The Underwater Strategy: A Tool to Manage The Eczema Itch
Last updated: April 2020
Have you ever heard of “The Underwater Strategy” to better your eczema? Good. Because I made it up! :)
Eczema flares and a staph infection
A couple of months ago, when I was going through a staph infection, my body was super vulnerable and would react to almost everything. This meant that I had to be prepared and alert at all times so that when I felt an itching attack coming along, I took the necessary steps to try and diffuse the flare as quickly as possible.
That’s when I came up with "The Underwater Strategy."
Focusing on breathing
I needed something that would calm me down as soon as I felt an itch coming along. Something that would make me present to my breathing so that I could slow down my heart rate and gain control of my mind and the situation as best as I could.
The calming effects of water
I don’t know about you, but I love the water (especially now that I can actually enjoy it without my body flaring up). I love showering and feeling the warm water hit my skin. I love swimming and secluding my entire body underwater. I love oatmeal baths and remaining still for 15 minutes as I give my body the self-care it needs.
But I especially love when I’m floating and my ears are slightly underwater and there’s an automatic silence that occurs. At that moment, it’s like I block all of the unnecessary noise and I listen to the silence. I hear things I normally wouldn’t. I hear myself breathing.
The anxiety of the eczema itch
As I reflect on the physical and mental step-by-step process of what happens when I flare up, I think about one pivotal moment where things can either improve or take a fall for the worst. The downside is something we are all too familiar with - the vicious cycle of unrelenting scratching. The point in time where we can improve how we feel despite the itch arising is where "The Underwater Strategy" comes into play.
In my experience, there’s a moment when you go through a flare-up, where you literally stop breathing properly. This is normally the point where you sense the itch arising - ‘the eczema flare’ itch... the ‘uh oh prepare for the worst’ type of itch… the ‘it’s about to go down’ itch. You know what I'm talking about.
Defense mode against the itch
When you immediately feel that initial itch, your brain tells your body that something is wrong and as a result, your body goes into defense mode. This is where your brain tries to help you calm down the itch by sending signals to your hands to scratch the part that is creating the itch. But those living with AD know that this actually makes things worse. Isn’t the brain a little trickster?
Lowering the heart rate
Simultaneously, your heartbeat starts to increase because your body is going into fight or flight mode. Your nervous system springs into action and your blood sugars spike. Your senses heighten, which is why you feel the itch more intensely. This - this very moment - is where you implement "The Underwater Strategy."
The purpose of "The Underwater Strategy"
The purpose of "The Underwater Strategy" is to become present to your breathing. Similar to the steps to help someone calm down during a panic or anxiety attack, this strategy’s intention is to slow you down, so you can become aware of what’s happening inside your body.
Once you become present to your breathing, you put yourself in a position to take control of your body and respond accordingly versus react in panic.
How to do "The Underwater Strategy"
When you first feel that initial itch...
Close your ears immediately
You can do this by simply using your hands or by literally going underwater (baths are always a hit!).
Listen to or for your breath
This is the most important step. Can you hear yourself breathing? There are different breathing techniques you can use at this point. The one that supports me best is a 4/2/6 breathing technique. This is when you inhale for 4 seconds, hold it at the top for 2 seconds, and exhale for 6 seconds.
This supports me in calming down and focus on my breathing versus the area that is causing me the itch.
Over and over and over again until you feel like you’re in control and ready to respond. For me, this takes anywhere from 2 minutes to 5 minutes.
Continue your normal routine
After you have lowered your heart rate and feel like you have taken control of your body, continue with your normal moisturizing routine if necessary to prevent further irritation.
"The Underwater Strategy" is NOT an easy thing to do and it’s easier said than done. But like with anything else, if you practice it consistently, you will train your mind to respond accordingly.
P.S. I use this technique outside of eczema and it works just as well! If I’m feeling stressed or overwhelmed, I close my ears and go through the same process. Try it and let me know if it works for you!
How does your emotional health relate to your physical health?
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