Stress is a very versatile word, and each person gets affected by it differently depending on their ability to manage it, making it an entirely subjective experience. By definition, stress is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances. However, what this definition is lacking is that the extent of the strain on our mental wellbeing depends on our perception of our capacity to deal with the adverse circumstances.
If we believe that we are unable to deal with our situation and feel overwhelmed, then that leads to stress. Two people can be facing the exact same challenge, and one will feel totally at ease and the other one will be panicking, because they don’t think they are capable of resolving the task at hand.
Therefore, there is no one recipe to dealing with stress, as it’s not a one-size fits all issue. Stress is a deeply personal and psychological occurrence, that depends on the way in which you perceive your ability to deal with your circumstances. Yet again it is about the mindset. If we have a lot on our plate, and it is all messed up and piling up then it is easy to feel overwhelmed and incapable of getting through the meal. However, if we separate and compartmentalize then we can begin to resolve one part at a time. That way we simplify things for our brain, and feel more in control.
Control is actually a big component of stress; we often feel more stressed when we don’t control what goes on in our lives. A way to get things under control is to be the master of your emotions and reactions. As such you decide what deserves your emotional attention, and the extent to which it will require your energy. The famous quote by Epictetus goes: it is not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.
In terms of eczema it means accepting that your skin is the way it is and deciding that it will no longer affect you mentally, emotionally or psychologically. The moment you get into the healing mindset the stress around your eczema disappears, because even through there may be ups and downs you know you will get better.
This goes for physical stress too. If you are working out, or exerting yourself physically and feel worn down, then rest is in place. If you are working too much and neglecting your body, not giving it enough rest and attention, then you are heading for a burn out, and your eczema will not be kind on you. If you burn yourself out, your body will remember and recovery will be harder each time.
I have burnt out twice times in my life, and I promised myself to never let it happen again.
The fist time was when I was in high school. I was studying extremely hard for exams, was playing two instruments (piano and violin), was training tennis and competing. I was putting so much pressure and expectations on myself that I was bound to break at some point. I developed an eating disorder, which put extra stress on my system. Not only was I doing everything all the time but I was also not feeding myself enough. Having passed my exams, for which I got straight A’s, I felt tired, I lost motivation, I didn’t want to do it anymore, I just needed a break. I didn’t give myself a break, I kept going, I was applying for universities, doing a ton of extracurricular activities and continued to train.
I never consciously took a break, but I took a gap year to work as a research assistant in Oxford University on eating disorders. My own eating disorder was pretty full blown then, to the extent that my hair was falling out, and I was fainting. The thing that saved me was not getting into Oxford. It was my life’s goal and I felt drained and lifeless when the rejection letter came, but it was the best thing that ever happened to me. That life event was the main catalyser for my spiritual awakening. I realized that having a plan for your life doesn’t equate to it happening, and that everything that should happen will happen. The universe has a way of making things work out for the better, even if we do not realize it. Instead of Oxford, I ended up in Lausanne, studying close to nature, met my partner, became vegan, and found my true calling and passion for food and the environment.
My second burnt out happened in university during my undergraduate degree. Me being me, I decided to fit a three year course into two years, so that I could do more things during the last year. On top of converting my second year into a study camp, I did an 8-week extra-credit program in Harvard during the summer. Needless to say I was worn out. The 8-week summer program was awesome, but it killed me. I missed my partner, and the 8 weeks went by incredibly slowly, even when I filled them with trips to New York, skydiving, and various activities with amazing friends. I do not regret it, and am grateful that I did it. The only downside was the impact it had on my health.
Although it wasn’t nearly a bad as the first time, I felt less motivated to work, and was psychologically tired. There were no physical appearances of the stress, and I largely attribute it to that vegan diet that I had switched to in May of that year. I went completely eczema free for over a year. Going vegan even helped me recover from my eating disorder. However, my system had taken a blow, and it hadn’t had enough time to recover from the first burnout. As a result, it made me more susceptible to stress.
My capacity to deal with stress decreased, and when I moved to London my body was soon overwhelmed by the environmental and emotional stressors. The pollution, drinking tap water, excessive Brazilian Jiu-jitsu training, university, insomnia, being away from my partner, it all pilled up in a way that my already stressed out system couldn’t take.
I didn’t listen to my body, I didn’t take breaks, I just exploited and used it as a tool. What I got in return was an eczema wildfire – my body was trying to tell me that something is wrong, and that we can no longer go on like this.
It took me almost two years to recover and treat myself right. Recovering from eczema was not only about my skin; it was recovery from trauma and abuse that I inflicted on myself through food restriction, excessive training, and an overly busy schedule. To tell you the truth I am still learning to say NO, and do things in moderation.
Recovery was an uphill battle, until I realized that my body and my mind are one, and are in this together. This is when I saw the importance of the right mindset in healing. More than ever in my life I needed to focus on being strong mentally and on channelling the right energy, so that my skin could heal.
Therefore, I cannot stress the importance of being kind to yourself, and having a composed approach to dealing with anything that life throws at you. You have to have faith in your capacity to face it. It’s what I call building resilience.
I also believe that Sleep plays a key role in our ability to manage stress, physically and psychologically, and it is essential to address this aspect of your lifestyle.