7 Self-Care Tips to Kick Up Your Psoriatic Arthritis Management Routine
Along with following your treatment plan, practicing self-care can help you cope with and, in many cases, ease joint symptoms.
Self-care is an important part of staying well, especially when you’re living with a chronic condition such as psoriatic arthritis. Dealing with painful, swollen joints as well as fatigue can leave you in a perpetual state of enduring, rather than enjoying, many aspects of life — and dropping taking care of yourself down on your list of priorities.
What does “self-care” look like? It can mean different things to different people, but a good working definition is tending to your physical and emotional health needs the best you can. By taking action to stay physically and mentally healthy, you’re better able to manage daily stressors in your life. This can be a game-changer with psoriatic arthritis, due to the link between stress and flares.
Self-care starts with a goal and a plan to get there, says Ana-Maria Orbai, MD, MHS, an assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and director of the psoriatic arthritis program at John Hopkins Arthritis Center in Baltimore.
“For example, if you want to be less fatigued, improving that is going to take some thinking and planning,” says Dr. Orbai. “Consider the potential causes — lack of sleep, disease activity, medications you’re taking, or high stress — and identify what you can control to improve the situation,” she says.
It often isn’t one big thing but rather many little improvements that can help you reach your goals, adds Orbai. “Self-care is a way to regain control of your psoriatic arthritis, and it can be very empowering,” she says.
Ready to get started? Try these psoriatic arthritis–approved self-care tips.
1. Eat a nutritious diet.
Eating an overall balanced diet full of fruits and vegetables is part of good health, including when you have psoriatic arthritis, Orbai says. “I don’t think there’s evidence that any particular diet, including diets that restrict certain ingredients or foods, can improve psoriatic arthritis.”
She recommends focusing more on making healthy food choices you enjoy, because you’re more likely to stick with it.
“Take time to plan your meals in advance whenever possible. This can help you make better decisions and avoid eating because you are bored or stressed,” says Orbai.
2. Get moving.
“Motion is lotion for people who have psoriatic arthritis,” says Deividas (David) Jeskevicius, an occupational therapist at the Kessler Rehabilitation Center in Vernon, New Jersey. If you experience swollen, painful joints, you might avoid physical activity. And when you move less, you have less mobility and more stiffness, explains Jeskevicius. “That can cause a cycle of pain and inactivity that continues to worsen,” he says. “People who have psoriatic arthritis should be participating in things and stay active — maybe not heavy activities, but there a lot of things they can do.”
Examples of psoriatic arthritis–friendly activities include swimming, walking, and cycling.
If you’re unsure of what to try or how to get started, ask your doctor for a referral to an occupational or physical therapist who has experience working with people who have psoriatic arthritis.
3. Reach and maintain a healthy weight.
Obesity is a risk factor for both psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, says Orbai. “There are a number of studies linking weight loss in people who have psoriatic arthritis and are overweight or obese to reduced disease activity and improved efficacy of their treatment for psoriatic arthritis,” she says.
Staying active and focusing on a healthful diet can help you reach and maintain a healthy weight. Mindful eating may also be helpful. “Take the time to savor and enjoy the foods you eat. If we allow ourselves the extra time to eat more slowly, to fully taste and smell our food, this can help us be more attuned to what we eat,” Orbai says. By practicing mindful eating, you can better recognize when you’re full, and that may help you avoid overeating, she adds.
4. Practice relaxation techniques.
Most people experience some degree of stress at one time or another, and many people who have psoriatic arthritis find their symptoms flare when they’re stressed.
Incorporating relaxation techniques into your routine can help reduce stress and keep flares at bay. Yoga may be a good place to start. A study published in 2020 in the journal Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases found that adults living with psoriatic arthritis who worked with a yoga therapist experienced reduced feelings of pain, depression, and anxiety.
If you feel like your stress levels are through the roof and have a hard time relaxing, have some compassion with yourself and your expectations. Don’t try to change too much all at once. “Try working on it a little bit every day — maybe by taking a few more work breaks, going for a short walk, or finding just a few minutes of quiet time,” Orbai recommends.
5. Enjoy a soothing soak.?
Taking a bath when you have psoriatic arthritis can be an enjoyable way to practice self-care and ease stiff muscles and joints. But if you also have psoriasis, you’ll want to follow a few simple guidelines.
Make sure the water isn’t too hot, as that can exacerbate already painful lesions. Keep your soak to 10 minutes or less. After your bath, gently pat your skin dry with a towel. Leave your skin a little wet, and immediately apply your favorite fragrance-free moisturizer all over your body.
For an extra treat, buy or make your own colloidal (finely ground) oatmeal bath soak to help calm and nourish your skin and temporarily relieve psoriasis symptoms.
6. Prioritize sleep.
Sleep is important for everyone, but people who have psoriatic arthritis are especially vulnerable to the health consequences of not getting enough sleep, says Orbai. “Everyone has a certain amount of ‘reserves,’” she explains. “When you have psoriatic arthritis and you’re always coping with pain, inflammation, and stiffness, you have less of those reserves, and that means getting a less than perfect night’s sleep can impact you more.”
According to the Arthritis Foundation, you should aim for 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night.
But don’t let the pressure to get good sleep stress you out more. “Even if you aren’t getting to sleep right away, sometimes just resting is helping your body recover,” Orbai says. “It’s often more beneficial to remind yourself of the importance of rest and good nighttime habits rather than focusing on a certain number of hours of sleep that you feel you ‘should’ be getting.”
“Try meditation and deep breathing to form a relaxing bedtime routine.” Brittany Ferri, an occupational therapist, shared on Tippi Psoriatic Arthritis. “This will lower stress levels and get both your body and mind ready for restful sleep.”
7. Connect with others who have psoriatic arthritis.?
People who have psoriasis or psoriatic arthritis have an increased risk of depression, says Orbai. “Sometimes, psoriasis can impact a person’s confidence, and when we’re not as confident, we tend to isolate,” she says. “That can lead to more depression and create a negative cycle.”
Making social connections and maintaining those relationships is important for your mental health. “Try to make it a priority, even during those periods when you don’t feel as social,” she says.
“I’m thankful for the support system that I have. Even on a bad day, I can call them up and they’ll be there,” Vickie, who has psoriatic arthritis, shared on Tippi.
If you want to connect with someone who understands what it’s like to have psoriatic arthritis, you can find peer support through the National Psoriasis Foundation. Their One to One program matches you with a mentor with psoriatic disease who can offer you encouragement and a listening ear.