Believe in yourself and your skin might improve
New research reveals a link between skin health and how strongly we believe in ourselves and our abilities. People with low self-efficacy are more likely to be plagued by itches than people with high self-efficacy.
Itchy skin is a common dermatological issue for teenagers and young adults. It can be an isolated problem, but it's usually a symptom of chronic skin diseases such as eczema and psoriasis. Either way, it can be a painfully serious issue.
"It's a very bothersome problem to have, and it really affects your quality of life," says Florence Dalgard, of Oslo University Hospital, who headed a recently published study on itch.
Self-efficacy linked to itch
Dalgard tells ScienceNordic that her study’s key finding is that there is a strong link between itch and self-efficacy.
People with high self-efficacy have a strong belief in their own ability to cope with challenging demands and are good at handling stress.
Dalgard used data from a survey of nearly 2,500 Norwegian adolescents aged 17-19. She and her colleagues paid particular attention to the link between self-efficacy and itchy skin.
"It might sound strange," she says, "but we found that those who strongly believe in themselves and their abilities have fewer skin problems than those who have little belief in themselves."
She adds that the strong correlation persists when they look for variables such as depression and skin diseases, which are also linked to itch.
Stress leads to itchy skin
Stress is known to have a bad effect on one's physiological health, and it's also a factor when it comes to itchy skin. But strong self-efficacy alleviates its impact.
Adolescents who have recently experienced stressful events in their lives, and have low self-efficacy scores, suffered from itch twice as often as those with high self-efficacy.
"High self-efficacy protects you when you're stressed; you handle stressful situations much better," says the researcher.
Not just about stress
The positive effect of a high self-efficacy was also present for respondents who said they had not been through stressful experiences in the last year.
For those who said they had no stressful experiences in the past 12 months, seven percent of the high self-efficacy group have experienced itchy skin, whereas it was 17 percent for those with low self-efficacy.
This suggests that self-efficacy is more than psychological armour against stressors.
Self-efficacy is typically measured using a questionnaire, and respondents are asked to which degree they identify with statements such as "I can always manage to solve difficult problems if I try hard enough" and "I am confident that I could deal efficiently with unexpected events."
The questionnaire is developed by the famous psychologist Albert Bandura, who also coined the concept of self-efficacy.
Women itch nearly twice as much as men
Of the nearly 2,500 respondents, six percent of all males said they had experienced itching sensations in the past week. For women it was 11 percent.
Dalgard found that the gender discrepancy is just as strong when it comes to self-efficacy.
Female respondents said they have "difficulties in tackling unexpected problems" twice as often as boys, and men were twice as likely to report that they "stay calm in difficult situations."
Arachnophobia and self-efficacy
Although Dalgard's study is the first one to look at self-efficacy and skin disease symptoms, it's not the first time self-efficacy has been linked to physiological health.
In a classic study from 1985, Bandura and his Stanford colleagues found that a person's self-efficacy is linked to the release of particular amines in the brain, catecholamines, which play an important role in how the body responds to stress.
Bandura recruited women who were afraid of spiders for his study and gave them tasks which were certain to stress them out, such as letting a spider walk across their hands.
He found that the women who were able to overcome their fear and who completed the tasks secreted lower levels of catecholamines than the others.
The women who were taught to overcome the stress and who completed the tasks also secreted lower levels of catecholamines.
Despite their highly experimental nature, studies such as Bandura’s show that improving self-efficacy might strengthen the immune system.
“It would be very interesting to see if people with serious skin problems can be helped by improving their self-efficacy,” says Dalgard.
“It might work.”
- Florence Dalgard et.al., Itch, Stress and Self-efficacy Among 18-year-old Boys and Girls: A Norwegian Population-based Cross-sectional Study, Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, february 2012 (abstract)