Many people who have psoriasis say it affects their emotional well-being. “We live in a culture that tells us that our self-worth is dependent on the judgment of others,” says Allan Chino, PhD, a psychologist in Portland, Oregon. Meanwhile, a review published in 2021 notes that people living with the visible skin symptoms of psoriasis experience stigma from others, which can lead to anxiety and depression and overall affects quality of life.
Boston-area lawyer Tracy Ottina, 57, who has lived with psoriasis since age 14, doesn’t usually let the condition erode her self-esteem. Still, on occasion she fears judgment from people who look at her red, scaly skin plaques and don’t know what they are.
Here are some ways that you can feel good about yourself and not let this condition hurt your self-esteem.
1. Become the Expert
The more you know about psoriasis — what it is, how it’s treated, what causes it to flare — and how it affects you, specifically, the better you can handle the stares and the comments that might otherwise lower your self-esteem.
Ottina, who has psoriatic arthritis as well, has learned a great deal about psoriatic disease. Being knowledgeable is comforting, she says, because when she has psoriasis flares she knows exactly what’s happening to her skin and isn’t afraid. She also knows what exacerbates her psoriasis symptoms — and how to avoid these situations as best she can, so that she has more body confidence.
2. Educate Others
In addition to educating yourself about psoriasis, it can be helpful to educate those around you, too. Ottina says that sometimes little kids ask, “What’s that?” And if their parents say it’s okay, she tells them to touch her psoriasis and see that it doesn’t hurt. “I view these moments as an opportunity to say, ‘Don't worry, you can’t catch it,’” she explains.
Educating others can even lead to your getting better psoriasis support, as it helps them see that you’re no different than they are on the inside.
3. Join a Support Group
When Ottina was first diagnosed with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, she was treated at an inpatient center. “What I found helpful about that was that I didn’t feel so alone,” she says. In fact, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF), over eight million people across the United States are living with psoriasis.
Ottina says that building psoriasis support can be a big boost to your self-esteem. Ask your doctor if there are any support groups that meet in your area. You can also search the NPF website for local resources or to connect with others online.
4. Talk to a Therapist
When people point out your psoriasis plaques, make rude comments, or offer unsolicited advice, it can take an emotional toll. In fact, research shows that depression is one of the most common health conditions related to psoriasis.
Talking to a professional about what you’re going through can help you heal. Working with a therapist or counselor who understands psoriasis and who can help you explore your feelings may also be a boon to your self-esteem and body confidence.
Ottina says that therapy helped her when she was dating, especially when she felt more self-conscious about her psoriasis.
5. Don’t Let Psoriasis Define You
John Latella, 75, has had psoriasis for more than 52 years and psoriatic arthritis for 40 years. “I never hid from the fact that I had psoriasis,” Latella says. “You have to recognize that psoriasis is part of you, but it doesn’t define you,” he adds.
Julie Shafer, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Portland, Oregon, says it’s important to keep psoriasis from controlling your emotions. “From my work with psoriasis patients, a sense of having control over the situation can make a huge difference,” says Dr. Shafer.
6. Practice Positive Visualization
You can overcome moments of low body confidence by visualizing yourself walking through a crowd during a psoriasis flare. Dr. Chino suggests thinking positive thoughts, such as, “It used to bother me a lot, but no longer — I’ve mastered it,” and “I know I have this disease, but I am not this disease.” Visualizing yourself as strong sets your target, he says, and will define your goal.
7. Wear What Makes You Comfortable
Ottina wears shorts and a bathing suit in the summer even though they won’t hide psoriasis — and she’s comfortable with that. “I find that what I run through my mind about how people react is always worse than the reality,” she says.
But if you’re not comfortable with areas of psoriasis showing, wear long sleeves and long pants to suit the occasion, or use makeup to cover psoriasis lesions. Do whatever puts you most at ease.
8. Take Care of Your Overall Health
Make being as healthy as possible part of your plan for body confidence. That means eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and giving up bad habits like smoking. Follow your psoriasis treatment plan as prescribed and re-evaluate as needed with your doctor to ensure you’re getting the maximum benefits.
If you feel better physically, you’ll feel better mentally, and your self-esteem will be less likely to slip.