Eczema / Psoriasis

Psoriasis and stress: What’s the link?

Psoriasis is a long-term, itchy, and uncomfortable skin condition that is linked to stress in several ways. Not only can stress trigger psoriasis flare-ups, but living with psoriasis can have a detrimental effect on a person’s overall mental health.

When a person has psoriasis, their immune system causes too many skin cells to be produced. These cells build up in red patches covered with silvery scales. Psoriasis can also cause inflammation throughout the body.

This article explores the relationship between psoriasis and stress and considers how people with psoriasis can manage their triggers.

How does stress trigger psoriasis?

Business man working hard, stressed with headache.
Psychological stress has been linked to physical inflammation in the body, which may make conditions like psoriasis worse.

Doctors know that a problem with the immune system causes the excessive growth of skin cells that is characteristic of psoriasis. However, the underlying causes of this immune response are not yet understood.

Psoriasis is a long-term condition and does not currently have a cure.

Psychological stress can trigger flare-ups. When a person experiences reduced stress levels, their skin tends to improve as well.

A 2013 review notes that 68 percent of adults with psoriasis experience flare-ups after stressful incidents.

Scientists do not know precisely why stress makes psoriasis worse, but they believe it relates to the effect that stress has on inflammation.

A 2014 study notes that stress factors can increase the immune system response involved in inflammation.

This means that being under psychological stress can lead to physical inflammation in the body. In turn, increased inflammation may make psoriasis symptoms worse.

This 2013 study also suggests that the increase in inflammatory cells that results from stress aggravates the symptoms of psoriasis.

Additionally, one study found that women with depression were at a higher risk of developing psoriasis.

While researchers are still exploring the relationship between depression and inflammation, their connection may be influential in future psoriasis treatments.


How to manage psoriasis triggers

Group practicing tai chi and mindfulness in park.
Tai chi, yoga, meditation, and mindfulness may help to ease psychological stress, and ease the symptoms of psoriasis.

While avoiding stress is not always possible, much can be done to reduce the effects it has on a person’s body and mind.

The following activities may help reduce the impact stress has on a person with psoriasis and make flare-ups less likely:

  • Exercise: Even just a brisk walk can help release endorphins. These happy chemicals can help reduce stress and promote a sense of wellbeing.
  • Yoga, meditation, and mindfulness: All three of these activities can help reduce stress and anxiety. Yoga is particularly beneficial as it is a physical form of meditation. This means it has the added stress-relieving benefit of releasing endorphins in the same way as other forms of exercise do.
  • Tai chi: This is another physical exercise that incorporates mindfulness. It involves slow, deliberate movements that are guided by breath, which may help to reduce stress levels.
  • Massage: Having a massage can help reduce stress and muscle tension, as well as promote a sense of wellbeing.

Avoiding smoking or drinking too much alcohol and eating a healthful, balanced diet can also be beneficial to stress management.

Sometimes, however, it is hard to manage stress levels despite making lifestyle changes. If a person is finding stress hard to manage, a doctor may refer them to see a specialist to help.

A 2016 study suggests early referral access to psychological intervention may be an important way to help manage psoriasis.


Psoriasis and mental health

Psoriasis on elbow.
Psoriasis may not only cause physical discomfort, it may also affect self-esteem.

Stress may trigger psoriasis flare-ups, and the impact the flare-ups have may take a toll on a person’s mental health. This can result in a vicious circle of stress and psoriasis flare-ups.

Psoriasis is a long-term condition that can be itchy, painful, and cause a lot of discomfort. It may also be visible and cause a person to feel unhappy or uncomfortable about the way they look.

The combined effects of physical discomfort and self-consciousness may have a profound impact on a person’s mental wellbeing.

A study in 2015 found chronic stress to have a significant influence on the health-related quality of life in people with psoriasis.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been found to be effective in helping those people with psoriasis who are experiencing mental health problems as a result of their condition.


Outlook

While psoriasis is a long-term skin condition, there are some treatments available to help manage its symptoms. These include light therapy and topical medications.

Stress is a trigger for psoriasis flare-ups because of how it relates to the immune system and inflammation. Engaging in activities that help manage stress can help people with psoriasis reduce flare-ups.

Understanding how to reduce the impact of triggers, such as stress, can reduce the negative impact psoriasis may have on a person’s life. Following a psoriasis treatment plan as advised by a doctor may also help keep symptoms under control.

If a person has psoriasis and is experiencing anxiety or depression, they should speak to a doctor. A doctor can refer them to a specialist who may offer CBT or similar therapies.

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