When my childhood eczema reared it's head again in 2011 and the steroid creams I had become so used to using were no longer working, I looked deeper into the problem determined to find the root cause.
I have found that there are 4 major factors which play a part in how my skin is from day to day; stress, diet, lifestyle and environment. Here is a summary of what I do to counteract these everyday occurrences.
Breathe into my stomach and to the bottoms of my feet, repeat 5 times. Every time I catch myself, I take a few deep breaths. I am a habitual shallow breather - it never allows me to pause, take stock and relax. My shoulders gradually move closer to my ears and my teeth clench tighter together. It's my concentration pose but is no good for my stress levels.
A bit more than shuffling from house to car, car to office and to the kitchen to make a cuppa a few times. Exercise reduces stress and releases endorphins, the feel good hormone. I have to be careful not to sweat too much as this can exacerbate my eczema and find these exercises most effective; 30 minutes upwards of yoga, some gardening, a 5 minute dance party (music blaring, eyes closed) or going for a walk. My latest craze is to do a set of squats whilst I allow my moisturiser to dry.
SCREEN FREE TIME
It's so easy to be glued to your phone/iPad/computer/TV for hours on end. Even when TV adverts come on I sometimes find myself reaching for my phone to see what's new on Instagram of Facebook -really, how much can change in 15 minutes. Being so involved in what's going on in cyber space distracts from what's going on here and now. Swap out some of the time spent Tweeting or on Facebook for personal reflection time. The only way I can guarantee time away is to switch my phone off and do something else that doesn't involve a screen or technology.
GO OLD SCHOOL
Do the activities that we did before there were phones and iPads and computers... and even TV's! I have no shame in admitting that I enjoy puzzles and cross stitch. Puzzles really make you look at things front on, sideways and upside down, cross stitch is day-dreaming time. Reading of course is also on this list.
DEAD SEA SALT BATHS
Not only are these fantastic for relaxation, Dead Sea Salts are packed with minerals which the skin needs to heal and repair.
NATURAL PRODUCTS, EVERY TIME
I make sure anything I put on my skin is 100% natural. What works for one may not work for another. Oils are great for moisturising, try a few and see what works best for you.
I (try to) start my day by opening the curtains and letting the natural light flood my bedroom. Like many, my mood is greatly affected by the weather due to the levels of serotonin produced when the sun shines. Skin conditions can result in a huge lack of self confidence and feeling generally down in the dumps. When I'm in good spirits, anything is possible and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I am a great believer that PMA (positive mental attitude) is key in achieving anything. When I'm having a truly bad time with my eczema, I almost have to force myself to have a PMA, but it makes me get out of bed and get on with my day, then the feeling of achievement takes over and I don't feel so bad after all.
A PROPER NIGHTS REST
When we sleep, our bodies heal. Sleep can be greatly affected when you have eczema. Long term steroid use (talking creams and emollients, not muscle building pills) put my adrenals, thus cortisol production, out of wack and irregular wake up times/insomnia has featured heavily in the past couple of years. To make sure I get as good a nights rest as possible, I turn all electronics off 1 hour before bed (or on flight mode for my phone alarm) to allow myself to gradually calm down and relax. I also have black out blinds to make the room as dark as possible, which increases melatonin levels (the sleepy hormone).
NO GLUTES, DAIRY, SUGAR OR NIGHTSHADES
Sounds a lot, eh?! I have found that they all wreak havoc with my skin for one reason or another. The positive side of eating this way is that I'm far more creative with my cooking. I have discovered so many delicious and exciting ingredients and will never have to 'diet' again as I have leveled at a healthy weight. Plus, I can still eat chocolate, just not the type you buy from the news agents.
This is a difficult one for many to get their head around. I might have a small drink once in a blue moon but the effects drinking has on my skin, plus the standard hangover, far outweighs any positives from the night before.
EAT LOADS OF VEGGIES
No need to say any more.
OMEGA 3 FATTY ACIDS
I eat fish more than meat. Any meat I do eat is grass fed (which has a higher ratio of Omega 3 to 6 than grain fed meat.) There are plenty of plant based sourced of Omega 3 too, such as linseeds/flaxseeds and walnuts. I try to get a really good dose of Omega 3 into my day. Omega 3 is anti-inflammatory so key to reducing skin inflammation.
DRINK WATER. LOTS OF IT
Hydration is essential when you have eczema and dry skin. I aim for 2L a day but realistically only manage about 1.5L. I drink a glass of warm water in the morning to set the tone for the day and then drink a combination of herbal teas, infused waters and just plain water throughout the day, usually ending on a chamomile tea.
A TIP-TOP DIGESTIVE SYSTEM
My herbalist once compared my body to a car engine. If the 'exhaust' is blocked and the waste cannot be gotten rid of properly, the 'engine' will overheat - being too hot is no good for eczema. It made total sense to me and my skin is always the first indication that I need an MOT! My go to remedies are a tummy rub in a clockwise direction, deep breathing and making sure I'm hydrated. My top two fibre rich foods are chia seeds and amaranth.
This has taken me a while to work into my routine. Doing a little at a time has been key to me sticking with it long term. Eczema or not, you may want to include some or all of the above into your routine but looking at the list, may think it seems an impossible task. It's not. Start with the small things such as deep breathing and go from there. Don't be hard on yourself - if you forget or slip up one day, just start the next with a clean slate.