Why Acceptance Is Key for Life with Psoriasis
Getting a diagnosis of psoriasis or psoriatic arthritis can be a relief for many people—you finally know the cause of your symptoms and can begin to explore treatment options. But for others, it can be an overwhelming experience, and one that’s difficult to accept.
But finding acceptance may be more important than you realize. In studies, people with psoriasis have said they believe they’d have been better off if they were able to accept their condition sooner. Plus, acceptance of psoriasis has been associated with overall higher life satisfaction and lower rates of depressive symptoms. So, what exactly is acceptance, and how can you achieve it?
All chronic illnesses affect people both physically and mentally, explains psychiatrist and author Gayani DeSilva, M.D. While psoriatic disease is primarily a physical condition, affecting the skin and/or the joints and ligaments, it’s still a whole-body illness. A study published in Archives of Dermatology found that people with psoriasis have a 39 percent increased risk of being diagnosed with depression—this is just one of many statistics demonstrating a connection between psoriasis and mental health.
“When our mental health is addressed, our physical health improves, and vice versa,” DeSilva says. And coming to terms with a psoriasis diagnosis reduces the mental-health burden of chronic illness.
Allow Yourself to Get Emotional
When you first get your psoriasis diagnosis, having an emotional response to the news is completely normal and may make the process of finding acceptance easier.
“Allow for your emotional ups and downs,” says DeSilva. “Let yourself get angry and sad, to gather information, and be feisty and irritable. Your reaction is expected, understandable, and acceptable.”
That said, not everyone has a good cry and then moves on. Other responses are totally acceptable, too.
“There are many ways to approach a chronic health diagnosis,” says Evan Rieder, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and psychiatrist at NYU Langone Health in New York City. As an individual, your response will be shaped by your previous life experiences, your current mental health, and the severity of your psoriatic disease.
The key isn’t necessarily how you express your emotion but how you find your new normal as someone living with a chronic disease. A psoriatic diagnosis will likely mean making changes to your lifestyle, starting treatment, and making other choices—this isn’t easy to do, and it’s important to treat yourself with kindness, as you would if you were supporting someone else who received the same news.
“Giving yourself grace and patience to adjust is critical to not feeling overwhelmed,” DeSilva says.
You May Need to Do Some Grieving
The process of gaining acceptance could take some time. Many people experience a whirlwind of emotions as they get used to their diagnosis.
“It’s not unlike the stages of grief, which include denial, shock, anger, bargaining, and others that ultimately—and hopefully—end with acceptance,” says Rieder.
DeSilva agrees. “Contending with a new chronic-disease diagnosis is akin to hearing about a best friend's passing,” she says. “There is a mourning process that we all go through when we get that diagnosis for the first time.”
Moving through steps similar to the ones associated with grief may be a good way to conceptualize this process, Rieder adds. You might want to seek professional help to do this, or learn about the steps at home from books or online resources. Rieder recommends On Grief and Grieving by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross as a good place to start.
Seek Education and Support
Rieder believes that the most important thing you can do when faced with a diagnosis of psoriatic disease is to educate yourself on your condition by reading information from as many reputable sources as possible. He recommends the National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF) as a good starting point, and suggests speaking with others who are living with the same condition. Consider joining a support group, or connecting with others right here in our psoriasis community.
“Learning as much as you can about the diagnosis can help destigmatize the condition and remove some of the fear of the unknown,” he explains. Plus, studies have associated social support with greater acceptance of life with psoriasis.
There are a few different techniques that can help you cope. One is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a type of psychological treatment that helps you learn positive behaviors and thinking strategies to help you stay mentally and physically healthy. To get started with CBT, Rieder recommends the workbook Coping with Chronic Illness, which also includes helpful advice for managing a chronic health condition.
It’s a good idea to seek assistance from a professional to help you come to terms with your diagnosis and learn to live with your condition. Rieder suggests considering acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), which is a branch of clinical behavior analysis.
“The tenets of ACT can be very useful when dealing with a number of psychological conditions but also when dealing with the new diagnosis of a medical condition,” Rieder says. “ACT acknowledges that learning to accept our feelings is much more beneficial than attempting to suppress our emotional experiences, a process that can be counterproductive to our well‑being.”
Of course, support from family and friends always makes things a little easier. Share your thoughts, concerns, and frustrations with trusted loved ones.
Practice Mindful Breathing
Breathing is simple, but it’s also crucial. “Our breath gives structure to our bodies and minds,” DeSilva says. “Breathing is calming and necessary to live. Focusing on the basics of life reminds us of what we truly need, and that everything else is simply not that important.”
The fact that you have a chronic illness is merely another experience in your life's journey, she adds. If you can look at it from a realistic, big-picture perspective, it may become easier to accept.
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