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Breaking my stress cycle with psoriasis

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Stress is a common trigger for psoriasis flare-ups, creating significant emotional challenges when living with this skin condition. Learning techniques to reduce stress can be an important part of your treatment plan. They can decrease the likelihood and severity of flare-ups, increase the effectiveness of treatment, and help you manage your mental health.

“For those who suffer from somatic expressions of stress, physical stress-reducing techniques such as exercise, yoga, meditation, deep breathing, muscle relaxation, and massage are often helpful,” says Arthur H. Brand, PhD. , licensed psychologist in Boca Raton. , FL.

Here are practical stress reduction tips from people detailing, in their own words, how they use it to manage their psoriasis flare-ups.

My 6 steps to relieve stress and psoriasis

Daisy Mack, 37, Los Angeles

Stress has been the trigger for my psoriasis since I was 3 years old and my first outbreak came after a tremendous family financial struggle. At 15, I went to a high pressure boarding school with a full academic scholarship and my psoriasis flared. Nothing could control it.

Five years later, in college, my psoriatic arthritis got so bad that I couldn’t get out of bed. I was hospitalized and received all kinds of treatments, but nothing really helped me.

And then at the age of 24 a friend took me to a hot yoga class. Sweating in a room full of love and community was revolutionary. Nobody made me feel bad about my skin. Fifteen minutes later, I was in the flow and stopped thinking about everything. In 6 months, my skin started to clear up. By age 2, he had stopped taking medications.

At 37 years old, I am not psoriasis free, but I can manage flare-ups through dedicated stress relief practices. I even changed careers to bring the same healing to others as a health coach. I like quick things that can instantly get me out of a stressful time, rather than the “self-care” that requires planning.

Here are my favorites:

Respiratory work

We often breathe from the upper part of our chest, using short, shallow breaths that signal our body to be in fight, flight, or freeze mode. Instead, when you breathe deeply, you stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system and enter the calmer “rest and digest” mode. In the morning, I consciously breathe as I put on my slippers to walk the dog. At the end of the day, I climb onto my yoga mat and do a gentle, restful movement with deep belly breaths. I think of my breathing as a massage for my heart and my whole body relaxes.

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This is an amazing tool and you can do it in 3 minutes. I just calm down and envision a goal, like having clear skin or being pain free when my arthritis flares. Just being able to imagine yourself without the disease can help relieve stress until your body catches up with your thoughts.

Sleep

I quit my corporate job because I was only sleeping 4 hours a night and that was contributing to my stress and breakouts. I train myself to sleep 7 hours a night. Sometimes I only get 6 1/2, but sometimes I get more and see the difference in my skin.

Yoga or other exercise

Any form of exercise can relieve stress, but for me, yoga is the most important thing. It facilitates an emotional release and connects me with my body. I think it is easy to disconnect from your body when you have psoriasis. When I can’t position my yoga, I spread out my mat, put my legs on the wall, and focus for a few minutes.

Spending time with pets

My four-legged friends, three dogs and a cat, are essential to my healing journey. My cat has been with me for 10 years and it was part of the beginning of my psoriasis free life. I know some people can’t have them because dandruff and hair can trigger breakouts, but having a deep, loving connection with my pets has been an absolute savior for me.

Dancing in my living room

Dancing like no one is watching is my most enjoyable way to relieve stress. Putting on your favorite song takes you away from stressed or anxious moments and immediately lifts your mood. It only takes a few minutes and can have a huge impact.

Keeping my life organized helps control my psoriasis

Andrea Fryk, 38, Tallahassee, FL

At different times in my life, the stress that triggers my psoriasis has been different. As a teenager, handling all the insecurities in life at that age caused me to flare up badly. Now, I am a mother with a full-time career as a real estate agent, doing both in the midst of a pandemic. Those are my stressors now.

My mom recently tested positive for COVID-19. As I sat in the ER worrying about the unimaginable, I kept scratching my head. My scalp is where my psoriasis always shows up. It becomes so painful and itchy. I have received treatment intermittently. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. But my stress relieving practices have always seemed more effective than medicine. Here are my top four.

Stay organized

When I have so many things between work and family that I don’t have time to do what needs to be done at home, take care of my health or exercise and eat right, that’s when I notice the breakouts and it really hurts. But when I can plan my meals, manage my time, and keep my house in order – all of the things that make me more successful in my business, my marriage, and as a mother – my psoriasis is at its best. My mom is better now, and yesterday, I took time to prepare my week. I wrote in my diary and journal to feel centered, find clarity, and stay in touch with gratitude.

Gratitude

Focusing on the blessings and good things in my life is very reassuring and really helps. At dinner time, my family talks about our ups and downs, which makes us smile and gives us a good perspective. In the afternoons I pray with my children. We thank God for our blessings. And I write about them in my journal.

Time for me

My husband is an early riser and I am a night owl. So when the kids are asleep and he’s in bed, I take time to sit with myself and my thoughts. Everything is quiet and calm. I end up staying up later than I probably should, but it’s the only time I have for myself and that centers me. I also try to fit in with other little self-care moments, like a long hot shower or bath, a phone call with my sister, my family or friends, or my hobbies – painting and scrapbooking – which I really enjoy.

Connecting with my husband

It is difficult at this stage in life (having a 4-year-old and a 9-year-old) for my husband and I to spend time alone together. But as long as we can find a time to hook up or go on a date, it’s really helpful. He knows me better than anyone, so it’s really a relief to talk to him about the struggles of everyday life.

How My Spiritual Practice Helps Control My Psoriasis

Howard Chang, age 50, Sacramento, CA

I had my first psoriasis outbreak when I was 8 years old and I was recovering from strep throat. The infection and the stress it put on my body triggered psoriasis. Over 40 years later, stress is still a trigger for my flare-ups, but I have found a way to help manage stress and minimize it: meditation and prayer.

I first made the connection between stress and my breakouts in high school. I went to the Psoriasis Research Institute in Palo Alto and learned how to lower my heart rate and blood pressure through biofeedback, which I found fascinating.

I started combining biofeedback with my spiritual practice. I am now an ordained minister, and prayer and meditation are two ways I calm my mind, focus, and seek peace. I also walk, hike and listen to quiet music. There is no miracle magic cure for psoriasis. My skin can be very severe, but I definitely see a difference in my ability to cope with and control my breakouts.

In fact, I don’t think I would have survived without these practices. The emotional and psychological aspects of psoriasis are important. I’ve been depressed and anxious at times in my life when it was really bad. I have committed suicide. If it weren’t for my faith and spiritual practices, I wouldn’t have been able to get over it.

And without them, I probably wouldn’t have the energy to do my treatments. It can take a lot of energy and time, driving to the clinic for phototherapy, smearing ointments on my skin. It takes a lot from you. And then there is the social and relational stress of dealing with people seeing your skin.

For me, everything is interconnected: mind, body, heart and soul. If you are not controlling your heart and mind, then you are not going to control your physical health.

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