How I Manage Stress - 5 Tips for Relaxation
Stress is simply a part of life. If you’re anything like me, then your stress is more a part of your life than you'd like. Learning how to manage my stress, and find ways to relax, became even more important when I learned how stress impacts my health and psoriasis.
Ten years ago, I asked a world renown psoriasis dermatologist and psychiatrist if stress contributed to psoriasis taking over my skin. His answer didn't surprise me. He estimated that half of those with psoriasis could identify stress as a trigger. I knew right away which half I am in.
I count my strained relationship with psoriasis as a key reason why I find difficulty relaxing. Last week itchy skin rashes kept me up for a couple nights. The more I tried to relax, the more stress I experienced as I worried about how I must be making my psoriasis worse.
The vicious cycle goes around and around: psoriasis produces stress, and stress exacerbates psoriasis.
Worries, anxieties, pressures, and burdens also negatively affect emotional and spiritual health. While some stress, called eustress, motivates and urges us to complete important tasks, too much stress needs adequate care and management.
Here are five tips that come to employ when needing to destress and relax from the burdens of psoriasis and life:
1. Get Moving
During her final exams, my daughter asked me what she could do with the overwhelming anxiety she felt. I told her to get on the elliptical machine and get some exercise. Anxiety paralyzed her; the exercise would help her get moving again.
I knew she would feel better as exercise helped me many times in the past. Over the years, though, my expectations needed adjusting. Once upon a time I ran many miles at a time for workouts. These days, with the limitations that health and age bring, I find alternate ways to get moving such as walking, jogging, rowing machine, elliptical machine, soccer, or basketball.
Letting go of high expectations, and embracing physical limitations, should not chain me to the couch. Of course, if you're going to start a new exercise regimen it's good to check-in with your doctor first.
I do find that even a little bit of exercise helps me release stress. It also regulates my mood, blood pressure, sleep, and gives me time to think or meditate. If you need more motivation, grab a partner to go along with you. I know my dog Teddy enjoys every opportunity to take me for a walk.
2. Find Something Fun to Do
I once likened caring for psoriasis to having another job. The other night my skin routine took four hours of bathing, moisturizing, occluding medication (covering with wet clothes), and cleaning up. I also spend more time and energy than I'd like on doctor visits, pharmacy calls, and online research. Psoriasis, like a job, becomes routine.
I do hold a full-time job where I often work six or seven days. With three children still at home, finding time to do anything else seems like a job in itself. Even though my kids joke that my work is my hobby, I do need to find hobbies and activities to relax and enjoy life.
I personally enjoy writing, watching streaming movies and television shows, following my local sports teams, grilling, roasting coffee beans, and working on the yard with my wife. When I can I will get out to take a day trip; explore a new part of town; or go to a new coffee shop or restaurant, museum, or park.
Admittedly, living with psoriasis is not fun. It's downright agonizing at times. But doing something fun from time to time does remind me that life is much more than psoriasis.
3. Quiet Down
Over the holidays I grabbed coffee with a couple of my friends, one of whom brought along his three-year-old son. I learned how his son doesn't like to take naps at home. Boy, could I relate. I like to keep busy and distracted. But I've figured out that taking a moment to quiet down goes a long way in relaxing and relieving stress.
These quiet moments can take many forms. It just might be as simple as turning off the phones, tablets, computers, music, and alerts that so easily dominate the day. One application on my smart phone regularly reminds me to breathe. When it alerts me, I stop what I'm doing and begin to breathe deeply. I use that time to be mindful—bringing my attention to the present moment. I might pay closer attention to my surroundings, or identify and release the stress in different parts of my body by tightening and releasing those muscles.
Another way I quiet down is through meditation and prayer. My family uses phone apps that lead them through meditation exercises. I like to focus on a word, thought, or phrase that is particularly meaningful to me. For example, during an intense bout of itchiness and burning on my skin, I remembered how past flares eventually passed.
When my wife began quieting down through mindfulness exercises, she messaged me that it worked like "magic." The magic, she explained, was in feeling relaxed right away. It doesn't always happen like that, but I can attest to how quiet moments do bring some sanity for those who live with chronic conditions like psoriasis.
4. Identify and Address Stressors
When I think about what gives me stress, I first think about psoriasis. It's difficult to manage, and I dislike the feeling of flaring skin. My other key stressors include public speaking, rushing out of the house early to make a meeting, conflicts in my relationships, and changes to my routine (especially those related to my diet, or taking care of my health conditions).
Like potholes on a street you drive frequently, once you know your stressors you can deftly avoid or minimize them. Keeping a journal of stressors might be helpful for some, though for me I know them well enough. It's seeing them coming from a distance so I can avoid them that takes experience, thought, and preparation.
Some stressors I can avoid. For example, if it's time for a refill on my medication I call it in as early as I can. I don't need the added stress of running out. Other stressors I can't avoid, like public speaking, which is a part of my job. Taking steps to lessen stress in these kinds of situations also takes forethought. To minimize the stress of speaking, I make sure I prepare early and feel confident in what I want to say.
5. Schedule Stress Management
This last way to manage stress is simply to use tools available to facilitate relaxation. Smart devices like tablets, phones, or watches do a fantastic job at keeping schedules. Set an alarm to breathe or practice mindfulness. Make an appointment with a friend to catch up and support each other. I mentioned some apps that I and my family use to assist us in focusing on stress management activities. These days it’s easier to find ways to keep up with stress management.
Those of us living with psoriasis know how stressful each day can be. I encourage you to find the ways that work best for you to relax, and regain control over your mental and spiritual well-being. Besides aiding in psoriasis management, studies show that that lower stress leads to less inflammation in the body—meaning potentially less psoriasis. Now that's a thought to meditate on!
Any suggestions made are not intended to replace the advice of a qualified medical professional. Please consult your healthcare provider prior to making any changes to your treatment, exercise or diet routine.