The vicious cycle of psoriasis symptoms, stress, anxiety and depression is something that is not always addressed in any real depth by GPs or even close friends and family. There is an awareness that stress can cause flare ups of psoriasis but not a clear understanding of how psoriasis symptoms themselves can cause the stress, which causes anxiety, which leads to depression and inevitably to poor health and diet which, in this endless cycle, will trigger psoriasis. Learning to live with the emotional and psychological symptoms that are as much a part of psoriasis and eczema as the lesions themselves, is something that is just as essential and equally as difficult as the constant search for symptom relief and clearer skin.
Living in a culture where the way you look and what you wear is perceived as being so important, feeling stigmatised or self-conscious about your appearance can have deep and lasting consequences.
Talking to psoriasis and eczema sufferers of all ages and ethnic backgrounds, it becomes apparent that there is a common thread for everyone. Most sufferers will recognise the shared experience.
So how do you live with thoughts and painful experiences like these? How do you find a way to stay positive and find the peace and self-love that you need in order to survive a disease like psoriasis in a world where so many people understand so little about it? There are a few possibilities here and, hopefully, these will help you to navigate a gentler, stress free path on your difficult psoriasis journey:
Educate yourself and others. The more you know about the signs and symptoms, and particularly your personal triggers, the more chance you will be able to respond to people who know a lot less about psoriasis and who make comments based on ignorance. The more you educate others, the more you can reduce the stigma associated with skin diseases.
Recognise, understand and talk about your disease, your symptoms, your fears and your anxieties with family, friends and, in many cases, a therapist. Never be afraid to talk to someone about how your symptoms are affecting your mental and emotional health. Find a support group if possible because treatment and support help you to cope and understand why you feel the way you do about it. Then you can develop the necessary skills for coping and learn to fight back.
Don’t Hide. Life is too short not to enjoy it to the full. It compromises your happiness and personal well-being if you live with the fear and worry of what others might be thinking about you. This particular concern is one of the most common and significant of all the emotional triggers but, by deciding that there is nothing to be afraid of, by wearing clothes that expose your arms or legs and not hiding under layers, you will find yourself (hopefully) nicely surprised at how the people who really care about you (and it’s important to understand that only these people matter) will be aware of what you are feeling, what a huge step that is for you, and will treat you in a loving and supportive way.
Remember, you are not alone. Psoriasis affects up to 2.5% of the population – in the USA alone that is 7.5 million people. Read the blogs and stories of sufferers who have shared, not only their difficulties, but their successes, their uplifting and positive experiences, their coping mechanisms and know that you can get there too.
Parents of children being bullied or ostracised in school, must talk to teachers, sports coaches and care givers early on and educate them fully about your child’s psoriasis. Find a way to work together to ensure that they are not ridiculed around other children. Try and enroll them into support groups for children with psoriasis, where they can feel safe and supported. The emotional vulnerability of children suffering with deteriorating self-esteem is greater than with adults. Meet it head on early so that they learn to stand up to discrimination and ignorance with pride and determination.
Change your definition of normal: If your normal is having psoriasis, then you must change your definition of normal. Don’t ignore your condition by trying to live life like all your clear skinned friends. It’s important to learn all you can about the ebb and flow of your psoriasis and keep reminding yourself to always be proactive about treating your condition. Experiment with new ideas and treatments to find what works for you. Be mindful always of your diet and where your triggers lie waiting in foods you want to eat but know you shouldn’t.
Manage the stress: Emotional trauma from having a health condition like this is very debilitating. Learn to meditate, take time to be still and find your centre to feel grounded and stable. Your body is so challenging, it is important to look for something outside yourself in this way. Meditation, yoga, Pilates, writing a journal or blog. Focus on managing the stress in your life and removing people from your life who cause you stress or distress. Make certain that your relationships are loving and supportive. The calmer you are, the less you will trigger your flare ups.
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy: A positive outlook and state of mind is essential but certainly not something that comes easily to any of us. We can’t just conjure up a positive energy just because we’re told to. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is a form of psychological treatment that can help psoriasis sufferers learn to challenge negative thought patterns and behaviours. According to a review of studies, published in February 2019 in Psychology Research and Behavior Management, CBT is an effective treatment that can help reduce the severity of symptoms in patients with moderate to severe psoriasis even more than those with mild psoriasis.
Obviously, everybody’s journey with psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis or eczema is going to be very different. The challenges you face daily are going to keep you on a continual roller coaster of emotions. Your emotional and mental wellbeing can never be downplayed or underestimated for the role they will play in either worsening or lessening your symptoms and your difficulties. Medication will always be a part of your life in some way or another in order to help you physically function more normally, but doing the spiritual work and focusing on your mental health is what will ultimately help to make your psoriasis less debilitating.
One lifelong sufferer said “Reminding yourself that there is always someone in life who has it worse, and that we are more than our ‘negatives’ helps me to recognise the emotion, accept it, and move on. Discrimination is not a new thing in this world. People with skin conditions have ben stigmatised for many thousands of years. But with the right mind-set, strategies, knowledge and understanding of psoriasis and a good level of personal and professional support you can enjoy life just as much as a person without psoriasis.”
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