There is nothing worse than not being able to remember when you felt like yourself, when you were able to function without restriction.  As an individual who has been afflicted with sensitive skin and atopic dermatitis for most of my life, I actually do understand the frustration of trying to get better but nothing works (or appears to work). Hydrocortisone creams thinning and drying out your skin and making it temporarily better but much, much worse in the long-term. Using immunosuppressants like tacrolimus to help give some relief but the nasty side-effects following (increased susceptibility to infection, burning hot skin after application). Not feeling like you can stay over at anyone’s house or out of your safe environment in fear of people seeing how much your skin flakes or cracks and how difficult it is to stop scratching.

I became a naturopathic doctor with an interest in supporting skin conditions because of my personal experience in working towards my 20%. What is that you ask? The idea that you are not working towards getting completely better overnight, but that taking many small steps towards feeling 20% better. In our modern world of quick fixes, eczema or atopic dermatitis requires that kind of thinking. Firstly, because atopic dermatitis involves an aspect of the immune system called the innate immune system that is connected to several areas of immunity that affect the entire body. How can we expect one thing (ie. a moisturizer as an example) to have the ability to “cure” an entire condition? It does not make sense.

Earlier on talkeczema I had the privilege of reading a post by a gentleman who believes that a holistic (physical, mental, emotional) approach to eczema is the right way to go. He is right on track, and it was refreshing to read. In practice, I spend a lot of time educating my patients with eczema about the need to consider all facets of their lives in getting themselves to better health. So often when we feel unwell we are absorbed and consumed in our physical selves, and what we are or are not achieving. Physically, we may have to take 5-10 major changes in our lifestyle to assist our eczema to improve.  As Richard mentions, what are we doing mentally and emotionally? Are we considering the stress triggers that we uniquely have? Do we have someone we can talk to about improving our self-esteem and building up what makes us feel good, because we are not just our skin, one organ, but a whole person worthy of love and self-acceptance.

On achieving your 20%, you will need to think of yourself as a whole person with physical, mental, and emotional needs or body, mind, and soul requirements. Physically is where many individuals seek my help with brainstorming moisturizer choices, reducing chronic inflammation in a gentle way, identifying possible triggers (often food allergies, undiagnosed), increasing hydration of the skin. Mental and emotional support however can be a stretch – our skin demands so much of our time and energy, how can we support ourselves mentally and emotionally? Food for thought.

Getting towards and surpassing that 20% to even 30% or 40% improvement will involve a more individualistic way of looking at your eczema, to involve your emotional and mental habits and well-being. You may need a professional to help with this transition, or you may be able to sit down and give it the attention yourself. Regardless, awareness to the other aspects of yourself are the key to propelling yourself forward to the relief you deserve.

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Aoife Earls is a naturopathic doctor educated at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto, Ontario. Dr. Earls also has a masters in behavioural neuroscience from McMaster University where she studied the connection between the body and mind in murine models of autoimmune disease. She has a general clinical practice in Oakville Ontario where she has a special interest in balancing immunity for those with skin conditions.

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