Stress can worsen psoriasis, but you can’t predict when you’re going to be in a traffic jam or have an emergency, or if you'll be on the wrong end of your boss’ bad temper. What you can control is your response to stress. Staying calm may prevent a psoriasis breakout. Researchers at Roosevelt University in Chicago have identified common ways that people behave that may make stress worse. On the upside, they’ve also found exercises that can turn those reactions around. “Each technique can take as little as a few minutes, and once you’ve mastered them, you can combine them for even more relaxation,” says Jonathan C. Smith, Ph.D., founder and director of the Roosevelt University Stress Institute. For more relaxation exercises, see Dr. Smith’s Web site.
Here are a few of Dr. Smith’s suggestions:
Stress Reaction No. 1: Clenching your jaw and fists; sitting for too long in the same position at the computer, or cradling a phone in your neck while working under a deadline.
The Stress-Stopper: Progressive muscle relaxation. Scrunch up the muscles in your face, hold 2 or 3 seconds, then slowly relax them to a count of 20. (It takes at least 20 seconds for muscles to relax completely.) Then, while letting the rest of your body relax, shrug your shoulders up, hold and feel the tension in your shoulders, then let them go limp for a slow count of 20. Continue working down your body, tightening and releasing the muscles in your arms (pressing each arm against your body, holding and releasing for 20 seconds), your hands (making tight fists and releasing them for 20 seconds), your stomach, back, legs and feet.
Stress Reaction No. 2: Shallow, hurried breathing.
The Stress-Stopper: Deep, slow, breathing. Sit straight in your chair, put your hands on your stomach, fingers spread. Slowly breathe in, feeling your stomach expand as your hands move slightly away from each other, hold the breath for a couple of seconds, then slowly breathe out, feeling your hands come closer together, as your stomach contracts.
Alternative: Book breathing. Lying flat on your back on the floor, place a book on your abdomen. Breathe deeply. If the book rises up as you inhale and down as you exhale slowly, you know you are breathing with your diaphragm, the right way to de-stress.
Stress Reaction No. 3: Stress imagery—you keep imagining the worst case scenario, like your boss is going to fire you, your husband is having an affair or your child is failing in school.
The Stress-Stopper: Positive imagery that is not goal-directed but just purely relaxing. Sitting in a comfortable position, close your eyes and think about the most peaceful place you have ever been, or image a place you would like to be (the beach; in front of a warm fire). Imagine two or more things you would see, hear, smell and feel in this place. Breathe slowly as you use all of your senses to experience the image fully.
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