Breaking My Stress-Flare Cycle With Psoriasis

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

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

Here are real-world stress-reduction tips from people who detail, in their own words, how they use them to manage their psoriasis flare-ups.  

My 6 Steps for Stress and Psoriasis Relief

Daisy Mack, 37, Los Angeles

Stress has been the trigger for my psoriasis since I was 3 years old and my first flare followed a tremendous family financial struggle. At 15, I went to a high-pressure boarding school on a full academic scholarship and my psoriasis exploded. Nothing could control it.

Five years later, in university, my psoriatic arthritis got so bad I couldn’t get out of bed. I was hospitalized and had every kind of treatment, but nothing really provided relief.

And then, at the age of 24, a friend brought 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 in, I was in the flow and stopped thinking about everything. Within 6 months, my skin started to clear up. By 2 years, I was off all medication.

At 37, I am not psoriasis-free, but I am able to manage flares through dedicated stress-relief practices. I even switched careers to bring the same healing to others as a health coach. I like quick things that can instantly bring me back from a stressful moment, rather than “self-care” that requires planning.

Here are my go-tos:

Breath work

We often breathe from the top 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 go into the calmer “rest and digest” mode. In the morning, I breathe mindfully as I put on my sneakers to walk the dog. At the end of the day, I get on my yoga mat and do gentle, restorative movement with deep belly breaths. I think of my breaths as a massage for my heart, and my whole body relaxes.

Visualization

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

Sleep

I left my corporate job because I was only getting 4 hours of sleep at night, and it was contributing to my stress and flares. I am training myself to sleep 7 hours a night. Sometimes I only get 6 1/2, but sometimes I get more, and I see the difference in my skin.

Yoga or other exercise

Any form of exercise can be a great stress reliever, but for me, yoga is the most important. It facilitates an emotional release and brings me into connection with my body. I think it’s easy to get disconnected from your body when you have psoriasis. When I can’t fit my yoga in, I roll out my mat, put my legs up the wall, and center myself for a few minutes.

Spending time with pets

My four-legged friends — three dogs and one cat — are essential to my healing journey. My cat has been with me for 10 years and was part of the beginning of me living clear from psoriasis. I know some people cannot have them because the dander and hair can be flare triggers, but having a deep, loving connection to my pets has been an absolute savior for me.

Dancing in my living room

Dancing like no one is watching is my most enjoyable form of stress relief. Putting on your favorite song removes you from stressed or anxious moments and elevates your mood right away. It only takes a few minutes and can have a big impact.

Keeping My Life Organized Helps Control My Psoriasis

Andrea Fryk, 38, Tallahassee, FL

At different points in my life, the stress that triggers my psoriasis has been different. When I was a teenager, managing all the insecurities of life at that age caused it to flare badly. Now, I’m a mom with a full-time career as a real estate agent and doing both in the middle of a pandemic. Those are my stressors now.

Recently, my mom tested positive for COVID-19. As I sat in the emergency room worrying about the unimaginable, I kept scratching my head. My scalp is where my psoriasis always manifests. It becomes so painful and itchy. I’ve gotten treatment on and off. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. But my stress-relief practices have always seemed more effective than medicine. Here are my top four.

Staying organized

When I have so much going on 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 well, that’s when I notice flare-ups, and it really hurts. But when I am able to plan my meals, manage my time, and keep my house in order — all of the things that make me more successful in my business, marriage, and as a mom — my psoriasis is at its best. My mom is doing better now, and yesterday, I spent time getting my week ready. I wrote in my planner and journal to feel centered, find clarity, and get in touch with gratitude.

Gratitude

Focusing on the blessings and the good in my life is very calming, and it really helps. At dinnertime, my family talks about our highs and lows, which makes us smile and gives us a good perspective. In the evenings, I pray with my children. We thank God for our blessings. And I write about them in my journal.

Time to myself

My husband is an early bird, and I’m 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 do end up staying up later than I probably should, but it’s the only time I have to myself, and it centers me. I also try to fit in other little moments of self-care, like a long, hot shower or bath, a phone call with my sister, family, or friends, or my hobbies: painting and scrapbooking, which I really enjoy.

Connecting with my husband

It’s hard in this season of life (having a 4-year-old and a 9-year-old) for my husband and I to have time alone together. But whenever we can find a moment to connect or go on a date, it’s really helpful. He knows me better than anyone, so it’s really stress relieving to talk to him about the struggles of everyday life.

How My Spiritual Practice Helps Control My Psoriasis

Howard Chang, 50, Sacramento, CA

I had my first psoriasis flare-up when I was 8 years old and recovering from strep throat. The infection and the stress it placed on my body triggered the psoriasis. More than 40 years later, stress is still a trigger for my flare-ups, but I’ve found a way to help control stress and minimize flares: meditation and prayer.

I first made the connection between stress and my flare-ups 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 began to blend biofeedback with my spiritual practice. I’m now an ordained minister, and prayer and meditation are two ways I calm my mind, center myself, and seek peace. I also walk, hike, and listen to quiet music. There is no miracle, magical cure for psoriasis. My skin can be really severe, but I definitely see a difference in my ability to cope and manage my flare-ups.

In fact, I don’t think I would have survived without these practices. The emotional and psychological aspects of psoriasis are significant. I have been depressed and anxious at points in my life when it was really severe. I have been suicidal. If it wasn’t for my faith and spiritual practices, I wouldn’t have been able to get through it.

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

It’s all interconnected for me — mind, body, heart, and soul. If you’re not managing your heart and mind, then you’re not going to manage your physical health.

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