You know that atopic dermatitis can be stressful and frustrating. Mindfulness is an opportunity to focus on relaxing the mind and body that may provide relief from the anxieties of atopic dermatitis.
One way to wind down before going to bed is to practice mindfulness techniques, such as the breathing exercise that follows. Mindfulness has been shown to improve sleep.
Mindful breathing, also known as belly breathing, can help you relax the mind and body. Basically, it works by tuning on the body’s natural relaxation system. So why not give it a try?
Keep in mind that the goal is not to control your thoughts during this practice, but to be aware of them and return your attention to your breath. If you have any thoughts while you are breathing, just notice them instead of analyzing them.
Start off slowly by focusing for 10 breaths or for 2 minutes at a time, and slowly build up your practice as you feel more comfortable. Aim to work up to 10 minutes a day, 5 days a week. Come back to this technique regularly. You may find that the more you practice mindful breathing, the better you get at it.
Many resources are available online to help you learn more about breathing and meditation, including various apps. Explore a few to find one that works for you.
Let’s get started with some basic steps to mindful breathing. Just follow along as I guide you through a basic practice.
First, sit or lie in a comfortable position.
Place one hand on your chest and the other on or below your belly button.
Begin taking normal breaths, focusing on the breath and noticing which hand rises more as you breathe.
Try not to control the breath—just be aware of it. If thoughts pop into your mind, notice that and return your attention to your breath.
Notice if your belly or chest rises more as you breathe.
Continue to practice your breathing. Remember, as thoughts arise, continue to return your attention to your breathing.
Think about how it felt to focus only on your breath without having to do anything else.
Remember, like any skill, mindful breathing takes practice, so try to fit in a little time for practice on a regular basis.
Although we can all use a hand at better managing stress, it’s especially important when you have atopic dermatitis, because stress can directly impact your disease. The chemicals released by your body in response to stress can actually cause atopic dermatitis symptoms, increase inflammation, and make flares worse.
Studies have shown that mindfulness may actually help reduce the nervous system’s stress response, and, as a result, have a positive impact on some of the negative effects that stress can have on atopic dermatitis.
Being mindful means taking a step back and really focusing on the small things that make up each moment. Try it out for yourself. Here are a few situations where you can practice being mindful in the moment:
Mindfulness is a skill that improves with practice—like playing the piano. Another mindfulness technique is body awareness exercise. It has been shown to provide immediate soothing benefits for people with areas of discomfort or pain. With a body awareness exercise, you keep your attention on the present moment by focusing on your breathing while mentally examining yourself, concentrating on one body part at a time. So take 10 minutes and give it a try.
Move through the practice slowly and intentionally.
As you practice, pay attention to sensations in your body as you focus on specific body parts.
Notice and accept any thoughts or feelings that come up, then return to your breathing.
If you come to a sensitive or painful area, bring your attention as close as you can without discomfort. You may find that as you continue to practice, you are able to get closer.
Begin by lying or sitting in a comfortable position.
Bring your awareness to your breath.
Now focus on the toes of your left foot. Notice any feelings of discomfort or tension. As you breathe out, release any tension with the breath.
Move your focus up your foot to your ankle. Again, use your breath to release feelings of tension or discomfort.
Continue to shift your focus to your left shin and calf, breathing to help you relax.
Bring your focus to your left knee and then your left thigh. Notice any feelings of discomfort or tension and relax as you exhale.
Move your attention to your left hip and groin, using the breath to release feelings of tension or discomfort.
Now begin the same process with the toes of your right foot, and breathe to help you relax.
Move your focus up your right foot to your ankle and continue breathing and relaxing.
Continue to shift your focus to your right shin and calf. Notice any feelings of discomfort or tension. As you breathe out, release any tension with the breath.
Bring your focus to your right knee and then your thigh, breathing to help relax.
Move your attention to your right hip and groin, and continue breathing and relaxing.
Now focus on your pelvis and hips, using the breath to release feelings of tension or discomfort.
From there, focus on your buttocks, then your lower back and abdomen, noticing any feelings of discomfort or tension and relaxing as you exhale.
Move your attention to your upper back, chest, ribs, and shoulder blades, breathing to help you relax. Then focus on your shoulders, collarbones and arms.
Start at the tips of your fingers and move your attention all the way up your arms—palms, wrists, forearms, elbows, upper arms, armpits—to your shoulders, using the breath to release feelings of tension or discomfort.
Now, bring your focus to your neck and throat, using the breath to release feelings of tension or discomfort.
And finally, move your attention to your face—mouth, nose, eyes, ears—and head and continue breathing and relaxing.
You’ve now completed the mindful body awareness exercise. Remember to use this guided practice as another tool to help you de-stress and cope with pain and itch.
For more information and resources about atopic dermatitis, visit our Support and Resources page.