Closing the Stress Cycle With Psoriasis
Living with psoriasis for as long as I have, the topic and influence of stress have continuously been in my orbit. It's a weird relationship that I'm awkwardly forced to keep. How does stress play a role in my life?
Well living with visible skin symptoms is pretty stressful. Having skin different than everyone else? Stressful. Constant itching? Burning? Keeping up with treatment? You guessed it - stressful. Oh, and let's not forget how stress is a common psoriasis trigger. That's right - a cycle I like to call, the downward spiral of doom.
Whether we like it or not, stress is an important factor to consider when it comes to managing psoriasis.
Stress can happen at any age!
When I was 7, I sat squirming in my dermatologist’s stuffy office. "The Doc" was asking me adult-style questions like “Do you think this treatment has helped?”
I’m freaking out. How am I supposed to know what to say? Did they help? I still have psoriasis so no, I don't think they did, but maybe they helped a little? He wants me to yes.
I look over to my mom in the next chair, desperately searching her face for the correct answer. So I said yes - a lie. That is what he wanted to hear and I’m a good girl. And definitely too scared to say something that might make him sad or get someone into trouble.
He returned to his prescription pad, to complete the prescription he had already started writing. A script for tablets that I wasn’t sure would help me heal at all. And then his words that would define my approach to healing for the next 30 years…
"Don’t get stressed, it’ll make things worse."
Stress doesn't just go away.
Every time I started to feel stressed, I buried it. My mantra: "I must not feel stressed." It would intensify my symptoms. It would upset the balance of what I'm trying to accomplish. Avoiding stress and feelings became associated with negative and anxiety-inducing feelings.
Trying not to feel stress in life is like trying to bury driftwood in the sea. It defies the laws of nature and trying to do so will only create more stress. It turns out I was missing a critical part of the puzzle.
Feeling stress is not bad - as long as you close the stress cycle. I am nearly 40 and finally grasped this concept of a stress loop - and for me, it has been a revelation.
The stress loop provides an escape ramp from the familiar stress cycle of stress - you're familiar. Stress, flare, stress, flare, stress, flare.
So, what is a stress loop?
Before learning about this concept, I would get stressed, and then try to pretend it wasn’t there. I’d eat ice cream, or biscuits or work harder. Anything to seek comfort or distraction. But the hormones are still there.
The adrenaline is still in my body when I realize I messed up work for my client, sent the picture to my dad instead of my husband, or ran the red light by mistake.
The wisdom of the body is ancient. My body doesn’t know that I just emailed my client the wrong thing, it thinks I’m about to be eaten by a tiger. There aren’t enough Pringles in the world to calm my body down when it thinks it’s about to become a stripy predator’s lunch.
This leaves an open stress loop. Stress that has been made, but not dealt with.
So, how do we close the stress loop?
Stress is a survival instinct. The body’s response to survive any given situation is fight or flight. You need to process the hormones running rampant in your body so you can switch those stress signals off.
Emily and Amelia Nagoski, in the book Burnout, offer some tips that help tell our body that we’re not about to die. They suggest (with a few tweaks from me):
- Kissing your partner for six seconds (the minimum!)
- Hugging another person for 20 seconds or more.
- Being creative including drawing, painting or baking.
- Belly laughing. Not fake laughing but socially awkward guffawing.
What helps me? Exercise. I’ve found it’s much easier to motivate myself to move my body when I know that with every bend, every knee lift, and every sweep of my arm, I’m burning off stress. I’m closing my stress loop so I can finally find peace.
Has my psoriasis improved?
I wholeheartedly believe in the original intention of my dermatologist all the way back in 1990. He simply forgot or didn't realize I didn’t have any of the tools I needed to follow his guidance about stress management.
I’m still a work in progress and continue to tweak and learn more about this concept. I’ve moved my body daily after two years of sedentary isolation indoors. Has my psoriasis improved? It’s too early to tell.
I am happier, I’ve started blogging about psoriasis again, and started to feel glimpses of enthusiasm for resurrecting my podcast, so for me, this concept of closing the stress loop is a keeper.
Do you have a skincare routine?