When it comes to stress and psoriasis, the two often go hand in hand. But sometimes all the deep breathing or meditation in the world isn't enough when it comes to relieving flare-ups. Here are 10 expert-approved, unconventional ways to beat stress to help control your psoriasis.
Pop bubble wrap. Itch can be one of the most bothersome symptoms of psoriasis, and trying not to scratch can stress you out even more, says Debra Kissen, CEO of Light On Anxiety CBT Treatment Center in Chicago and co-chair of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America's education committee. “The key is to find something to do with your hands. It can be bubble wrap, it can be a pop-it fidget toy, it can even be a stress ball that you squeeze over and over,” she explains.
Make marzipan. Baking is a great stress reliever for people with psoriasis because it engages so many of your senses: the smell of what you're making, the feeling of the ingredients in your hands, and of course the tasting that happens at the end, points out Philip Muskin, MD, professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City. His favorite: marzipan, because it's simple, involves a lot of different textures, and contains chocolate, which helps boost mood.
Buy a punching bag. You probably already know that physical activity is a potent form of stress relief. Some people respond especially well to activities that involve punching or hitting, such as boxing or an aggressive game of tennis, says Rosalind Dorlen, a psychologist in Summit, NJ. (It's no accident that public punching bags debuted on New York City streets as part of a design initiative in 2019.) “It can help relieve muscle tension that builds up when you're stressed, and these activities also help build focus and concentration, which is a great outlet for some of your stress,” she explains.
Gaze at your plants. People who kept a small plant on their work desk and looked at it for 3 minutes whenever they felt tired or overwhelmed had lower levels of anxiety and stress at the end of a 4-week period compared to their plant-less co-workers, according to a 2019 study published in the Journal of the American Society for Horticultural Science. “Plants are part of nature and we know that anything related to nature, like trees or fields, can be inherently calming,” Muskin says.
Breathe in a square. Deep breathing is important to relieve stress, but many people don't do it the right way, Dorlen says. She teaches her patients what she's dubbed the square, or box, technique.
“Inhale while visualizing a line going from the upper left-hand corner of your stomach to your right,” she explains. Now exhale, picturing the line going from your upper right to the lower right part of your stomach. Inhale and imagine the line going from the lower right to the lower left-hand corner, then exhale and visualize that line going straight up back to the starting point, your upper left-hand side. Repeat two more times. “I've found that it's a concrete way for patients to visualize a relaxation exercise,” Dorlen says.
Do a childhood craft. Whether you pull out the paper-mache or make friendship bracelets, engaging in these types of childhood activities reduces stress by bringing you back to a younger, more carefree time in your life, Muskin points out. One option: make your own pinata, which may evoke pleasant memories of backyard birthday parties.
“This type of crafting can be very relaxing because it's very repetitive -- you're dipping newspaper strips into papier-mache paste and applying it to a balloon,” Muskin says. “You can get into a rhythm which is itself very meditative and relaxing.”
Another option: make paper animal masks. “You can do things like [use] cotton balls for ears, or felt for whiskers -- it's a way to really let creativity come out,” he explains.
Try a coloring book. If the idea of crafting stresses you out (and let's face it, it's not for everyone), another option is to pick up an adult coloring book, Kissen suggests. “When you're coloring, you really have to concentrate and focus, which encourages mindfulness,” she explains.
One good option is a book that features mandalas. When people drew or colored for 20 minutes, those who colored in mandalas reported the biggest decrease in stress and anxiety levels, according to a study published in 2012 in the Journal of the American Therapy Association.
Volunteer. People with psoriasis often feel socially isolated, and may shy away from public activities and events, notes Chloe Carmichael, a New York City psychologist and author of Nervous Energy: Harness the Power of Your Anxiety. Volunteering somewhere, whether it's tutoring, helping with an environmental project, or working in a soup kitchen, allows you to break out of that rut, she points out. In fact, research shows performing these sorts of acts of kindness actually helps socially anxious people relax.
Clean the house. Vacuuming may not seem like a way to evoke Zen-like calm, but it can. In fact, one 2015 Florida State University study published in the journal Mindfulness found that dipping your hands into soapsuds to wash dishes allows the mind itself to dip into a state of calmness.
“If you really slow down and focus on the feeling of the soap and warm water on your hands, it can really bring you into a meditative state,” Muskin explains. Anything that evokes this sort of repetitive motion -- vacuuming, ironing, scrubbing the walls -- can encourage you to enter a meditative state, where you're just focused on the constant movement, he says.
Smile, even if you don't feel like it. If you've followed all these tips and still feel stressed and anxious, Muskin recommends that you force yourself to flash those pearly whites anyway. Why? Research suggests that people who smile during a stressful activity experience a decrease in heart rate and are less likely to report a drop in a positive mood. So grin and bear it -- both your body and mind will thank you.