How I manage my neck flares

So if you have been following my blog, you will know that my neck is one of my main trigger areas for eczema. It used to predominantly be my face too but my eczema seems to have stabilised on my face over the years. My neck however is the place I will flare first and the eczema can come with a vengeance!

My neck can go from irritable spots….

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To a full flare in less than a week.

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This was my latest flare and I did struggle through it initially – not just physically but also emotionally managing it.  My neck flares are the ones I find hardest to budge and so when it started, I dreaded the worst would happen (i.e. I’d go back to the days when I couldn’t face the world or budge the eczema!). When my neck flares it becomes:

  • Extremely itchy and aggravated – change in temperature can set me off, bathing, applying creams, putting on clothes, doing my hair, sleeping…you name it
  • Stiff and sore to move
  • Hot with an ‘on fire’ type sensation
  • A completely different colour – purplish, red, bruised looking
  • Rough and raised

On top of that, with the blatant cut off line on my collar bone, I always find myself more conscious of what I wear doing these flares too. I found myself going for high neck jumpers and shirts which I could button up all to hide my neck flare. I would also be more likely to leave my scarf on at work, though that could also aggravate – catch 22! I can feel self-conscious which can be exhausting, sleep can be difficult and so neck flares affect me beyond my skin.

Over the years, I have learnt to manage my flares with a more holistic approach. I do not believe that applying a cream will suffice in ever managing my eczema and so unfortunately I don’t offer you a “miracle” cream or “cure”. I’m not saying creams aren’t helpful, I just don’t feel they are ever enough for me personally. If you are reading this and thinking eczema is all physical and I’m talking nonsense, then my tips probably won’t be of much help. But for those of you who have begun to see eczema as more than your skin, here are my eczema management tips.

1.Fight the urge to throw every product under the sun at your eczema

Initially I can become quite anxious about the fact the eczema is back and it can leave me wanting to throw all of my eczema toolkit at my skin but if you are like me, hold fire! It didn’t help! I began taking vitamin d3, probiotics, using more creams and potions. The problem here is you can further irritate your skin (my skin becomes more sensitive during flares than when I’m not flared), you aren’t sure which part of the routine is working and its emotionally more stressful if you are feeling so overwhelmed and in need of throwing everything at the eczema. Take what you feel you need (i.e in winter I take vitamin d3 as my darker skin means I get less vitamin D at this time of year) but don’t throw everything at your skin.

2. Breathe and be mindful of your stress/ anxiety levels 

Eczema can make you feel out of control, it can make you feel overwhelmed, anxious and stressed about it whilst you try and manage it. Don’t ignore your stress and anxiety levels. I firmly believe my atopic eczema is linked to my emotional wellbeing and it is crucial for me to keep my anxiety in check at this time more than any other. So breathe and be aware of how stressed out you are (because of the eczema or life)

3. Go back to basics with your skincare

The routine which worked best for me was dead sea salt baths every other evening, a  water rinse every morning and simply applying Pure Potions Skin salvation (obviously I washed my hair when needed etc. but neck and elbows followed this as both were flared). I then had the salve at all times if i needed to reapply. Going back to basics has been the best thing for me. If I think my flare is allergy related I might also take an anti-histamne though I”m not sure if this actually ever works?!

4. Choose a stress relieving activity and commit to it 

So back to this being more than a skincare routine, don’t dismiss stress as being ‘normal’, too much stress is not great for the system and I find when I flare (especially on my face and neck), my stress levels really can spiral out of control. Trying to juggle managing the eczema, the self-conscious aspects of having it on my face and neck, my thesis, work, dog, social life, home life is stressful and its okay to take a minute and say ‘I am stressed and I need to do something about it’. Hold yourself accountable for ensuring you are taking care of your mental health too, don’t let the stress and eczema consume you and it won’t help heal the eczema either. So commit to spending even just 10 minutes each day on something which helps to reduce your stress and anxiety levels. It could be praising mindfulness, it could be colouring, it could be a short yoga sequence, or just sitting down for 10 minutes with a good cup of tea. The great thing about the dead sea salt baths is that this is also great for stress. The point: don’t dismiss the need to manage the stress.

5. Go out, be social and spend time outdoors 

Eczema can make you want to hide away. The anxiety of people “seeing” the eczema in its worst form can cause anxiety and so staying in seems rational. However, if you are truly honest with yourself does staying in bed and hiding really help? I know for me it doesn’t. The idea of going out might seem stressful, and I have to rationalise why I want to go out, but one thing is for sure: my mood improves from seeing friends, going out and even walking outdoors. My mood suffers when I stay indoors, and so though I might not always want to I ensure I spend time out with other people when I flare. Don’t let eczema make you a recluse. When we flare, we need more social support and activities to boost our mood.

6. Exercise (if you can)

So this can be a catch 22 at times and you know your eczema better than anyone to make a good judgment call. I find that exercise – from yoga, to running to some home workouts from YouTube – can help keep my eczema at bay (or at the very least from getting worse). I was running when my eczema flared and I did feel it benefited me – better mood, reduced stress, time out, a boost to my immune system and I felt better (after the shower). I have to be mindful of sweat when I exercise especially on my neck because it becomes extremely itchy!! So I always ensure I shower immediately afterwards – this is where dead sea salts could be good as they relieve the itch for me. However, benefits of exercise at this time outweighed the need to rest for me. I know this can vary depending on where you flare and how well you can manage the itch.

7. Listen to your body and take time out if needed

Similar to being in tune with your stress levels, how are you generally feeling? Are you tired? Are you feeling overworked? Do you need a few hours extra sleep? Do you need a Saturday of just ‘me time’? Give your body what it needs. I ensure I take weekends off when my eczema flares and don’t do extra work on my thesis. For me, the need to feel way with my eczema is a priority when I flare.

8. Commit to habits which reduce the urge to itch

We all have ways we reduce the need to itch. So employ those strategies now! Personally I can be itchy immediately after I have showered so I will apply my cream and then spend 10 minutes on a mindfulness exercise. I find that this helps me to avoid itching (which leads to guilt and we don’t need negative feelings right now!). I also reduce my sugar consumption. I still eat sugar based fruits but I find that reduced processed sugars like biscuits helps me curbs the itch. Icepacks when I’m feeling desperate too! You may have really good strategies for managing itch so remember to use them. Also share your tips below for others, it is always great to get new ideas.

9. Go to sleep when you’re tired

Another one related to itch but an important one for me which I feel needs its own mention. The itch can be worst at night when I get into bed. After busy days, when we finally arrive in our beds its the first moment we sometimes stop and so we become more aware of itching sensations. Knowing my track record of itching my neck to pieces in bed (we have all been there) I now only get into bed when I’m literally tired and going to fall asleep immediately. This prevents that 5-10 minutes of potential itching time which can unravel days of healing in seconds. If you struggle with falling asleep in general, a wind down routine might be helpful at night. Perhaps a bath, some yoga, light reading and no screens after 9pm. There are also lots of sleep audios available on YouTube you can try. Sleep is so important for both your mind and body to heal and restore.

10. Show yourself compassion

Last but not least, don’t forget to show yourself compassion through this. We will fall of the wagon, we will scratch and sometimes we do let stress take over and get overwhelmed. Remember we are human and its okay to not be perfect. I can be critical towards myself when I don’t do everything “right” and we are far too often told “well if you would just stop scratching, you wouldn’t have eczema” that guilt is inevitable. But I just want you to know that for me, scratching doesn’t cause my eczema it can just mean it takes longer to heal. I scratch, and I’m okay with that if its not all day, every day! More recently I am more aware of when my inner critic is in overdrive and I remember to just show myself compassion and accept that this journey is hard and I’m doing the best I can. Eczema is hard and we battle through it, but don’t forget to love yourself through the process. Its so exhausting battling yourself AND eczema!

 

I hope my tips have been helpful to read. I wish I could say there is a miracle cure out there, but unfortunately for me there isn’t I don’t use steroids (personal choice) and so healing from a flare can take longer but its so rewarding when I see my body healing before my eyes and realise its because I’m taking care of my mind, my body and accepting my imperfections along the way. All three really do make a difference for me!

 

So what are your eczema healing tips? What is your go to when you flare? Please share your comments below!

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