7 Stress-Relieving Strategies That Really Work for People with Psoriasis
It may be the era of “Netflix and chill,” but research shows that we are as stressed out as ever. And according to the American Psychological Association’s 2019 “Stress in America” report, 69 percent of Americans say health care is a significant source of that stress.
For those of us with a chronic disease like psoriatic arthritis or psoriasis that’s bad news. “Stress acts as a catalyst for the onset as well as the exacerbation of psoriasis,” a recent study in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry found. And a report from Harvard Medical School adds that the most common trigger for flare-ups is stress: “Mental stress causes the body to release chemicals that boost the inflammatory response. Scientists suspect this is the mechanism for stress-induced psoriasis flare-ups,” it says.
Since stress is a normal part of life—from work stress to the political climate to our day-to-day personal challenges—nobody can escape it completely. But the good news is that it can be lessened. And for psoriasis patients, especially female patients, it’s vital to mitigate it. “Women seem particularly vulnerable to stress due to psoriasis,” the National Psoriasis Foundation affirms.
There are so many more interesting ways to manage your stress than by vegging out on the couch binging TV shows. Baking, bird-watching, working out—they’re all therapeutic for people who enjoy them. To find your best stress-reliever, all you have to do is look for something that makes your heart happy, and there’s a good chance it’ll make your heart healthy, too.
Here are a few other original, surprising, and inspiring ways people with psoriasis are handling their stress:
They’re Practicing Mindfulness and Yoga
Patricia M. is a high school special education teacher who has a lot of emotion thrown at her daily as she tries to help teenagers navigate their lives. Overwhelmed and hoping to keep her psoriasis at bay, she recently tried a “mindfulness yoga” class, led by a woman trained by the Veterans Yoga Project to work with people with PTSD. The class involved an hour of deep breathing, stretching, mindfulness, and meditation while moving through relaxing yoga poses.
Multiple studies have shown that both yoga and mindfulness meditation classes not only decrease or manage stress, but they can also help prevent and manage mental illness and physical conditions such as psoriasis.
Mindfulness yoga “absolutely helped,” Patricia confirms. “It was the most relaxed I have been in a very long time. I am making it part of my weekly exercise routine.”
They Buy Fresh Flowers
Sandy S., who has psoriasis, says she makes and sells homecoming mums—arrangements of fresh flowers attached to backings—to decompress. Recent research from the University of North Florida backs up her claims that having flowers around reduces stress. The study found that people who lived with flowers in their homes for just a couple of days reported a significant decrease in stress levels and improvements in their moods.
They Spend Time with Pets
When Nadya’s psoriatic arthritis worsened, her dog Kodak came to the rescue. “When I got really sick, I realized he was alerting me to inflammation and telling me when to sit down. He pawed at me or sat on my feet. If I was on the stairs or standing somewhere, he sat right against the back of my legs, almost like he was bracing me,” she explains. “He’s smart as a whip!”
Nadya, a mental health counselor with a background in behavior modification, immediately started training Kodak to do service-dog tasks, including “fun, advanced tricks. The focus, the joy Kodak brings me, helps me feel less stressed,” she says.
Indeed, owning a pet can be beneficial to our emotional well‑being. Researchers at Washington State University concluded in a 2019 study that even a small interaction with a pet can make a huge impact. Just 10 minutes of interacting with cats and dogs produced a significant reduction in students’ levels of cortisol, a major stress hormone.
“Kodak is my service dog,” Nadya says, “and my guardian angel.”
They Let Themselves Have a Good Cry
Growing up, Bethany W. always got great advice from her beloved grandma. “She was the smartest person I’ve ever met,” Bethany says. “Unfortunately, she passed away before my diagnosis.” One tip that always stuck with Bethany: Her grandma said that if she ever felt stressed out, she should turn on her favorite sad movie and bawl her eyes out.
“I know it's really weird, but I like to watch movies that I know will make me cry, because afterward, I feel so much better,” Bethany says. “My Sister’s Keeper, A Walk to Remember, Stepmom, those are a few that get me every time. It’s helped me through so many tough times.”
Science backs up Grandma’s sage words of wisdom. William Frey, a famous biochemist in Minneapolis, proposed that while “reflex tears” are 98 percent water, “emotional tears” contain stress hormones and toxins. So when we cry, we drain the bad stuff out of our bodies. Penn Medicine says that crying helps the body rid itself of hormones that elevate stress levels. And the journal Emotion recently confirmed that crying “facilitates coping and recovery time during times of stress.”
An academic in Japan is so convinced that crying is good for our health, he holds group-cry therapy sessions. He’s convinced crying may be as crucial for self-care as a cup of tea or a bath, and may be more important than laughing or sleeping!
They Spend Time on a Creative Hobby
Jamie B. goes shopping on Amazon when she’s stressed, and she’s looking to buy one thing in particular—a diamond painting kit. “It’s like paint-by-numbers, but with tiny plasticky diamonds that you place onto a tacky surface to form a picture.” This crafty pastime, which has become popular over the last few years, forces her to be laser-beam focused and helps her forget her troubles, she says.
Just 45 minutes of creative activity may significantly lessen stress in the body—even if you suck at it—according to a study performed at Drexel University and published in Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association.
Drawing, cake decorating, and any arts and crafts, including those that make you focus on a repetitive skill like quilting, crocheting, or knitting can work, not only to get those creative juices flowing but also to reduce stress. Karen V. loves adult coloring books by Kerby Rosanes. “My favorite one is Animorphia. [Its author] has a lot of these “-Morphia” books that are really cool and intriguing and incredibly detailed.”
Crafting helps Athena T. relax, too. “I make things ranging from scrunchies, costumes, and dresses, to vinyl things like stickers, home decor and T-shirts. It can help sometimes, but sadly, other times it can be a trigger for me. The fine-motor action that the vinyl requires can cause my hands to flare sometimes, so I have to go rather slowly with detailed pieces. I’ve always been a creative person, so I’m really happy I’m still able to use multiple mediums.”
They Play Video Games
“I know if I can stay calm, my psoriasis doesn't flare up as badly,” says Amber M. Her stress remedy? Playing The Legend of Zelda.
We’ve all heard about the studies that claim that video games can make players more aggressive, angry and violent, but did you know there also are studies that show that video games can be an excellent antidote for anxiety? One published in Frontiers in Psychology recently concluded that certain video games, especially ones with puzzles, “do not induce stress,” and in a survey conducted in the UK, 55 percent of gamers said playing helps them “unwind and relieve stress.”
Amber would agree. She likes zoning out in open-world video games to explore, have fun and make decisions. “I like that I can kind of do whatever I want. Skyrim and especially Breath of the Wild are such beautiful games and watching it rain on a stream or just walking through the cities is pleasurable. I enjoy solving puzzles in the game, too. It does help with the psoriatic arthritis by helping me relax.”
They Sing Out Loud
Bethany loves to put on some loud music, by artists such as Three Days Grace or Papa Roach, and just belt out the lyrics while she cleans or does everyday tasks. “It helps when I’m not feeling good,” she says. “It’s something that lets me get a few good screams in.”
You guessed it—listening to or participating in music has been shown to release endorphins and reduce pain, and it helps sustain a healthy immune system by reducing the stress hormone cortisol.
Fania has been singing in choirs since the age of 12. Now that she has a diagnosis of psoriatic arthritis, she relies on it more than ever to remain healthy. “This is especially important now,” she explains, “as I can’t play any sports or do meaningful physical activity, and as I try not to recoil into a shell from the constant pain.”
Singing, a form of meditation for Fania, forces her to breathe deeply, which regulates her heart rate, activating the parasympathetic nervous system and releasing natural painkillers. “It really relieves stress and pain physiologically.” Then, the music itself is pure joy.
“It helps me disconnect from anything that does not pertain to music. For three hours of rehearsal, I can shed any worries,” she says. “It is a great way to clear my mind, to restart. Also, I usually can’t stand for more than five to ten minutes, and use a walker because of instability and to ease the pressure and pain on my back and knees. Yet, when I perform, I manage to stay standing with my walker on stage for a lot longer, often for a full musical piece. Choral singing is not only a stress reliever but a true lifesaver!”