Stress is an unavoidable occurrence in everyday life. It impacts our mental well-being and can even take a toll on our physical health. In addition to activating standard physiological responses like headaches and muscle tension, stress can increase the body’s susceptibility to a number of medical conditions ranging from the common cold to heart disease and stroke. The physical impact of stress is particularly detrimental for people living with chronic conditions like psoriasis because it can cause lapses in remission and even negate the effectiveness of medical therapies.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, roughly 7.5 million Americans are living with psoriasis, a chronic autoimmune condition that causes red, scaly patches on the skin. A psoriasis diagnosis can range from mild to severe depending on how much of the body is affected. Although the disease isn’t always painful, the psoriatic lesions that develop from the overactive buildup of skin cells do pose significant challenges for patients, often requiring them to manage multiple therapies to control both the symptoms and spread of the disease. This constant struggle to achieve and maintain remission can be extremely stressful.

Researchers and patients alike have identified stress as both a common trigger for psoriasis and a prevalent side effect of the disease. Many psoriasis patients have gone beyond the more traditional stress management strategies of exercise and professional support to explore alternative therapies as a means of controlling stress, avoiding flare ups, and improving quality of life.

Acupuncture and Acupressure

These traditional Chinese practices target key pressure points that lie along meridians in the body. Practitioners are able to reduce stress and pain by applying direct pressure to the skin or thin needles along these meridians, stimulating the release of pain-relieving endorphins throughout the body that ease feelings of stress and discomfort. AcuTake provides helpful information about the benefits of these practices as well as tips for before and after therapy to maximize outcomes.

Massage

Massage therapists use a variety of techniques to rub and stretch the muscles and connective tissues in the body. These actions ultimately improve lymphatic circulation, loosen muscles, and promote relaxation. Massage therapy can sometimes be tricky for psoriasis patients, depending on how extensive and where their psoriasis is on their bodies. The National Psoriasis Foundation provides some tips for talking to your massage therapist about your psoriasis.

Meditation

Starting a mindfulness meditation practice can help relieve stress and anxiety by shifting focus to breathing and intention during the meditative session. Mindfulness meditation requires that the practitioner be present in the moment, allowing thoughts to pass freely without fixation or judgement. Mindfulness meditation practice has been proven to improve the body’s response to psoriasis therapy and reduce the severity of psoriasis symptoms. Psychology Today provides tips for beginning a meditation practice.

Yoga and Tai Chi

Both yoga and tai chi utilize controlled breathing and movements to lessen feelings of stress and improve range of motion, strength, and blood flow. Both practices promote connection between mind and body and are appropriate for people of all fitness levels. In addition to the stress-reducing benefits that come from these practices, yoga and tai chi are also recommended for patients with psoriatic arthritis, a condition that affects some psoriasis patients. Although some practices can be advanced, psoriasis patients can experience stress-relieving benefits from very simple beginner yoga poses.  

Although many patients provide anecdotal support for the effectiveness of these alternative therapies as a way to control their stress and psoriasis, these practices may not work for everyone. However, if you’re living with psoriasis, it’s important to experiment with options to identify the most effective stress management strategies for you. Be sure to consult with your doctor before beginning alternative therapies or making changes to your activities or lifestyle.  

Resources

AcuTake

American Academy of Dermatology—Psoriasis

American Psychological Association—How Stress Affects Your Health

Psychology Today—5 Meditation Tips for Beginners

Healthgrades—Mindfulness Meditation Enhances Psoriasis Treatment   

Healthline—Can Yoga Help My Psoriasis?

The National Psoriasis Foundation—Alternative Therapies