Emotional Rescue for Psoriasis

6 ways to improve your mind-set and ease your symptoms

Living with psoriasis can bring on a plethora of negative feelings ranging from embarrassment and self-consciousness to anger, frustration and even helplessness. If you’re a woman, you’re likely to feel this sort of emotional pain more profoundly than you would if you were a man, according to a recent survey of nearly 5,000 people with psoriasis conducted by the National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF). In fact, 60 percent of the women surveyed said their psoriasis negatively affects their overall emotional well-being (compared to about half of the men with the condition), and one in five women with psoriasis described it as a “very large problem in their everyday lives.” “It’s not surprising that psoriasis is more distressing for women than for men, because our society places much more emphasis and value on looks in women than in men,” says Madelyn Petrow-Cohen, a therapist in private practice in New York and New Jersey who specializes in treating people with chronic conditions such as psoriasis. “It’s important to address the emotional impact of psoriasis, since it looks like stress can worsen symptoms in some people.” The good news is that the relationship between stress and symptoms can work in both directions. By finding ways to feel more positive about your condition and by reducing your stress levels, it’s possible to minimize the effect that the physical symptoms will have on your life. Here are six ways to do just that:

1. Find the right doctor. Being able to talk openly with your doctor and feeling confident about his abilities can help you feel like you have some control over your psoriasis. “You need someone who is not only skilled in treating the disease, but who also has a good bedside manner, is compassionate and is willing to help you with your feelings about your condition,” says Petrow-Cohen. “You want an ally who listens to you.” To find a doctor qualified to treat psoriasis in your area, visit the NPF physician directory at psoriasis.org.

2. Seek out the right kind of support from trusted friends, family and other people with the condition. Don’t rely on those who dismiss your condition by saying things like, “It’s not so bad—it’s not life-threatening.” Stick with folks who allow you to vent when you need to and who respond with compassionate comments. If you’re thinking of joining a psoriasis support group, make sure the leader has experience working with people with psoriasis or chronic illness, and that the focus is not just on sharing complaints but also on expressing your feelings, moving forward and finding solutions. Groups that bring in professional speakers and offer information about new research and treatments are often a good choice. And don’t forget the Web—especially if anonymity is important to you. Participants in online support groups or chat rooms feel able to say things that they wouldn’t say in person, and these forums provide a huge pool of people from which you can gain all sorts of helpful advice and insights.

3. Match up with a mentor. Through the NPF’s “Psoriasis One-to-One” mentoring program, you can connect with another person who has psoriasis or psoriatic arthritis and who will be skilled in helping you through the emotional aspects of the condition. “You can initially make contact by email. If the email back and forth feels positive, you can move to the phone,” says Petrow-Cohen, who is involved in the NPF mentoring program.

4. Seek therapy if your feelings about your psoriasis become overwhelming, or if you’re finding it hard to go out because you’re depressed, anxious or feel helpless about your psoriasis. Try to find a therapist in your area who works specifically with people who have psoriasis; barring that, look for one who specializes in helping people with chronic conditions. Some good places to start: Ask your dermatologist for a referral, call your local department of mental health or visit the American Psychological Association's psychologist locator.

5. Try to accept your condition and move forward. It’s a tough reality, but because at the moment there’s no cure for psoriasis, part of living with it is learning to accept it and devising ways to deal with it. An effective strategy is to plan ahead what you can do and say when you have a flare. That could be allowing yourself more time in the morning to get ready for work, having all of your medications handy and/or rehearsing responses to people who make comments about your skin. “Sometimes it’s best to be up-front about your psoriasis rather than look at the floor or hide in embarrassment,” says Petrow-Cohen. “Saying something like, ‘Wow, I’m feeling really red today,’ might relieve the tension and inspire the other person to respond with compassion and understanding.”

6. Advocate. “The opposite of helplessness is empowerment, and advocacy—being part of the change process—is very empowering,” says Petrow-Cohen. “Whether it’s participating in a psoriasis walk, going to workshops or other opportunities, or joining in the fight to fund research and help find a cure can make you feel hopeful and as if you have some control over your condition.” To find advocacy opportunities, research support groups in your area or visit the National Psoriasis Foundation's website.

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