Welcome to part three of the ‘Mindfulness for Eczema’ series. In this post, we are following up on the mindfulness principles discussed in post one (“Letting Go”) and post two (“Impermanence”) with a discussion on the foundation of mindfulness practice “awareness.”
Awareness is the essence of mindfulness practice. Understanding and practicing awareness in your daily life will reduce your levels of stress and suffering, thereby creating a better environment in your body to heal from eczema.
Awareness is to be fully and consciously alert to what is actually happening in the present moment. It is a skill that can be practiced over time. As this practice strengthens you will be able to catch yourself when you start to get caught up in ruminating about the past or worrying about the future, resulting in a calmer and clearer mind and reduced stress levels.
This ability to reduce your overall load of stress and suffering can give you major gains in your eczema healing journey.
A common misconception of mindfulness and meditation is that the goal is to completely empty the mind of thoughts and any thoughts that come up should be pushed away.
This is simply not true!
You may be surprised to hear that even advanced meditators are not able to completely stop their minds from thinking. They, too, experience a never ending stream of thoughts that seemingly come out of nowhere.
The idea behind mindfulness is to be aware of these thoughts and recognize them as… thoughts! Not as reality, not as YOU, but just as thoughts. When you are able to disassociate thoughts from reality, your body experiences less stress, making more room for healing to take place.
We have tens of thousands of thoughts EVERY DAY and we are actually aware of very few of them. Neuroscientists have confirmed what mediators have known for thousands of years… that we cannot control our thoughts. It is not yet fully understood where our thoughts come from.
We DO however have control over how we respond to them. And this is where we can make a difference.
When faced with another eczema flare, your thoughts will likely swirl around with negative thoughts and harsh questions like:
“Why is this happening to me? What did I do to deserve this? What is wrong with me? What if this is the same as my worst flare 3 years ago – I barely lived through that! Everyone will think I look disgusting if they see my skin like this.”
We are hard wired as human beings to react to threats – whether real or imagined – by going into fight or flight reactions. These fight or flight reactions were crucial for the evolution of our species and allowed our ancestors to physically fight or run away when faced with danger.
However, in modern times, this built in survival response can cause us a lot of unnecessary suffering. It’s now activated in everyday situations where it is not appropriate, like in traffic, a stressful day at work or even during an eczema flare!
After the fight or flight response has been activated, when the perceived threat is gone, our built in relaxation response is designed to kick in returning the body to normal function. But in our times of chronic stress, this often doesn’t happen and our minds begin to scroll through memories to try and find why you are feeling like this: why is this eczema flare happening to me?
Then it attempts to ‘solve’ the problem by digging up memories of when you felt this way in the past: What if this is the same as my worst flare 3 years ago? I barely lived through that!
And finally, the mind will create scenarios of what might happen in the future if we cannot explain what is going on now, such as thoughts like, “everyone will think I look disgusting if they see my skin like this.”
The key here is to understand and be aware of our natural reaction as human beings to be triggered not only by the current stress of a situation but also by past and future worries. These past and future worries are sources of unnecessary stress and suffering and can have negative effects on your healing. But don’t fret – with practice these unnecessary stressors can be reduced greatly.
What’s more is that most of our feelings are driven by our thoughts. Let that sink in a bit… our feelings are driven by our thoughts. So if we can use awareness to catch ourselves when being pulled by stressful memories, negative self talk and judgemental thoughts, we become empowered to have some control over not only our thoughts but also our feelings.
As discussed, we cannot stop thoughts from popping into our heads – but with the practice of mindfulness and awareness we can stop the vicious circle from feeding off itself and triggering the next spiral of negative thoughts. The result is reduced your levels of stress and an increased sense of wellbeing creating a conducive eczema healing environment in your body.
Strategies to improve your awareness
The practice of mindfulness is to be aware of your thoughts, positive, negative or neutral. When you are trying to heal, it is especially important to catch yourself when you start slipping into negative thought patterns. When you catch yourself, that is great!
It is important to not beat yourself up about having the negative thoughts and to just acknowledge them with kindness and curiosity. So the next time you catch yourself in a negative spiral like, “What if this is the same as my worst flare 3 years ago? I barely lived through that!”, you can recognize the thought, remember that it is a thought and not reality, and respond with:“hello thoughts about my past sufferings with eczema, I see you there”.
You are not pushing the thought away or getting frustrated for having the thought – instead, you are congratulating yourself on catching it with your awareness. Just being aware of the thoughts and acknowledging them with kindness is enough to diffuse them.
A formal meditation practice can really help to strengthen this ability to be aware of your inner dialogue and you don’t need to be able to sit on the floor with your legs in a pretzel for hours on end to practice meditation.
You can start with just one minute per day! See below for a simple one minute meditation to strengthen your awareness.
One Minute Meditation
1. Sit erect in a straight backed chair. If possible bring your back away from the rear of the chair so your spine is self supporting. Place your feet flat on the floor and close your eyes
2. Focus your attention on your breath wherever you feel it the strongest. This may be the sensation of the breath entering and leaving your nostrils or your lungs or your belly. Stay with that sensation and follow the breath. Stay right behind it like you are chasing it for each in breath and each out breath.
3. Notice your thoughts as they arise with a sense of neutrality, acknowledge them without giving yourself a hard time or getting wrapped up in them, and return your attention to the sensation of the breath.
4. Continue for 1 minutes and open your eyes noticing how you feel compared to before the meditation.
Thank you for joining us for part three of the ‘Mindfulness for Eczema series!”
Learn more about my Conqueror Dry Skin Soothing Balm or visit my eBook links below to learn more about how you can heal your skin:
- The Elimination Diet: A Guide to Conquer Eczema & Food Sensitivities
- Healing Eczema: Why Dieting Is Not Enough
- The Power of Thoughts: How Mindset Shifts Can Help Eliminate Eczema
- My Detailed Eczema Healing Treatment Plan
Chelsea has worked in the health and wellness industry for over a decade. She is a Holistic Nutritionist, Certified Pilates Instructor and Registered Yoga Teacher. She currently teaches at the Toronto Athletic Club where she is the Director of Pilates and Yoga and also provides nutrition consulting services, specializing in Autoimmune diseases. After almost a decade of bizarre neurological symptoms Chelsea’s health took a downward turn in 2015 when she was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and later that year was diagnosed with late stage Lyme disease and co-infections. Through conventional and holistic practices (lifestyle, mindfulness, diet, and supplementation) she has been able to recover most of her health. Chelsea is passionate about helping others in their journey to get well and believes that everyone can thrive with chronic illness! She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.