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Stress and flare ups over the Christmas period: Why it happens and what to expect

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Or, at least it should be, but if you have psoriasis Christmas can also be a time of physical and psychological stress, which can worsen your condition and cause flare-ups.

We want to prepare you for a happy December by going through some of the stressors you might experience and why they affect your psoriasis. Knowing what to expect will make it easier to deal with the issues you might run into.

A time for joy - and stress

HelloSkin are big advocates of soothing your psoriasis symptoms by sticking to a routine in order to avoid flare-ups, both in terms of emollient therapies and sticking to a healthy lifestyle with good habits.

December is a month of disruption. You’ll be going to Christmas parties both with friends, family and work. You might have a higher intake of alcohol and fatty, sugary foods and you’re calendar might be under some serious pressure leaving you low on sleep as well. These are all stress-inducing elements that can cause changes in your skin condition.
Studies show that 37-88% of psoriasis patients feel that stress worsens their condition. So why is this? The perception of stress in the brain triggers a signal which will produce a hormone called the Corticotropin Releasing Hormone (CRH). This activates the pituitary glands in the brain to produce Adrenocorticotropic Hormone (ACTH). This then causes the adrenal glands to produce adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol; the body's stress hormones.

Elevated stress hormones will activate the immune system in the skin, and this is why you might experience a flare-up.

Christmas jollies and alcohol

Back to back Christmas parties and lunches often involve alcohol consumption. Studies have shown that alcohol can increase the production of inflammatory cytokines and cell cycle activators. Cytokines are small proteins which send signals to the cells surrounding them. The release of these signals will then cause the cells to adjust their behaviour, and in the case of alcohol, these processes might cause excessive cell growth, causing your skin to flare up and produce plaques.

The study also showed that alcohol might fuel your psoriasis by interfering with your medication and other treatments. If you don’t want to avoid alcohol completely you’ll benefit from being mindful of your alcohol-consumption and perhaps try to limit it to more important events in order to give your immune system and your skin some relief.

Foods and flare-ups

Diet is also a factor in the severity of psoriasis. Fat-cells produce inflammatory molecules called adipokines and it can affect your skin both in long and short terms. It can be super hard to stick to a healthy diet throughout December, and the pressure and anxiety of feeling like you can’t eat certain things, along with the added attention this can cause at social gatherings, can be hard.

Need we say this also just adds more stress to you and your body? We're not going to advise you to stick with an a strict or overly controlled diet but it’s never a bad idea to think twice about the quality of the food you eat during December and saying no a few times won’t hurt either.

There might also be one dietary area that you’ll benefit from focusing a little extra on: Recent studies have emphasised the link between vitamin D deficiency and psoriasis, due to the benefits your skin draws from the synthesis of vitamin D. Though the amount of sunlight during winter is scarce you’ll be able to get vitamin D through foods such as tuna, eggs, mushrooms, cod liver oil, salmon and mackerel.

Don’t worry

Reading all of the above may make you feel anxious about the upcoming month, but remember not to be too strict with yourself or try to be over-controlling - this will just add to the amount of pressure that you feel. The key is to be aware of what can happen and prepare for the situations so you can deal with flare-ups the moment you feel them coming on. Having some tools prepared can help you feel in control, and lessening the worries you might have on your mind before and during your Christmas activities.

If you are already on medication and treatments and maintaining a beneficial skincare-routine, you might feel like you’ve run out of ways to soothe your skin and treat your symptoms. But, there might be something new which you haven’t tried yet.
A big study on psoriasis and stress showed that meditation-based mindfulness actually had a significant effect on psoriasis clearance.

Try and find a few minutes during the day to meditate and create a space of your own. This will help your body manage its stress-responses thus benefitting your psoriasis by reducing flare-ups. Apps like Headspace can be great to help with this.

Don’t let December be a month of stress and worry because of your psoriasis - be kind to yourself, be smart about your choices and embrace what you can’t change. Remember to revisit the HelloSkin blog during December - we’ll post more articles on how to keep yourself and your skin happy during Christmas season!



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