Breathing Through Triggers

We could be in a horrible mood or just have one of those days - which we all do at times.

Those of us with atopic dermatitis may have more than the average person (at least I do). More than I care to admit, actually. Especially when I start to see a rash appear or feel any worsening in my skin whatsoever.

Reframing our thoughts

What I've learned on my journey is that it can just take one good or empowering thought or reframing of one to change the entire energy and shift our moods. It is not always easy, especially when we get caught up in a negative thought cycle.

Negative thought cycle

It is somewhat like a chain reaction - one negative thought leads to another. Then that negative thought creates an unpleasant emotion, and then the unpleasant emotion "charges" those thoughts and creates even more of them. It is a difficult cycle to get out of.

Using the breath as an anchor

This is where I have found breathwork to be most important. Of course, it's not always easy to even catch that I have started to get into that negative loop cycle. But once I do, I can take swift action to change the course of the thoughts and regain control. After all, I'm the boss of my mind here, not the other way around. (Or at least, I should be!)

Focusing on our breath helps take us away from the mind chatter and into the body. By putting awareness on the breath and the sensations that come along with it, even for a few cycles, sends a signal to our parasympathetic nervous system that we are safe and that it is okay to relax.

Managing psychological triggers

Our brain can't tell the difference between real danger and illusionary danger - that is how powerful our brains are. So when we start to get emotional and psychological triggers, the body puts up its defenses in order to protect us from the perceived danger.

However, if there is no actual danger and no reason to react, we are just wasting our bodies' resources and energy on an illusion. This is quite literally what happens when we have PTSD flashbacks, anxiety, panic attacks, etc.

Once we become aware of this, we can take control of it again. All it takes is one break in the thoughts and bringing awareness to the fact that we ARE stuck in one of those loops to break it. The best way to do this is by getting present and bringing attention to the breath.

Box breathing and 4-7-8 technique

There are several ways to do this. Some people use the box breathing technique. With box breathing, you would inhale for four counts, hold for four, and then exhale for four.

I personally prefer to do the 4-7-8 method, where I inhale for four, hold for seven, and exhale for eight. I've found that making the exhale longer than the inhale helps me much more personally, although box breathing works as well.

How many times do I do this?

I do this several times in a row. After a few times, I noticed my body relaxing and my mind clearing. Once my mind is calmer and quieter, I can then decide whether I want to go back to the negative thought cycle or create a positive one. Obviously, I'd suggest creating a positive one if you try to get yourself out of a rut. Breathing creates space between our thoughts and emotions in order to be able to do this. This way, there is not nearly as much overwhelm, and then we are able to shift the energy.

Putting the tools into practice

I've had to use this technique every time I see my skin start to flare up, as I am taken back to the worst times (most of which I honestly would rather not remember at all). However, my body remembers and reverts back to those, as it perceives a "danger" - even if there isn't an immediate one. So when I see a rash appear, I know that my mind will go into that negative thought cycle (at this point, it has become predictable), and I can use my tools.

I can't stress how important it is to have tools like breathwork, especially when dealing with a chronic illness. Our bodies are on constant high alert, even more so than the average person, and understandably so.

Thankfully, there are techniques such as this one we can learn. We can tell our body it is just a little rash. It doesn't mean we will have a full-body flare again. It doesn't even mean it will get worse at all.

It takes practice

The more we can interrupt these negative thought cycles and bring in something more empowering, the more control we have over our emotions. It means we can potentially also lessen the stress response in our bodies. And let's face it - that in itself is a huge trigger for eczema flares for many of us.

If we can continue to practice this, we can build up this "muscle" of awareness. Then, we are able to catch ourselves quicker each time we get into a loop, or maybe even before. Hopefully, then, our flares can be less intense, and we can even shorten them.

I say it's worth a shot – no harm, no foul, right?

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