The hard, itchy truth is that stress and your nervous system can trigger all sorts of inflammatory responses and conditions, including those not-so-pleasant red lesions and plaques associated with psoriasis.
1. Talk it out
While talk therapy (aka psychotherapy) won’t “cure” your psoriasis, it can certainly help you manage your stress. This can help you break the cycle of flare-ups causing stress, which in turn makes the flare-ups worse.
In fact, mindfulness-based cognitive hypnotherapy can improve a whole bunch of skin disorders.
Mind you (pun intended), if “shrinks” just aren’t your thing or don’t fit into your budget, simply chatting with someone who can empathize with what you’re going through can be hugely helpful.
Not sure where to go to get the conversation started? The National Psoriasis Foundation offers an online support group and resources.
Whoever you decide to talk to, getting the emotional support you deserve can help alleviate any feelings of depression, anxiety, or isolation you may have.
2. Catch some serious Zzz’s
Sleep’s right up there with drinking enough water and eating healthfully on the list of best things you can do for yourself — and missing out on quality sleep can contribute to stress.
When it comes to psoriasis, the subject of sleep can be another sort of vicious cycle. Flare-ups can make it harder to get the sleep you need to fend off the stress that’s triggering them in the first place.
If you have psoriasis, being extra-diligent about maintaining good sleep habits is that much more important.
Some healthy sleep habits to try:
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
- Limit screen time before bed.
- Do breathing exercises.
- Listen to classical music.
3. Get mindful
Mindfulness meditation is a technique that helps you feel more present. The best part is, it’s free and easy to do. All you have to do is sit still with your eyes shut and focus on your breath.
Within about 15 minutes, you should feel your whizzing mind pump the breaks and all that unpleasant noise in your noggin (feelings of self-doubt, anxiety, etc.) start to pipe down.
Research has shown that mindfulness meditation, as well as other psychological methods, may help lessen the symptoms of psoriasis. And all you need is a willingness to try it.
4. Break a sweat
This one probably won’t make your jaw drop, but exercise can help reduce stress. (Gasp!) All exercise is good exercise, but certain physical activities have been proven to promote relaxation and reduce stress more than others.
Downward-Facing Dog, anyone? That’s right: Yoga has a limber leg up on other forms of exercise when it comes to getting your bliss on.
It can actually cause metabolic changes in your brain, reduce your level of the stress hormone cortisol, and soothe your sympathetic nervous system. Om, indeed.
5. Take notes
Stress doesn’t happen in a vacuum, but once you’re feeling its effects, it can be hard to pinpoint what stressed you out in the first place.
Since stress is highly individual, knowing what makes YOU feel anxious or vulnerable can empower you to create routines that help you minimize triggers. Put pen to paper and keep a diary of those stressors so you can manage them more effectively.
6. The F-word
No, not *that* one — we mean FUN. Seriously — finding a hobby that takes your mind off your problems and life’s daily grind can help reduce your stress level.
Throwing yourself into an activity gives your brain the rest it needs to tackle the less fun stuff life throws at you. Whether you enjoy writing, crafting, or re-watching your favorite show for the 50th time, think of your hobbies as a form of self-care.
7. Just say no to procrastination
Balancing life and work can get pretty hectic at times. But as tempting as it may be to binge-watch Netflix and put off today’s obligations until tomorrow, you’re really not doing yourself any favors.
Procrastination may feel great in the short term, but in the long term it’s been linked to many chronic illnesses.
So do your mind and body a solid and get organized. Make to-do lists your BFF. Channel your inner Virgo (even if you’re actually a Pisces). Prioritizing tasks and getting them done on time will minimize stress and its effects on your health.
8. Step away from the sweets
You are what you eat — and don’t take that to mean that eating candy makes you sweet. Your body needs the right fuel to run smoothly, after all.
Getting enough of the good stuff (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, etc.) has benefits not just for your body but also for your brain. Try to keep sugar and junk food to a minimum, and don’t overdo it on caffeine or alcohol.
While you may not wake up feeling brand-spanking-new at first, you’ll notice a difference over time.
9. Press pause
For some of us, putting things off isn’t the problem. Instead, we push the pedal all the way to the metal until we burn out. That’s not good, either.
No one is a superhero. It’s important to take breaks from time to time. Creating space in your schedule to recharge, even if it’s just for a few minutes, will reduce your stress and help you be more effective at whatever’s next on your list.
Oxygen — what a concept! Not to be glib, but breathing is important. In fact, breathing exercises can help you calm down by activating your parasympathetic nervous system, the chill cousin of the fight-or-flight response.
When you’re wigging out, your body releases stress hormones, and you may feel your heartbeat and breathing speed up. Deep breathing sends a biological bat signal to your parasympathetic nervous system, which controls your body’s relaxation response.
There are all kinds of breathing exercises to choose from, including belly breathing and paced respiration, but the general idea is to focus on your breath.
Concentrate on the feeling of air going into your nose and expanding your lungs. By making your breath slower and deeper, you can actually lower your heart rate and feel less angsty.
If you’re new to the magical world of deep breathing, here’s a great beginner’s video guide to diaphragmatic breathing.
11. Get your cuddle on
Whether it’s more of a first base make-out sesh or a home run, getting all touchy-feely may help put the kibosh on stress by lowering your blood pressure and triggering the release of the feel-good hormone oxytocin.
Even a friendly hug or cuddle can be remarkably beneficial (without the potentially complicated after-effects… if you know what we mean).
If you’re single and not ready to mingle, snuggling with your pets can have the same cortisol-lowering effect that will boost your mood.
12. Make a playlist
Music is an effective stress-reducer, but its calming qualities are largely dictated by the listener’s tastes. Get creative and curate your auditory experience to suit your preferences.
Pro tip: Experiment with sounds you may not be used to. Classical and Celtic music and nature sounds have proven to be especially soothing.
13. Sniff a soothing scent
While certain essential oils have proven effective at calming the physical symptoms of psoriasis flare-ups, some scents can also help with the psychological stress that makes flare-ups worse.
When it comes to aromatherapy, not all scents are created equal, so do your research to find your signature stress-reducing scent.
A 2012 study found lavender to be especially calming. Even in a clinical setting, the smell of lavender brought participants’ skin temperature down along with their heart rate and blood pressure.
You got this
When it comes to managing your psoriasis, know that you’re definitely not alone. As stressful as your condition may be at times, remember that you’ve got a whole menu of cost-effective options to help manage the psychological aspects of a flare-up.
Even better, these options may to help prevent or alleviate those flare-ups. Life may be stressful, but psoriasis doesn’t have to be.
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