Using Mindfulness to Help Cope with Eczema
Living with eczema is stressful, especially if you do not have proper support or outlets. With the cost of some medications being too high, many eczema sufferers have turned to free or low-cost mindfulness-based practices, apps, and more in an attempt to reduce or relieve eczema symptoms.
For those who are not familiar with mindfulness practices or are unclear on what fits under this category, it is a practice that refers to a large group of meditative practices that can help people with chronic pain, mental health disorders, and more manage their symptoms and live a better quality of life.
We will review why stress is unhelpful (and unfortunately unavoidable), especially with atopic conditions, and the long-term and short-term benefits of consistent mindfulness practices. Then we will detail some mindfulness techniques that you can try right now no matter where you are.
The link between stress and eczema
Dr. Mark Levenberg, FAAD, a Board-certified dermatologist, and Medical Director, US Medical Affairs, at Pfizer, advises that "stress has been shown to have a scientific link, through a variety of mechanisms, to impact our immune system and skin barrier. Which may contribute as an exacerbating factor to eczema."2
He goes on to write, "When you encounter a stressful situation, the body has a physiological reaction referred to as the 'fight or flight' response. Originally a survival mechanism, our bodies react the same way to everyday stress such as work pressures or family problems. During this physiological response, stress hormones, like cortisol, are released. When released in large amounts (for instance, when enduring ongoing, chronic stress), cortisol suppresses the immune system and increases inflammation throughout the body. This increase in inflammation extends to the skin worsening eczema symptoms."2
Comorbidities and stress
Dr.Levenburg explains how comorbidities and eczema can increase stress, potentially increasing the frequency and duration of flare-ups. He specifically refers to diagnoses like anxiety, depression, autoimmune disorders, and other atopic conditions like asthma and hay fever. All can cause stress, which then can impact the severity of eczema.2
Fortunately, many people have found mindfulness techniques have a positive impact. This relief has encompassed a variety of uncomfortable chronic diagnoses. Thankfully, this includes eczema!
The benefits of mindfulness
The benefits of consistent mindfulness-based practices can be both short- and long-term. A study conducted in 2010 demonstrated a scientifically backed link between mindfulness reducing stress, anxiety, and depression from mindfulness-based cognitive therapy.3 Mindfulness practices also have been shown to improve overall self-image, confidence, and general feelings of wellbeing — both in the short and long term.
Other benefits of therapeutic mindfulness practices include improved focus and retention of information (memory). Interestingly, mindfulness practices have also been shown to enhance functions associated with the central prefrontal lobe area of the brain. Specifically thought processes and behaviors such as fear modulation, morality, and self-awareness.3
It has even been shown to increase immune response. (4) This is quite significant for a practice (or set of practices) that do not need any added features to experience the benefits of!
Which mindfulness techniques should I try?
Practicing mindfulness is free, as there is no medication or presence of a therapist required. Moreover, there are not often requirements for physical location or timing.
You can practice mindfulness-based stress relief techniques almost anywhere you can be still for a few minutes and focus. With such an accessible and scientifically proven track record, these benefits can happen for anyone! You may be wondering what types of actions are considered mindfulness-based stress relief techniques. Let's review three of the most popular (and easiest) to get you started!
The body scan
Perhaps the most well-known of all the mindfulness techniques is the body scan. To complete a body scan, you will need a place where you can sit or lie down quietly and not be disturbed for a few minutes, but other than that, there is nothing else required!
This practice intends to help you become more familiar and aware of how each part of your body feels. You can be as detailed and specific or general with your visualization as you need.
For example, some persons scan the whole arm as one entity, while others scan each part of the arm (muscles, fascia, bone, left pointer finger, etc.). This practice has shown benefits against stress, anxiety, chronic pain and even can help reduce cravings when quitting substance use acts like smoking.5
This technique utilizes mental imagery, often delivered by means of a recorded sound clip (think YouTube video or podcast) or by another individual. The mental images often are more in line with a mental story in which the person practicing the techniques listens and essentially pictures the story being told.
It is meant to invoke feelings of relaxation and wellbeing. Many find guided meditation is also extremely helpful for promoting sleep and for addressing sleep-based disorders.
Also referred to as "breathwork therapy," this type of mindfulness practice is hugely successful in addressing various concerns. Breathing-based mindfulness techniques are thought to have beneficial results for everything from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), anxiety and depression disorders, processing grief and loss, and even to help mitigate the emotional stress caused by physical-affecting illnesses.
One technique to try right now is called "box breathing." To do this, find a moment and space where you are comfortable and sit quietly for a few minutes. Then picture a square box. Each side of the square box represents four seconds, for a total of sixteen seconds. You are going to correspond your breath to the box by following this pattern:
- Breathe in for four seconds
- Hold your breath for four seconds
- Exhale for four seconds
- Hold your breath for four seconds
This practice can, of course, be tailored to fit a shorter or longer duration depending on the abilities and needs of the person practicing it. One of the best aspects of mindfulness-based practice: it's adaptable and can still deliver the same benefit as practicing as instructed.
Incorporating these practices
Mindfulness practices have become extremely popular over the past decade, and it is easy to see why. It is low to no cost, does not require a high level of comprehension to complete alone, and the potential benefits to one's health and wellbeing are exponential.
I hope you enjoyed this article and may try a technique or two. Incorporating mindfulness-based practices into your daily life may be a bit awkward at first, but as with many things, consistency is key. The more you do it, the easier it gets and the less you must (forcibly, in my case) remind yourself to practice mindfulness daily.
However, daily practice is your best chance of receiving maximum benefits from this simple and easy set of techniques! And be sure to let me know what mindfulness practices you use and that have benefitted you!
Did you know October is eczema awareness month?