How to Beat The Psoriasis-Stress Cycle

If you have psoriasis, you’ll want to do everything you can to manage your condition. Medication can help you minimize flare-ups, and so can finding healthy ways to cope with known triggers — including psychological stress.

Psoriasis and stress are intricately linked. Although psoriasis is a genetic condition, environmental factors, such as traumatic life events, can make symptoms worse, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

That’s why it’s crucial to make stress management a key component of your psoriasis treatment plan.

Doctors and researchers do not yet fully understand what causes psoriasis, but the disease is thought to occur when the immune system turns on the body, causing skin cells to grow abnormally and rapidly. Because stress can have an impact on the immune system, doctors have long suspected it may impact psoriasis, and recent research supports this theory.

“Psoriasis is very stress dependent. It flares very easily when patients are under stress, and it tends to improve when they’re relaxed,” says Vesna Petronic-Rosic, MD, a dermatologist in Chicago. Many people with psoriasis even recall their first flare happening during a difficult time in their lives, she says.

Stress Can Be Part of Daily Life With Psoriasis

“It’s impossible to avoid all stress in our lives,” says Colby Evans, MD, a retired dermatologist in Austin, Texas, who had served as the chairman of the board of trustees of the National Psoriasis Foundation.

Psoriasis itself can cause stress, and that can make managing the condition more difficult.

“Psoriasis is a stigmatizing disease for many people because it’s so visible,” says Dr. Petronic-Rosic. For example, you may be anxious about exposing psoriasis plaques and choose to wear long sleeves on a hot day. Feeling self- conscious or worried about signs of disease increases stress, which can cause psoriasis to flare even more — a vicious cycle.

Stress Management Skills Help Minimize Psoriasis Flare-Ups

Stress management techniques can help you manage psoriasis, and there are many effective methods to consider. For one, try exercise: It’s a great stress reliever with innumerable other health benefits, such as weight loss, which is also known to alleviate psoriasis symptoms.

“I will very often tell patients to take up an exercise or a hobby — something that they will enjoy doing that will help alleviate the stress,” says Petronic- Rosic. Some ideas include yoga, meditation, and Pilates.

Exercise can be a stress buster because it releases feel-good neurotransmitters called endorphins, according to the Mayo Clinic. Exercise also helps you sleep better, which can help lower stress levels, the scientists at the clinic say.

Always check with your doctor before beginning a new exercise routine, the National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF) advises. And walk before you run. You’re more likely to stick with a new exercise plan if you don’t try to do too much too soon. Plus, increasing your exercise level in increments will help you avoid injury.

Emotional Support Can Help Reduce Stress

Identifying your main sources of stress can help you keep levels in check, and so is having a strong support system, including involved family members, Petronic-Rosic says. Counseling could also help you manage stress levels when other approaches aren’t enough.

You can find peer support through the National Psoriasis Foundation. The NPF’s One to One program matches you with someone who has been through what you are going through. The program is run by volunteers who commit to offering inspiration, encouragement, and support for at least six months to a year. Finding you’re not the only one with this disease can help you manage your stress, Petronic-Rosic says.

Learning to Manage Stress Has Long-Term Benefits

“Psoriasis will get better or worse, go into remission or flare, but it’s probably going to be there for the rest of your life,” says Petronic-Rosic.

Psoriasis patients should strive to develop healthy coping mechanisms, she says, so they’re not “constantly stressing themselves out because they have this disease.”

Additional reporting by Beth W. Orenstein.

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