area of Mental Help Net that is easily consulted. Activities such as meditation, deep breathing and muscle relaxation, yoga, etc., are all helpful ways to get your stress under control so that the experience of itching is brought under control.

Always see your medical doctor as the first line of defense of your health. Then, enter therapy and utilize self help methods. In fact, a person need not be in stress in order to use yoga, meditation, exercise and other stress busting methods. There is a lot to be said for prevention by learning how to maintain as low a level of stress as possible.

Your comments are welcome.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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