Why You Should Practice Mindfulness When You Have Psoriasis
When it comes to treating a chronic condition such as psoriasis, the need for modern medicine will likely always exist. Medical approaches, such as phototherapy, topicals, and systemic medications, are scientifically-based and tested, and they’ve been proven time and time again to be successful treatment options with generally fast results.
But that doesn’t mean there’s no benefit to alternative approaches. In fact, self-care and wellness practices like mindfulness have also been found to produce positive health impacts in a variety of ways, including by reducing the symptoms of psoriasis.
What Science Says
“Psoriasis is an inflammatory condition where the immune system causes increased turnover of skin cells,” explains Ife Rodney, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at Eternal Dermatology + Aesthetics in Fulton, Maryland. “The result is red, itchy patches of scaly skin on the elbows, knees, scalp, or anywhere on the body.”
Stress is often an external contributing factor for psoriasis symptoms. During periods of stress, people often find their psoriasis symptoms return or get worse in what is known as a flare-up. Treating and preventing stress has the potential to reduce these flares. This is where mindfulness comes in. Mindfulness is a state of awareness, which can be cultivated by practicing meditation.
“Mindfulness and meditation have been proven to be effective ways of reducing stress,” says Rodney. “There are some studies on the relationship between stress-reduction techniques and psoriasis with positive results.”
Some of that research extends as far back as 1989, when a small study showed a clinical improvement in psoriasis symptoms with meditation alone, and with a combination of meditation and guided imagery.
A decade later, researchers found mindfulness was effective on people who were undergoing phototherapy treatments for their psoriasis. People who listened to audio meditations had a faster rate of skin clearance than people who didn’t.
More recently, a 2018 review published in JAMA Dermatology showed improvement in flare-ups and severity of psoriasis for those who used mindfulness, acupuncture, and other stress-relieving methods. And other systemic reviews have repeated the benefits of treating the mind for patients with psoriasis.
How Mindfulness Works for Psoriasis
Wondering why mindfulness can be so effective for people with psoriasis? Ailynne Marie Vergara-Wijangco, M.D., a clinical dermatologist and researcher, says mindfulness meditation reduces the fight-or-flight reaction many of us typically have to stressful events.
“It quiets the mind, which, in turn, relieves pent-up stress in the body—a known trigger of excess cortisol and inflammation,” explains Rodney. “Over time, the brain will respond to some stressors positively, reducing inflammation.”
Not only can this help with reducing the frequency of psoriasis flare-ups and the severity of itch, but mindfulness can also help improve a sense of well‑being, making it easier to handle social challenges like the stigma that often accompanies psoriasis. Plus, if you’re managing stress with mindfulness, you may find less of an urge to alleviate stress in other ways, for example, with unhealthy eating, drinking, or smoking—all of which can worsen psoriasis symptoms—explains Vergara-Wijangco.
Plus, mindfulness can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, which people with psoriasis are at higher risk for.
“Psoriasis has severe social and psychological effects on patients,” Rodney says. “Patients get stressed about psoriasis, which can cause a flare-up, creating a dangerous cycle.”
That’s why she encourages her patients to engage in mindfulness alongside more traditional treatment options.
How to Get Started with Mindfulness
Getting started with mindfulness doesn’t have to be as complicated as some people believe.
“The misconception of mindfulness or meditation is that you should spend an hour in complete silence,” says Rodney, explaining that, instead, mindfulness is really just about observing, being calm, and remaining aware of your present environment and your feelings.
She says mindfulness needs to be practiced daily and built up like a muscle. Just start with five to 10 minutes per day, slowly working your way up to 15 and 20 minutes in the coming weeks. To set a routine, it helps to pick a set time every day and to link it to a current habit like after brushing your teeth or showering.
Here’s all you need to do: Sit in a quiet space, close your eyes, and focus on the feeling of your breath and body for five minutes. If your mind strays—and it will—bring it back to the current sensations happening in the moment.
Increase the duration of your meditation sessions as the weeks go on, and don't worry too much if you get distracted. The more you do it, the better you'll get.
Things to Keep in Mind
It’s important to know that mindfulness will not be a miracle cure for your psoriasis. Really, there is no such thing.
“Mindfulness is just one way to help deal with a significant trigger,” says Rodney. “If you practice it often, you'll see some improvement in flare-ups over time. However, you should still pay attention to other catalysts and use the medication and treatment options specified by your dermatologist.”
Still, this one simple practice might help you better handle life’s stresses, while also helping you to maintain some control over your condition. And that alone makes it worth trying.
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