Useful lifestyle hints
to help reduce the impact of psoriasis
on your day-to day life
Avoid stress: A calmer mind can mean calmer skin
Stress appears to be a trigger for psoriasis. It can worsen symptoms, and in some cases, a stressful event may trigger the onset of psoriasis. Living with a chronic condition such as psoriasis can be stressful in and of itself, which makes this a tricky Catch-22.
Identifying the source of your stress is key in finding appropriate ways to deal with it.
Are the visible aspects of psoriasis causing you the most stress? Is it your work? Perhaps you are lacking sleep? Or could it be a long daily commute that is getting to you? Once you have identified the source of your stress, it will be beneficial to find effective ways to cope with it.
For some people, building a strong support system of family and friends with whom to communicate freely and have fun with is enough. For others, relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, and deep-breathing work wonders to ease stress and reduce anxiety.
If you are interested in trying any of these relaxation techniques, ask your health care professional for resources. They may be able to direct you and even refer you to someone they know and trust.
You may also want to eliminate non-essential tasks from your daily life in order to have more time to focus on yourself and on things you enjoy doing. Everyone may benefit from a reorganization and prioritization of tasks to help reduce the amount of stress experienced.
Get moving: Your skin and the rest of your body will thank you
Physical activity is important for everyone’s overall health.
Exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight and help you to feel better about yourself. Exercise can also be a very effective stress reliever, which on its own can help reduce your flare-ups.
There are various types of exercise out there – choose an activity that you know you will enjoy and stick to it.
- If you enjoy getting outside, start taking walks or going hiking
- If you are looking for something relaxing, try yoga or tai chi
- If it has been a while since you hit the gym or had a regular exercise routine, start slow and increase your endurance over time
- By setting yourself achievable and realistic goals, you will find it easier to stay motivated and persevere with a new exercise regimen
- Try spreading your exercise throughout the day if you are struggling to find the time (i.e., three 10-minute sessions, rather than one 30-minute session)
- Skip the elevator and take the stairs
Before starting a new exercise regimen, talk to your doctor first – they may be able to recommend a workout that is appropriate for you and your level of fitness.
Three tips for a no-flare-up workout:
- Wear loose exercise gear to avoid friction on your skin.
- Before exercising, apply a psoriasis-friendly lubricant in the areas that tend to get irritated, or sprinkle on some sweat-absorbent powder.
- Shower after your exercise using a gentle lufa; don't scrub hard.
Anti-inflammatory food choices
Since psoriasis is an inflammatory condition, it should come as no surprise that many people have reported benefits from choosing food with “anti-inflammatory” properties.
Avoid foods that have been shown to cause or increase inflammation such as fatty red meat, dairy products, processed foods, refined sugars and certain vegetables including tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes and peppers.
Do include foods that have been shown to reduce inflammation such as omega-3 rich fish (albacore tuna, mackerel, salmon, herring and lake trout), flaxseeds, olive oil and walnuts, colourful fresh fruits and vegetables (carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, kale and all leafy greens, blueberries, mangos, etc.)
Weight management and your psoriasis
There are many health benefits to maintaining a healthy weight. Your psoriasis may even benefit from it. In general, eating too much may make your psoriasis worse.
Key ingredients to help you stay healthy:
- Eat a rainbow of fresh fruits and vegetables every day – these are packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to help regulate your immunity
- Incorporate nuts, seeds, and legumes – these are full of fibre and healthy proteins that will help satisfy your hunger
- Eat those grains – whole grains not only satisfy your hunger but can keep your bowels healthy
- Include lean meats and fish – a portion the size of your palm can be a healthy part of your diet
- Focus on foods low in saturated fats, avoid trans fats, limit cholesterol and salt (sodium)
- Don’t keep junk food in your home or at the office – avoid refined sugars and processed foods
- Keep a food diary – this will help you identify any unhealthy patterns
- Plan ahead and try to incorporate more home-cooked meals
- Avoid foods that are fried or in creamy sauces
- Drink plenty of water – this can help keep your energy up and weight in check
- Keep an eye on your portion size
And remember, make changes one step at a time. Change can be hard, and you are more likely to stick to it if you incorporate changes gradually.
What about cigarettes and alcohol?
Smoking and drinking alcohol could be making your psoriasis much worse by triggering flare-ups. If you smoke, you may benefit from talking to your doctor about cutting down or stopping completely. Together with your doctor, you can develop a plan to gradually cut down on smoking and reducing alcohol intake.
What you can do to manage the itch
It may not be visible, but the itch that is associated with psoriasis may impact your life just as much (if not more) than the visible scaling.
Here are some suggestions that could help you deal with the itch and pain associated with your psoriasis.
- Keep skin moisturized. Moisturizing can help soothe the itch and soften the skin so that it is less likely to split and bleed. Dermatologists recommend heavy creams and ointments to lock water into the skin. However, cooking oils, petroleum jelly, and even shortening can be economical substitutes for commercial moisturizers. Some people like to apply coconut oil to their inflamed skin. If it’s cold or dry outside, you may need to use it more often. Moisturizing tip: storing lotions and creams in the refrigerator can keep them cool and help provide more relief when applied to the skin.
- Use a humidifier, especially during winter when you turn on the heat in your home. It will help your skin retain moisture better.
- Stay cool. Heat can make the itch worse. Cold showers and cold packs can also offer relief. Avoid bathing in very warm water and try to limit showers to 10 minutes or less. Hot water can exacerbate the irritation and dryness of your skin. Try to apply lotion after washing to lock in moisture.
- Soothe with daily baths. A daily warm bath using a mild soap can help soothe itchy spots and remove dry skin. You can also add oil, finely ground oatmeal, Epsom salt, or Dead Sea salt to the water and soak for 15 minutes. Avoid hot water and harsh soaps. Gently pat your skin dry instead of rubbing with a towel as this can make sores worse and possibly cause new ones. No time for a bath? Try putting a wet towel or cold compress on the trouble spot. Always finish with a moisturizer.
- Stop scratching and picking. Scratching can tear open your skin and lead to an infection. It may also make new sores appear. When you have an urge, close your eyes, breathe deeply, and gently rub on moisturizer instead.
- Avoid harsh products. Try to minimize the use of lotions with alcohol, deodorant soaps, and some laundry soaps, as these can irritate your skin. Don’t buy clothes made from scratchy, rough fabrics, such as wool. Softer, cotton-based clothes may feel better on your skin.
Embrace the sunshine!
The increased sunlight and humidity that come with summer tend to help a lot of people with psoriasis. When the air is humid, your skin is better able to retain moisture, which can help with the dryness of your plaques. For a long time now, we have been warned against the ill effects of the sun, but if you are careful and smart about it, the warmth of the sunshine can become an important partner in your journey against psoriasis.
Before exposing yourself to the sun, speak to your doctor. Your doctor may have specific recommendations, for example, that you allow your skin 30 minutes of natural sunlight per day. Keeping a record of what time of day and how long you are exposed to the sun is important in order to evaluate how effective this approach is. Keep in mind that it may take several weeks to see any improvements. And remember to always keep your skin well hydrated after sun exposure.
Despite the potential benefits of sun exposure to the psoriasis-affected areas of your skin, you should not neglect the use of sunscreen. Try to choose a sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Fragranced sunscreen may irritate your skin, so try to find one with minimal additives. Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before sun exposure to the areas of skin that are clear and exposed. Make sure to reapply every two hours, or if you sweat or swim. Your doctor may recommend sun exposure without any protection for a few minutes, followed by a longer exposure after sunscreen has been applied. Or they may suggest that you spend more time in the sun, but with sunscreen from the first second. Make sure you speak to your doctor before you expose your skin to see what is best for you specifically.
You may also want to avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., when the burning rays are the strongest. Even a slight sunburn could damage your skin. It may not only worsen existing plaques, but also cause new ones to develop. Although your skin can benefit from the sun, staying safe and limiting exposure to what your doctor has suggested is very important.
Getting dressed for the sun
You shouldn’t feel stressed about choosing what to wear because of your psoriasis. Here are a few tips that can help:
- Avoid dark solid colours – they don’t hide flakes very well; multi-coloured fabrics, stripes and herringbone patterns do a much better job.
- Embrace soft fabrics like cotton and avoid synthetic fabrics – they can sometimes irritate plaques.
- Don’t cover up – you may feel uncomfortable wearing short sleeves and shorts but covering up can make things worse. Choose loose clothing to avoid rubbing and perspiration. Again, cotton may be the most comfortable choice.
Don’t let psoriasis define your relationships
Psoriasis can affect your relationships in a number of ways; firstly, because it is a visible disease, and secondly because the pain and itch associated with psoriasis can distract you at any time. It can be difficult talking about your condition and how it affects your life to friends and family who don’t have psoriasis. In addition, the visible aspects of psoriasis can affect your body image as well as your dating life and intimate relationships.
These tips could help to minimize the impact on your relationships and how you feel:
- If you are just starting a relationship, it can be difficult to tell someone you are dating that you have psoriasis. But use your judgment to decide when and what to say about your skin. When you decide on the right time, keep it short and simple, focus on the facts, and try to stay relaxed and non-apologetic.
- Remember, if your partner and friends value you for what you are instead of what you look like, psoriasis doesn’t need to be an obstacle.
- Honesty is key. Although it may be tempting to try and hide your condition, it is important to let your partner or spouse know how you feel – especially if psoriasis is getting you down. You can try writing down what you want to say; it may help to clarify your thoughts.
As wonderful as your friends and family may be, sometimes their support is not enough. Not because they lack understanding, but because you may need to share your thoughts with other people who have psoriasis. Hearing about other people’s experience with it can make you feel less alone and help you cope when you are going through a rough patch.
If you are not sure if there is a support group in your area, talk to your doctor or nurse to find out if one is available, or check notice boards in health centres and pharmacies. You may also want to consider the following options:
You can also try exploring the psoriasis groups and communities that exist on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.