Trying to Stop My Flaky Habit
Like many of you, my journey with psoriatic arthritis began with a psoriasis diagnosis in childhood. My first skin symptoms manifested when I was in elementary school.
One thing that has been persistent is my scalp itchiness. Thankfully, it’s been years since the scalp plaques have been bad enough that they distract me from being able to function (you know how hard it can be to concentrate on anything else when you have an unbearable itch!).
Mindlessly scratching my scalp psoriasis
Here’s one problem, though: I often scratch without realizing I’m doing it. In high school, I remember sitting cross-legged on my bed, leaning over my AP US History textbook, not realizing I was running my fingernails over my scalp until flakes fell onto the pages of my book. GROSS. I vividly recall looking over my shoulder with embarrassment while brushing the flakes away. No one was in my room with me, and no one saw me scratching or showering flakes onto the pages of my book. But I was still sure this was a behavior to be ashamed of.
I had a scary thought: if I did this on my own, it seemed likely I did it in the presence of others.
In fact, I remember being in French class one day and having a friend ask me if I was okay. “Yeah, why?” I replied. “You were touching your head, so I was wondering if it hurt or something.”
Surely this wasn’t the first time someone had noticed my scalp scratching. I thought back to the times I’d looked down to realize I’d not only doodled in the margins of my notebook but that flakes of skin were sprinkled like disgusting confetti over my shoulders and arms.
Identify triggers of the scratching habit
It’s hard to break a bad habit, especially one that you engage in without being fully aware of your actions. I tried time and time again to figure out ways to catch myself in the act of scratching.
I realized in high school something that is true for me to this day: there are a handful of situations, or triggers, that make it much more likely that I’ll absent-mindedly scratch my scalp and damage my skin further:
- While reading
- While listening to a lecture
- While watching TV or surfing the internet mindlessly
- While stressed or upset about something
Tools to gain awareness of actions
Thankfully, through some behavior modification techniques and through mindfulness practice, I’ve become much more aware of my actions even when I’m not fully present, mentally speaking. I check in with myself while doing the first three things listed above, often having to move my fingers away from my head. I try to find something else to replace the behavior—having a cat to pet or a rubber band or something to fiddle with using my free hand helps.
Coping with stress
The fourth trigger is a little harder to cope with, but I’m getting there. It takes me a little longer to notice I’m scratching when I’m stressed or upset, but I try to be patient with myself and not scold myself too harshly for engaging in behavior I don’t like. I move my hand away and try to remember how much better I feel when I haven’t aggravated my psoriasis plaques. I try to remember how nice it is not to have flaky shoulders.
What have you done to help curb bad habits related to the skin-related symptoms of your psoriatic arthritis? Please share some stories and tips below!
Do you have a sleep disorder (eg. insomnia, sleep apnea, RLS) in addition to your PsA?