5 Tips for Staying Mentally Healthy with Psoriasis
Plaque psoriasis is a disease characterized primarily by the presence of elevated skin patches called plaques, which are typically red and covered by white scales. While psoriasis has an obvious effect on the skin, it also significantly impacts the emotional health of patients. Studies show people with psoriasis have a much higher likelihood of suffering from depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems. And unfortunately, these conditions, along with stress, are known to make psoriasis worse. But learning to manage mental health can improve psoriasis symptoms. I’ve witnessed firsthand how the mind has a very strong place in this disease. As a dermatologist with a special interest in helping my patients improve their mental health, here are the most common tips I share.
When my psoriasis patients interact with others like them, they tend to do much better. They tell me they feel so stigmatized in the real world, and being with people who have the same problem is very helpful. I encourage my patients to join the National Psoriasis Foundation, which can help connect them with local or online support groups. The Foundation’s website also features many blogs and educational articles to help patients inform themselves and learn from the experiences of others.
I frequently recommend my patients see psychiatrists, psycologists, and other mental health practitioners. If patients are depressed, it’s very important to address it, either with therapy or antidepressant medications or both. Talking to a trained professional can be greatly rewarding and help patients gain a different perspective on their situation as well as teach them tools to manage stressors. I also think it’s crucial for patients to try medications if their psychiatrist or psychologist feels they’d benefit. I believe these medications work. And when patients are in control of their depression, their psoriasis tends to improve as well.
Studies published a few decades ago showed psoriasis patients who practiced mindfulness meditation while receiving ultraviolet (UV) light therapy improved in half the time and saw more of their plaques cleared than patients who didn’t meditate during their therapy. Meditating, whether guided or not, helps people gain better control over their emotions and stress response, which may explain why it has such a profound affect on psoriasis patients.
Lowering anxiety and stress levels can be challenging, because your brain can seem disconnected from your body. That’s why biofeedback is often very helpful. Biofeedback is a mechanism by which you can observe the changes occurring in your body. You don’t typically know how many breaths you take a minute, or how quick your pulse is, or how much your blood pressure rises. Biofeedback machines allow you to observe these details. You’ll attach wires to different areas of your body that measure your breathing, blood pressure, pulse, skin temperature, sweat response, and more. All these factors are related to how you react in a stressful situation. When you can see these measurements, you learn how to control them and decrease the stress response. This can help you become more aware and mindful of your body’s reaction so you can actively work to calm down. After several biofeedback sessions, stressed patients eventually no longer need the machines, allowing them to use techniques to bring their bodies back to a relaxed baseline.
I frequently consider prescribing UV light therapy to my patients with psoriasis. In order to gauge whether or not the therapy might work, I’ll ask them if their skin improves when they’re on vacation at the beach, out in the sun all day. More often than not, they tell me they haven’t been on a vacation in years and most certainly haven’t been to the beach. Unfortunately, many of my patients feel so hindered by their psoriasis that they shutter themselves inside and don’t give themselves a much-needed break. Even if you don’t have psoriasis, going years without a vacation or time away from work is bound to impact your mental health. I encourage my patients to be out in the sun as much as possible (while using sufficient sunscreen on their face) and to take breaks when they need them. Not only does it improve psoriasis symptoms, but it also improves a patient’s overall quality of life. When patients feel mentally healthy, their psoriasis plaques tend to clear, making them feel even better—and the cycle continues. Taking care of your inner self means you’re also taking care of your outer self, and understanding this link can help psoriasis patients live fuller, healthier lives.