People with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis often get hit with a triple whammy in the winter months — cold, dry weather that irritates skin, exposure to viruses that challenge the immune system and the intensified stress that comes with holiday preparations and family gatherings. All that can lead to flares.
While it's hard to change the weather or quarantine yourself (though an inactivated flu shot — recommended versus a "live" vaccine if you're on treatments that suppress the immune system — is highly advisable), you can address issues that ratchet up stress, says Elaine Rodino, a psychologist in private practice in State College, Pennsylvania.
"People feel more stress — and more intense stress — at holiday time," she says. "There are overwrought expectations, more commitments and sometimes more sadness."
Rodino notes it's particularly important for people with conditions affected by stress to consciously acknowledge their need to take extra care. She recommends these steps to knock down stress levels — and psoriatic flares.
"If there's a particular holiday tradition you know causes you a lot of stress — expensive, elaborate gift-giving or making your great aunt's complicated dessert recipe — talk to those involved about skipping it or making a change," she says. "Often the people involved have no idea what they're doing is stressful to others and are glad you've told them."
Learn to say no
If the family wants to go ahead with stressful plans, don't be afraid to give yourself permission to opt out or take a reduced role, Rodino says. "Sometimes people don't realize how profoundly stress affects psoriatic conditions, and, if that's the case, you need to set some boundaries and give yourself permission to do less."
Amp up the self-care
Counter extra stress with extra time for the relaxation techniques you hopefully already have in your toolbox.
"If you exercise, try to get a little more. If massage or mediation are your go-to techniques, schedule extra sessions. And don't forget to keep up with your medication regimen," says Rodino.
She also advises being mindful of other holiday pitfalls that contribute to stress. Excess alcohol, rich food along with full days and late nights can lead to fatigue.
If you're alone, reach out
"Our society tells us we should be in a crowd at holiday time," Rodino says. "But not everyone has a large circle. Holidays can emphasize this and bring feelings of sadness." She suggests saying yes to invites from acquaintances or, if it's in the budget, opt for a relaxing vacation.
"Volunteering is another great option. Bringing happiness to other people is one of the surest ways to bring happiness to yourself," Rodino says. NPF's Patient Navigation Center can help you connect with others in your community who are living with psoriatic disease, including our One to One program.
Driving discovery, creating community
For more than 50 years, we’ve been driving efforts to cure psoriatic disease and improve the lives of those affected. But there’s still plenty to do! Learn how you can help our advocacy team shape the laws and policies that affect people with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis – in your state and across the country. Help us raise funds to support research by joining Team NPF, where you can walk, run, cycle, play bingo or create your own fundraising event. If you or someone you love needs free, personalized support for living a healthier life with psoriatic disease, contact our Patient Navigation Center. And keep the National Psoriasis Foundation going strong by making a donation today. Together, we will find a cure.