Manage Stress For An Eczema Free Easter

Don’t let the Easter Bunny bring you eczema for Easter!!

The topic of stress is tossed around so much these days that it seems we’ve become desensitized and brush it off. But the fact remains that stress is indeed one of the most notorious triggers for eczema and autoimmunity.

And, the holidays are often stressful times for most of us. On the surface, Easter seems pretty easy and benign, right??

Well, not really.

Granted, it isn’t the long, drawn-out process that Christmas has become now that the “holidays” start the day after Halloween (not to mention cost in money, time, and sanity). But, it definitely shares a few key components of the other major holidays that might cause an eczema flare.

Stress Related Triggers

Travel. Preparing for travel and the act itself are bigger stressors than you may think. It burdens your mind with all of the things you need to do before you leave, even if it’s only for a day or two. Packing and prep are hard enough, but add kids and pets and the stress is magnified (parents of kids and fur babies know what I’m talking about!!).  Then there’s coming home to laundry, no food, and maybe even work since technology can be a ball-and-chain that way.

Family.  It depends on your family dynamics and for many this isn’t so bad, but the larger the gathering, the bigger opportunity for issues to arise. Often family members feel free to let their opinions fly, disregard others’ feelings, or like to “stir the pot.” Every family has one (or more!).  In my family we give out the Blueberry Muffin Award at the end of events for the person that causes the biggest problem. (I’ve only received it once- about 20 years ago when I was in college).

It can also be difficult if you make healthier (“different”) lifestyle choices, and this is very real possibility if you have eczema. For years I’ve been teased about my diet and lifestyle choices. I’ve learned to ignore them because I’m WAY healthier than the people teasing me. Usually when people give you a hard time it’s because they’re feeling insecure or inadequate about themselves. Psychologically, it makes them feel better to go after you because you’re doing something they can’t or won’t do. That doesn’t make it okay, but you can take the high road.

Gawkers. Perhaps one of the most difficult things to deal with when you have eczema is people staring. As if you’re not self-conscious enough!?!?! If it’s family or close friends, these are usually the same people who have some smart-ass comment too. Being in a public setting with strangers can be rough too because that’s like an open invitation to stare because of the mob mentality.

Don’t Let Stress Get You Down

Having a strategy going into the holidays is key to not succumbing to the stress monster and ending up with an eczema flare. Take some time to think of possible stressors you’ll encounter and figure out how you’ll handle them before they even happen. Here are some helpful tips :

  1. Planning will help you take some of the stress out of travel. Make a list of what you need to bring and getting things ready during the week prior to your trip helps avoid chaos right before you leave. Gas your car up a day or two earlier if you’re driving (this usually saves time and money). Get healthy food ready for your journey and make sure it’s easily accessible. Even if your only traveling down the street, preparing food the day before will help things go smoothly.
  2. Bring food if you have special dietary needs and there won’t be options for you to enjoy the occasion. Ask ahead what will be served and let them know your situation. Often people are accommodating and understanding, especially if you’ve been down the eczema road for a while. If they aren’t helpful, control your own destiny and bring your own food. Upsetting your host’s feelings is not your problem when you’re skin is on fire (or could flare back up).
  3. Don’t let the emotional bullies and energy vampires ruin your holiday! If people tease you for your choices, make snarky comments, or stare too long, you’ve got options on handling this. 1- Laugh it off and know that they lash out at others from their own place of hurting or insecurity. 2- Ask them when they got their medical or health care education when they give you unsolicited advice (since their comments are almost always rooted in opinion). 3- Bring an awesome dish that follows your dietary needs or restrictions, but don’t tell anyone it’s any different until they taste it and love it. Prove to them that their misconceptions on diet are exactly that. There are soooo many gluten, dairy, soy, corn, histamine, or _______ (insert any food here) free recipes that rock, so show them!
  4. Attitude is everything when dealing with stress. If you go into the event with a positive attitude, chances are things will go well. This is where self fulfilling prophecy comes into play.
  5. Breathing can also help get you through rough times. On many occasions I have chosen to take a few deep breaths and move on instead of engaging someone that’s trying to make me feel bad. I try to remember that it’s a them issue and not a me issue. They are just projecting onto me. It still sucks and can hurt, but I consciously know it’s not me and that’s huge.
  6. This point may be controversial, but when we’re talking stress and health it’s completely valid- skip the holiday events if you think they’ll be too much for you. If you’re in the middle of a horrible eczema flare or have had lots of stressors in your life recently, this may be the best option for you. If you know going to Easter brunch or dinner will be a battle and will put you in a worse place then politely decline. Tell everyone you’ll see them at the next event. You don’t owe anyone an explanation even though family often feels entitled to one. If you do say something tell them the truth and be authentic because that will serve you better.

Make the holidays enjoyable and as stress free as possible to avoid the Easter Bunny leaving eczema in your basket! If you have any tips or suggestions for stress free holidays, please share in the comments below.

Three of the Most Underappreciated Keys to Health

Yesterday my sister had a baby boy… Congrats! It got me thinking about the fresh start we have when we enter this world. The human body is truly astounding. We are inherently born with amazing capabilities that allow us to grow and thrive in spite of the constant insults we hurl at it in the forms of stress, poor eating and sleep habits, lack of movement, not enough time with nature, insufficient meaningful human contact, and the increasing abundance of toxins and pollution in our environment (inside as well as outside).

Unfortunately, the rate at which we are abusing our bodies is catching up with us. There are more chronic diseases now than ever before, and sadly that rate is increasing. We are producing generations now that have a lower life expectancy than we have and our grandparents had. This is not acceptable.

This is by no means is this a news flash, but is worth being said over and over again until people take heart and the message sinks in. LIFESTYLE MATTERS. I’ll say it again, LIFESTYLE MATTERS. Perhaps more than anything else.  No supplement, diet, or workout alone will do this.

Being healthy doesn’t involve drinking warm lemon water every morning or doing a 2 week detox or even running 3 times per week. While those can be healthy actions, what really matters is HOW you choose to live your daily life- the habits that become part of the fabric of what makes you, YOU. This is what will bring out the best you because it will improve your epigenetics, or how your genes are expressed. Wouldn’t you rather have genes “bathed” in clean air, water, and nutrients in a body not ravaged by stress or illness? Yes, please!

Actually doing this does take time and effort. Nothing worthwhile is ever easy and health exists on a continuum. The key is shifting the balance in favor of health, so that when an unforeseen stressor or illness arises, you have the capacity to rebound quickly and return to your healthy place.

By now everyone knows they should consume clean food and water, and get proper sleep and adequate daily movement, but I know countless unhealthy people that do all of that on a daily basis. These are definitely important pieces of the puzzle, but to experience true health you need some other fundamental components: true stress reduction and mitigation, a clean environment, and connections with nature and people.

Real Stress Reduction. Stress is a common buzz word, so much so that I believe it has lost its impact and we’ve become desensitized to it. The majority of patients and people I encounter believe to some extent they are managing it well, which is almost never the case. The truth is that real, measurable stress reduction is hard. Stress is inevitable, but how you deal with it is essential. The first step involves honest introspection to identify your stressors, be it relationships, work, finances, losses, past traumas, etc., and finding ways that work for you specifically to overcome them. This could be counseling, talking to a confidant, joining a support group, enlisting a coach, or self-education. For others, physical activity plays a big role in their management of stress.

The second step is having a daily ritual that involves taking “timeouts” to unplug and do some deep breathing, meditation, or even sitting in silence to clear your head. Helpful tip: if you can’t get away from people, go to the bathroom… it always works because no one questions you.

Clean Environment (in and outside your body). This is a broad topic that is often overlooked, but it can have a significant impact on your health since the indoor environment is often more polluted than outdoors. Thankfully you can fairly easily clean up your home and work environment. Here are some helpful strategies:

– Clean air ducts and replace filters regularly

– Ensure proper ventilation in dwellings

– Invest in house plants or air purification systems that clean the air

– Do proper mitigation if you have mold, radon, lead paint or pipes, etc.

– Use natural options for personal care products and household cleaners

– Don’t get your clothes dry-cleaned

– Reduce exposure to EMF (electromagnetic frequencies) by reducing cell phone use, unplugging all unnecessary appliances and electronics when not in use (especially in the bedroom while sleeping at night), limit Wi-Fi use and turn off when not using it, avoid using a microwave, and choose incandescent bulbs over compact fluorescent ones.

Connection with nature and people. Exposure to sunlight, as well as seeing and hearing the sights and sounds of nature are part of what makes us human. Most people are calmed by the sounds of a rushing river or crashing waves, invigorated when the cool breeze hits their face, or moved at the majesty of mountains or a beautiful forest. There are biological reasons for this. Our ancestors had a strong connection to the natural world and used it as means to survive. It guided them to set up dwellings near water and green space as resources were more abundant there. This environment likely also allowed them to recover from the stresses of living life at this time as well.

Our rapid evolution in the last several millennia has dramatically reduced our contact with nature and we are suffering the consequences. Technology has replaced our relationship with nature… and with other humans.

Connection with other humans is another factor that has ensured our survival throughout time. We are communal animals by nature. We now share more face time with our computers, tv’s, cell phones, and tablet devices than other humans which is hurting us. Studies show that a sense of community and having solid relationships with others is important to health and longevity.  Make an effort to build and maintain your relationships with others and respect people while they are with you by not having your phone in your face. Also, be kind to your fellow humans as well… there isn’t enough of that anymore.

Again, take time to unplug daily. Get outside- even in the winter months. Grab your family or friends and take a walk through the woods and leave your phone at home. Have a “no devices present” rule at meals. There are countless ways to take back your connections.

Here’s to living a cleaner and less technologically driven life while being more present and connected to what really matters!