Mindfulness Meditation Enhances Psoriasis Treatment
For many people, stress doesn’t just affect mental health—it impacts physical health, too. Being stressed out can cause headaches, sweating, rashes, pain—it can even raise your blood pressure and change your blood sugar levels. And if you have psoriasis, stress can lead to a frustrating, unsightly, and sometimes painful flare-up of symptoms. In fact, stress is one of the most common triggers for psoriasis flare-ups.
Typically, it’s best to avoid psoriasis triggers altogether; however, as we all know too well, stressful situations are everywhere. Aside from joining a monastery or staying in bed for the rest of your life, what’s there to do? Fortunately, research over the last 30 years has shown that controlling stress by practicing meditation can greatly reduce psoriasis symptoms. And meditation doesn’t only help manage the disease—it’s also been proven to significantly increase the efficacy of psoriasis treatment.
You may have heard of mindfulness before—it’s currently something of a fad, finding popularity in classrooms, yoga studios, and offices across the country. But mindfulness meditation dates back more than two millennia; it’s rooted in the Buddhist philosophy of practicing introspective consciousness. In essence, mindfulness meditation means taking time to purposely pay attention to the present moment without judgment. This type of meditation champions quieting the mind while paying attention to sensations in the body and accepting them without labeling them as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ Through this practice, research has shown that the body can heal and find balance, both physically and emotionally. One of the first landmark studies to explore this connection was conducted by an American doctor named Jon Kabat-Zinn—and it focused on psoriasis.
More than 30 years ago, Kabat-Zinn was introduced to meditation. He went on to study the practice with leaders like Thich Nhat Hanh, and founded the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. There, he developed an eight-week course called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), which, still today, trains students in mindfulness meditation and teaches how the practice can affect physical health as well as mental health.
Kabat-Zinn took the basics of MBSR and developed clinical studies to explore the relationship between mindfulness meditation and chronic medical conditions. He began with a study on how mindfulness meditation affects chronic pain, and then conducted research about meditation and anxiety disorders; both studies proved that meditation positively impacts each condition. In 1998, Kabat-Zinn began looking for results the eye could see, and he turned his focus to psoriasis.
He contacted dermatologists treating psoriasis with light therapy and arranged a study in which patients were divided into two groups. One group received ultraviolet light therapy while listening to recordings of mindfulness meditation instructions, and the other group underwent light therapy without any recordings.
Kabat-Zinn found that the patients who listened to meditation recordings during light therapy saw their psoriasis clear by half in an average of 48.5 days. It took an average of 85 days for the same thing to happen to patients who didn’t listen to recordings.
The study has been duplicated through the years with the same result—mindfulness meditation makes psoriasis treatment work better and more quickly. And looking at it from another angle, researchers have found that high levels of stress make treatment less effective. One study showed that patients who were described as “high-level or pathological worriers” found their psoriasis plaques cleared significantly more slowly, if at all, when compared with patients who were in the “low-level worry” group—even though all participants received the same treatment.
So we know that reducing stress by practicing meditation makes psoriasis treatment work better. But that’s not the only way meditation can help psoriasis patients.
Regular meditation can decrease overall stress levels and can actually change the body’s response to stress, which in turn, decreases the likelihood of experiencing a psoriasis flare-up. Stress is one of the major triggers of psoriasis exacerbations—what experts call the “stress flare phenomenon.” While we aren’t sure exactly why stress causes flare-ups, we believe the immune system responds to mental stress the same way it responds to physical stress—with inflammation. This inflammation triggers psoriasis to flare-up, which may create more stress—and so the cycle continues.
Meditation can break this pattern. Regular meditation has been shown to change the way the brain processes and responds to stimuli—people who habitually practice meditation experience physical changes in the areas of the brain related to emotional regulation, empathy, compassion, perspective, anxiety, fear, and yes, stress. By practicing meditation, individuals can change the way their bodies react to stress, preventing it from impacting them as strongly, and thus preventing the storm of inflammation that typically accompanies a stressful moment. This, in turn, reduces the likelihood of a psoriasis flare-up. And it doesn’t take much—one study found that meditating for only 30 minutes every day for eight weeks was enough to change the structure of the brain.
So next time you’re stressed out and worried about triggering a flare-up, close your eyes and take a deep breath. By practicing mindfulness meditation, you can calm your mind—and your psoriasis.