Ease stress for skin health

Stress Management Tools for Healthy Skin

Can stress be causing or aggravating your psoriasis? 

Stress often comes up when patients talk about psoriasis triggers. In fact, surveys have shown that about 80% of people with psoriasis believe that stress affects the severity of their condition and that stress or anxiety has triggered a psoriasis flare.1

Ongoing, daily stress, like rushing from appointment to appointment, might sneak up on you and be less noticeable than acute or traumatic events. Easing the stress in our daily lives is certainly easier said than done and yet the pay-off can make a difference in how our skin looks and feels.

The physiology of stress

Our body’s healthy functioning depends upon proper communication between our cells, organ systems and brains. The body’s largest organ, the skin plays an important role in this communication.

Dr. Thalia Farshchian explains, “Your skin responds to external and internal physiologic stressors like excess sun exposure and infections, but it also responds to mental and emotional stressors like financial loss or a death in the family. Stress in your body activates the same hormonal signals, regardless of its source.”

“Our brains are extremely plastic and trainable,” says Dr. Thalia. “Being under chronic stress can encourage our bodies to go into an automatic ‘fight or flight’ mode even when there’s no physical danger.”

When these responses are constantly activated, our body’s natural resistance to inflammation can be diminished, causing an increase in inflammatory chemicals like cortisol.2 Elevation in these inflammatory chemicals has also been linked to psoriasis.3

“Easing stress can be one of the most effective methods of soothing skin,” says Dr. Thalia.

Stress modification habits

The good news is that there are many things that you can do today to decrease your stress levels.  Like any habit, it’s good to start slowly, find out what works for you and build gradually to make it part of your everyday routine. Below are Dr. Thalia’s suggestions for easing tension in your daily life, which may help to reduce or improve your psoriasis.

Meditation

Meditation is gaining much attention as a healthy habit to combat daily stress, but it can be difficult to silence the chatter of our overworked brains into an “om.” When attained, mindful meditation has been proven to improve clinical outcomes in patients undergoing phototherapy treatment for psoriasis. In one study, participants efficiently used the time they were in treatment to also engage in an audio-guided meditation and saw significant skin clearing.4

If you’re new to meditation, begin with an audio-guided course that is no longer than 10 minutes.

Here are a few courses that Dr. Thalia likes:

HeadSpace
UCLA Free Mindfulness Meditations (also offers a free 6-week online course)
Calm

Yoga & exercise for skin healthYoga and Exercise

If sitting quietly is still not your style, movement is another incredible way to improve your reaction to stress.

Yoga and physical activity have the ability to reduce inflammatory markers and simultaneously elevate mood.5  These activities can be as simple as a daily walk or experimenting with a new hobby like pilates.

Yogaglo is a great on-line tool for meditation and yoga instruction. This website has a search function that allows you to search based on your fitness goal, time constraints, and experience level.

Bio-feedback for skin healthBio-Feedback

Bio-feedback therapy, often performed with a therapist, helps you gain control of physiologic reactions like muscle contraction, increased heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate in response to stress. These processes are typically involuntary, but can be calmed with mindfulness.  With this therapy, you are connected to electrical sensors that inform you how your body is reacting.  This information allows you to make subtle changes like actively relaxing groups of muscles to respond to your body’s cues.6

Bio-feedback therapy has been shown to increase quality of life, reduce psoriatic symptoms, and reduce psychiatric disorders like depression and anxiety.7

Expand your stress toolbox

 “It’s not stress that kills us, it’s our reaction to it.” – Hans Selye

Old habits die hard, especially when it comes to re-training your brain to better deal with stress, but it may be one of the best things you can do for yourself.

For most of us, stress – like the never-ending to-do list – will never be completely eliminated. Learning to change our response to stress both physically and mentally through mindfulness meditation, yoga, and bio-feedback can empower us to conquer not only our psoriasis, but also the challenges of daily life.

For additional treatment options for psoriasis, visit www.illuvinate.com to find out if at-home light-based therapy may work for you.

Dr. Thalia FarshchianDr. Thalia Farshchian is a licensed naturopathic doctor educated at the National College of Natural Medicine in Portland, OR. Dr. Farshchian currently practices family integrative healthcare at Discover Health Medical Partners in San Francisco, CA. She specializes in hormone disorders, digestive conditions, and environmental medicine using medical nutrition, herbal medicine, diet modifications, and lifestyle changes as treatment prior to pharmaceutical therapy implementation.

1 Hänsel A, Hong S, Cámara RJ, von Känel R. Inflammation as a psychophysiological biomarker in chronic psychosocial stress. Neurosci Biobehav Rev 2010; 35: 115–121.
2 Kabat-Zinn, J. et. al. Influence of a Mindfulness Meditation-Based Stress Reduction Intervention on Rates of Skin Clearing in Patients With Moderate to Severe Psoriasis Undergoing Photo Therapy (UVB) and Photochemotherapy (PUVA). Psychosomatic Medicine: Sept/Oct 1998 – Volume 60, Issue 5 – pp 625-632.
3 Schwartz, J, et al. “Getting under the Skin: Report from the International Psoriasis Council Workshop on the Role of Stress in Psoriasis.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2 Feb. 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26869982.
4 Kabat-Zinn, J. et. al. Influence of a Mindfulness Meditation-Based Stress Reduction Intervention on Rates of Skin Clearing in Patients With Moderate to Severe Psoriasis Undergoing Photo Therapy (UVB) and Photochemotherapy (PUVA). Psychosomatic Medicine: Sept/Oct 1998 – Volume 60, Issue 5 – pp 625-632.
5 Kiecolt-Glasser, J. et. al. Stress, Inflammation, and Yoga Practice. Psychosom med. 2010 Feb; 72(2): 113.
6 http://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/biofeedback/home/ovc-20169724.
7 Piaserico, S. et. al. Efficacy of Biofeedback and Cognitive-behavioural Therapy in Psoriatic Patients. Acta Derm Venereol 2016; Suppl 217: 91–95.