People with severe psoriasis symptoms can attest to the emotional toll the chronic skin condition can have. John Latella, 70, of Connecticut, has had psoriasis for almost 47 years and psoriatic arthritis for 35 years. He remembers, back in the ’70s and ’80s, wallowing in self-pity and exhibiting symptoms of depression. “I got very depressed,” he says, “because I couldn’t do anything about it and it was taking over my life.”
Likewise, Howard Chang, 40, of Southern California, who was first diagnosed when he was 7, remembers being depressed, stressed, and anxious many times in his life because of his skin and psoriasis symptoms.
Dealing With DepressionYou can keep psoriasis from controlling your emotions, says Julie Nelligan, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Portland, Ore., who works with psoriasis patients in her private practice. Latella and Chang have successfully dealt with symptoms of depression from their psoriasis. Here’s how they did it — and what you can do to avoid becoming depressed:
- Take it slow. Latella learned to take life one day at a time. “I can’t think of what it’s going to be like in 10 days or 30 days or five months,” he says. “It’s much easier to deal with it and go forward when you don’t worry about what’s going to happen in the future.”
- Build your confidence. Latella realized that he was a good person and had a lot to offer others. “I never hid from the fact that I had psoriasis,” he says. You have to recognize that psoriasis is part of you, but it doesn’t define you, he adds.
- Get educated. As a field representative for a nonprofit association who later worked in labor relations, Latella often was in front of the public. When people would stare at Latella’s psoriasis lesions, which were everywhere but his face, he would calmly explain what it was and that it wasn’t contagious. Being knowledgeable about the disease can help quite a bit. Dr. Evans adds that, if you educate people about your condition, they won’t wonder what’s wrong with you.
- Take care of your psoriasis. “The most obvious way to overcome depression with psoriasis is for the condition to improve,” Chang says. “If my condition improves, then depression will naturally become less of an issue. So I tell myself never to give up hope, to be willing to try something new, and to be open-minded.” It’s important, Evans stresses, to take your medications as prescribed by your dermatologist and to apply moisturizers to your skin.
- Seek support. “Taking the initiative to reach out to others who encourage me also lifts my mood in the lowest moments,” Chang says. “Knowing I’m not alone strengthens my spirit and resolve, so writing my blog on psoriasis for Everyday Health ] and talking to others with psoriasis or other chronic conditions improves my mental outlook.”
- Reduce stress. Chang says he has learned to slow down by taking down time from work, sleeping more, saying no to non-essential activities, and taking walks with his wife and dog. He recently took a month-long leave from work, partly because of work stress and partly because of his psoriasis. “I almost started taking antidepressants but, during the time off, I pointed myself back to hopeful and more optimistic thinking.”
- Practice yoga or tai chi or Pilates. These are wonderful stress-reducing exercises, Nelligan says. “They make you shift your focus for that period of time that you are engaged in these exercises and that can be rather meditative. That’s what’s super great about them.” In addition, exercise releases feel-good hormones and can help lift your mood.
- Sleep well. You need to get good quality sleep, Nelligan says — not too much and not too little. “When people get depressed, they want to spend all day in bed and that’s counterproductive.” But if you don’t get adequate sleep, you can more easily become depressed because you’re over-tired and stressed out.
- Get some sun. “Being outside even on a cloudy day gives you exposure to light, and light helps reset people’s biological clocks,” Nelligan explains. Light therapy is a treatment for both mood disorders and psoriasis. However, to protect yourself from skin cancer, be sure to wear sunscreen if you’re going to be in the sun for more than 15 to 20 minutes.
- Eat healthy foods. Choose a diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and fish. Eat lots of whole grains and little fat and sugar. Skip the processed and fried foods. This diet will help you to maintain a healthy weight, which is important for your heart health and your self-esteem.
- Seek professional help. It’s important to know when you need professional help and to get it if you do, Nelligan says. If you’re feeling down and not able to complete your day-to-day activities, if you’re not enjoying what are normally pleasurable activities, and if your depressed mood lasts more than two weeks, you should find a mental health professional who can help. Those are signs that it’s more than just going through a rough patch, Nelligan says. Seeking professional help does not mean you are weak.