Psoriasis can be triggered by a whole variety of things, from the food you eat, to the air you breathe (literally, sadly, since temperature and weather can flare up psoriasis), but one of the most common culprits is stress.
How does stress affect the body?
Stress affects the body as well as the mind: the immune system releases hormones in response to anxiety, distress or fear, to help it cope with whatever situation it finds itself in. Which is all very well if you need to run away from a bear as fast as you can, but not terribly helpful if you’re under pressure at work or home and need not to be dealing with a skin crisis as well as a financial or emotional one.
In conditions like psoriasis, the immune system is over-responsive, so that the inflammatory substances the body produces to help with potential emergencies (wound healing, infection, escape etc.) end up being the cause of inflammation in the skin, dilating blood vessels and releasing histamine. That in turn leads to swelling, itchiness, and the inevitable flare-ups.
The stress of psoriasis
As well as the physiological inflammatory response, there’s a more straightforward link between psoriasis and stress, because having to cope with a debilitating skin condition can itself cause or aggravate stress. Having visible psoriasis can increase social anxiety, affect your working life, and make intimacy more challenging.
Having psoriasis or other long-term skin conditions can also have financial consequences which can add to stress; all those lotions and potions you end up trying, all the yoga classes, herbal medicines and special diets… none of it comes cheap.
If you know what is causing your flare-ups it can be a good first step to avoiding triggering them in the first place. Avoiding stressful situations isn’t always that easy, of course, but you can often take steps to make them less traumatic if you know the effect they might have on your skin. The knowledge might be the wake-up call you need to take your well-being seriously, and discuss your health needs with a doctor or your HR officer at work: it could be that you are able to have time off sick during a really severe flare-up.
And maybe it will also nudge you to find the thing that works for you to de-stress, whether it’s meditation, counselling, taking long walks, dancing, or even taking up knitting! Maria, for example, uses sea swimming to cope with her chronic skin condition; read her story here.
Whatever you do, make sure you carve out a bit of 'me time' somehow, because taking relaxation seriously is crucial for your skin.