Coping With Plaque Psoriasis

Tips for Regaining Your Quality of Life

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The symptoms of chronic plaque psoriasis are more than skin deep. The psychological toll the disease can take is often more profound than the condition itself, often undermining a person's confidence, self-image, and interpersonal relationships. Fortunately, there are things you can do to better cope with the challenges of living with plaque psoriasis. They involve stress reduction, diet and exercise, improved lifestyle choices, and emotional support. This holistic approach can both enhance your response to drug therapies and improve your overall quality of life.

Emotional

Stress is a vicious cycle by which psychological pressures can trigger symptoms of psoriasis, while the appearance of symptoms can trigger stress. As an independent risk factor, stress triggers the release hormones in the body, including cortisol and adrenaline, which can enhance inflammation and make plaque psoriasis symptoms worse.

There are a number of stress reduction techniques that may help. Referred to as mind-body therapies, they allow you to take a more active role in how you respond to your disease and its bothersome symptoms. These approaches work by redirecting your focus from any pain and negative feelings you may have to a place of calmness, balance, and self-acceptance.

Among some of the more popular mind-body therapies that may be beneficial to you as you work to cope with psoriasis:

  • Mindfulness meditation is a meditative practice that can be directed by sounds, sensations, chants, or guided breathing.
  • Yoga is beneficial both physically and emotionally, especially less strenuous forms like yin yoga. (Hot yoga and power yoga should be avoided, especially during acute flares.)
  • Guided imagery is a technique in which you focus on pleasant mental images to induce feelings of calm.
  • Mental body scanning is another meditative technique. Usually performed lying down, you direct your focus up or down your body to detect pleasant or neutral sensations rather than unpleasant ones. Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is another example of this.

Plaque Psoriasis Doctor Discussion Guide

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When to Seek Professional Help

It doesn't help to tell yourself you're OK when you are not. Trying to curb feelings of anger, hopelessness, or embarrassment by putting on a "happy face" rarely helps and can make the underlying stress even worse.

If you are unable to cope or have persistent or worsening anxiety or depression, seek professional help from a psychiatrist or psychologist experienced in chronic illnesses. Psychotherapy and short-term drug treatment may not only help improve your emotional state, but they may also alleviate the stress that promotes psoriatic flares.

Depression is closely linked to psoriasis and should never be ignored. In fact, according to a 2010 study in JAMA Dermatology, no less than 350 suicides in the United Kingdom are directly attributed to psoriasis each year.

Physical

Aside from helping to improve your overall sense of health and wellness, these steps can help you better manage symptoms, mitigate potential risks, and perhaps even influence the progression of psoriasis: 

Lose Weight

Obesity is one of the risk factors for psoriasis. The excessive accumulation of fat cells can increase the volume of inflammatory proteins, called cytokines, circulating in the blood. The more fat cells there are, the greater the risk of symptoms

By contrast, weight loss of 5 percent or more may reduce the frequency and severity of psoriasis in overweight or obese people by 48 percent, according to a 2014 study in the British Journal of Dermatology.

Improve Your Diet

While there a few studies to suggest that diet alone can change the course of the disease, many doctors will endorse a low-fat diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, including foods like cold-water fish (salmon, herring, mackerel), whole-grains, beans, vegetables, and fruit.

If often helps to consult with a nutritionist who can work with your doctor to ensure that your intake of nutrients (such as calcium or iron) is adjusted to compensate for any drugs you may be taking.

Curb Alcohol and Smoking

Alcohol should be avoided, especially since many of the drugs used to treat psoriasis can cause liver toxicity. Moreover, you should make every effort to quit smoking as cigarettes are an independent risk factor for severe psoriasis.

Exercise More

Regular exercise can also contribute to weight loss and do wonders to improve your mood, outlook, energy levels, strength, and appearance. While people will tell you that exercise increases the risk of flares by "overheating your body," the opposite appears to be true.

According to a 2018 review of studies in the journal Medicine, low-intensity exercise was associated with a higher proportion of psoriatic lesions when compared to moderate- or high-intensity workouts.

Social

Some with psoriasis say it can be alienating. People may think you are contagious, though you are not, and others may simply sense your discomfort and keep their distance. The consequence of these experiences can be significant, potentially leading you to increasingly isolate yourself, both physically and emotionally.

If you suffer from chronic psoriasis, try to remind yourself that you are not alone. Psoriasis is more common than you may think. There are a number of ways you can reach out to others for peer-to-peer support:

  • Join a social media group, including psoriasis Facebook pages.
  • Start or join a local psoriasis group using a networking platform, like MeetUp.
  • Contact your local chapter of the National Psoriasis Foundation to learn about in-person meetings and support groups in your area.
  • Register with Talk Psoriasis, a social media platform with more than 100,000 members managed by the National Psoriasis Foundation.

But, don't exclude those around you from being a part of your support network. Oftentimes, just opening up and letting others understand what you are going through can alter how they relate to you (and vice versa). By helping them comprehend what plaque psoriasis is all about, they will be all the more able and willing to support you.

Finding the most effective treatment for your condition is just one piece of the puzzle. Do all you can to support yourself both physically and mentally to live your best life with psoriasis.

Practical

Even if you are not able to fully control your psoriasis, there are practical tips that can help and make you feel more in control. Among some of the more useful tips:

  • Keep your skin moist. Choose a fragrant-free, non-greasy moisturizer with emollients to help lock moisture in. It often best to moisturize in the morning, after a shower, or throughout the day whenever your skin feels dry.
  • Use a humidifier. This is especially important if you live in an arid climate or use an air conditioner at night or for long periods of time.
  • Soak in a hot tub. The water should not be scalding but warm enough to soak for 10 to 15 minutes. Doing so can help loosen skin plaques. With that being said, do not scrub the plaques to remove them. Doing so may not only cause bleeding but stimulate the production of new plaques.
  • Get some sun. Sun exposure tends to improve plaque psoriasis, in part by stimulating the production of vitamin D. Get out into the sun at least two to three times a week with ample sunblock. On the other hand, avoid suntanning beds that will only dry and damage your skin.
  • Treat the itch. If you find the itchiness unbearable, speak with your doctor about an over-the-counter oral antihistamine. You should also trim your nails, especially if you find yourself scratching at night.
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