How Self-Care Can Help Your Psoriasis

At the end of our family’s weekly video call, my wife, Lori, reminded us to perform a random act of kindness (RAK). She taught RAK to her middle school students before quitting her job to raise our children, and today she is the “RAKtivist” of the family. I appreciate his efforts – after all, helping others is one of the main reasons I became a minister.

A CNN article on RAKs asserts some of the potential health benefits we receive from our altruistic activities: a sense of community, lower blood pressure, reduced pain and happiness. It’s a win-win to practice kindness and volunteer to help others.

Yet, while I enjoy RAKs, when other people offer me kindness or help, I have always been reluctant to accept. I was brought up believing it was better not to owe others, that generosity always comes with strings attached. I internalized the message that I needed to go it alone.

And when my life got difficult or overwhelming, I was too emotionally closed off to ask for help. As a result, I turned feelings of failure on myself.

Psoriasis compounded that self-doubt.

Psoriasis can affect your Self love

Psoriasis isolated me in ways that I only now understand. As a child and teenager with a stigmatizing skin condition, I naturally distanced myself from others. The teasing, insensitive questions about my psoriatic skin and the bullying became too much to handle. Withdrawal and avoidance seemed like the best way to protect me.

Even though I became an overachiever in studies and sports, I considered myself stupid, unlovable and inferior. I have become my own harshest critic, especially when it comes to my psoriasis.

I blamed myself for having psoriasis, like I had done something wrong to get it. If my psoriasis flared up, I would berate myself for triggering it. When a medicine didn’t work well, I wondered if I had taken it wrong. Low self-esteem, shame and doubt became the air I breathed every day.

I didn’t feel like I deserved kindness, neither from others nor from myself.

Self-blame can give way to self-compassion

I started putting less pressure and blaming myself less as I grew in my personal faith. Even though others rejected me, I believed that God never did. I found a life-changing acceptance in my wife and through my friends and religious community.

I could begin to see that psoriasis could be a life experience through which I could advocate for others in similar circumstances.

It can still be difficult for me to accept help or kindness. But I’m learning that living in community with others sometimes means giving and sometimes receiving. I now see the importance of applying self-compassion in a way that combats a life of self-negativity and harshness.

Being kinder to myself has also benefited my psoriasis. It allowed me to live more freely and to have more ability to take care of myself. Since stress can trigger my psoriasis, the calm that comes with self-acceptance reduces the risk of flare-ups.

Positive self-talk is a useful strategy

My therapist once told me something that seemed upsetting at the time: NOTEvery thought you have is true. Much of my self-talk came from a place of negativity. Instead, he helped me identify when I needed to treat myself more gently.

I noticed the change in my self-talk after my psoriasis flared up on a recent trip.

Traveling can trigger my psoriasis. For example, when I drive to see my parents in Southern California during the winter months, I worry about snow on the mountains heading to Los Angeles, and I worry about transmitting COVID-19 or a another illness to my elderly mother and dad.

On a recent trip, the strong smell of air freshener from the rental car added itself to the list of dangers, as the scent can aggravate skin inflammation and allergies. At first I berated myself for not returning the car and buying another one. When I felt skin discomfort, I blamed myself.

Then I reminded myself that I can learn from the experience by speaking up next time. The surge I experienced, I told myself, would eventually go away. These thoughts helped me enjoy the journey despite the difficulties.

Downtime and breaks may be the self-care you need

Taking breaks and making room for downtime are ways to show yourself kindness.

For almost 25 years I worked six to seven day weeks with two weeks vacation per year. I felt driven to succeed and not disappoint others. But at the start of the pandemic, I experienced burnout. I wondered if the constant stress and lack of rest had made my psoriasis and my health in general worse.

I asked for an extended break from work, which I was reluctantly granted. Typically, I decided to fill these four months with lots of activity. But with the COVID-19 lockdowns looming, I’ve had to cancel trips and plans. This downtime at home turned out to be exactly what I needed to force myself to slow down and adopt a healthier lifestyle.

Later, I chose to be kinder to myself by incorporating more downtime. I moved to a more flexible job with less pressure. I also added breaks to my weekly work routines, such as walks, coffee runs, or time to read a book.

These changes have given me the ability to manage what life throws at me, including better managing my health and my psoriasis. I have time to reflect, exercise regularly, and prepare healthier meals.

I’m glad my wife introduced random acts of kindness into our family. They taught me the value of kindness every day. By extension, being kind to yourself is also important, especially when living with a difficult condition like psoriasis.

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