As someone who has suffered from eczema all of my life, one of the things that I am deeply passionate about is helping people to understand that skin flare ups are our body’s way of telling us that something is not quite right, and at the root of it all is usually stress.
When it comes to addressing skin problems long term, there really are no miracle creams, lotions and potions (although a quality daily moisturiser is a game changer). The first step to healing is always about understanding the underlying issue behind a flare up and addressing that head on. It is only then that you will see a long-lasting respite from problem skin and will be equipped with the tools to tackle a flare up if it does occur.
The role of stress
Stress impacts the body in many ways – it can make skin more sensitive by causing a chemical reaction in the body, affect gut health which impacts on the immune system, prevent sleep, affect the appetite, moods and overall mental wellbeing. Ultimately when we are experiencing periods of stress it can be hard to focus on the lifestyle choices (such as healthy eating, exercise, reaching out to friends, getting out in the great outdoors) that will make us feel better, and instead we revert to more negative coping techniques such as comfort food, alcohol and binge-watching TV or mindlessly scrolling social media.
I have spent years and years battling with my eczema and trying to work out that miracle fix. Eventually I realised that, for me, healing is the sum of many parts and if one or more areas of my life is out of sync or lacking attention (almost always because of stress), then it manifests itself in my skin and I experience a flare up.
Long-term healing can and will take time, and it is an ongoing journey that requires focus every day. For me, it is about caring for every single part of me, every single day. The food that I put into my body, the products that I put on to my body, how much I sleep, how much I move, my mental outlook – all of these things matter.
It can seem daunting but all it takes is that one small step forward.
Here are five simple ways that you can put positive practices into place to combat stress and get you on the road to glowing skin.
One – indulge in some ecotherapy
Nature has incredible healing qualities, so much so, that ecotherapy is now being prescribed for stress and anxiety. Being outside in the fresh air can do wonders for our wellbeing levels. In fact, it has been proven that spending time outside in nature can make us healthier and happier. Swedish studies have also discovered that walks outside can help us to think more clearly.
Regularly switching off and reconnecting with nature by replacing screen time with green time is a tremendous stress reliever. Just putting down our phones to take a break outside will give our bodies and minds a chance to reset. Try and include at least 30 minutes of outdoor time into your day and see what a difference it makes.
Two – prioritise sleep
How we treat ourselves has a lot to answer for when it comes to our energy levels and sleep is right up there in terms of a self-care essential. Sleep is an important restorative process in which our bodies rest and repair muscles and support immune function. Meanwhile, our brains process our memories and our dreams help us to work through our worries. As such, sleep helps to restore our mind and body effectively. Fundamentally sleep affects our mood, feelings, performance, will power, hunger, emotional and immune response – as such it should be a high priority.
There are a number of self-care techniques that we can easily implement to promote better sleep and I would urge everyone to take these seriously. Switching off mobile phones and devices at least an hour before bedtime will help to unwind and prepare for sleep. Indulging in some self-care in the evening such as a warm bath or meditation will help to de-stress the day away. Making sure that your bedroom is clutter free is also conducive to better sleep.
Three – write it down
Journaling is a fantastic stress relief tool – helping you to make sense of your emotions, moods and clarify your thoughts and feelings. What is more, it can really help you to track and explore the triggers that could be having a negative impact on your skin. By keeping an ongoing record of what you eat, how much exercise you get, how much time you spend outdoors, your general mental outlook and so on, you can see which areas of your life may need some more attention. I also use my journal to record and reflect on the things that I am grateful for. Gratitudes are a key way of focusing on the positives in life and developing a positive frame of mind has far reaching mental and physical health benefits.
Four – declutter
Our outer world can affect our inner world and when we are surrounded by external clutter and mess it can transport into our heads and create mess their too. Decluttering may seem like an obvious tool to take back control of our lives, but it is often overlooked. Physically decluttering our living spaces by removing the things that don’t matter to use will give you breathing space and more mental energy to deal with whatever comes your way. If you haven’t decluttered in a while, then a deep declutter may be in order – tackle those dump zones, make sure you take on every room in your living space and by the end of it everything should have a home.
Five – make friends with your skin condition
It may sound crazy but I truly believe that having eczema is a blessing. It has forced me into living a healthier lifestyle and listening to my body and what it needs to thrive. Because of my eczema I have been forced to tackle any stress in my life head on – working out what is out of balance and working hard on getting myself back on track. One crucial part of this jigsaw is to see the positive in your skin condition and to reframe how your see and treat yourself. A flare up of any kind of problem skin can make you feel really low but to truly heal you need to give your mindset a makeover and make friends with your skin. I use positive affirmations to do this – they are present-tense statements that we say to ourselves, about ourselves. It’s a fact that if we repeat them often enough we begin to believe – all thanks to a psychological phenomenon called the ‘illusory truth effect’. So next time you are feeling down on yourself – why not make friends with your skin condition.