Psoriasis and Your Emotional Regulation Systems

29/11/2021 - By Dr. Catherine O'Leary

What are the emotional regulation systems?

Psychologists believe we have 3 systems regulating our emotions; threat, drive and soothe and at any one time we are in one of these systems. They’re all essential for our survival but when they are out of balance you can end up feeling exhausted, overwhelmed and distressed.

Can you explain more?

The THREAT system is your alarm system.  Working on ‘a better safe than sorry approach’, for most people it’s very sensitive and even slight threats will trigger it.   When we’re in threat, our heart rate and blood pressure are raised and our bodies get flooded with stress hormones like adrenalin and cortisol.   Our body prepares itself to fight, run away from danger or freeze.  External dangers like a fire could activate the threat system and that would help keep us to react and stay safe but our thinking can also set it off.  So we might end up in threat when we are remembering something from the past or worrying about something that may happen in the future.

The DRIVE system gives us our get up and go. It’s what helps us to feel motivated and gets us out of bed in the morning to get things done. Our drive systems push us to pursue things like doing well at work or training for a big event like a marathon.  When we’re in drive, we get a rush of a brain chemical called Dopamine which gives us a buzz.  Our thinking is quite narrow, there are changes in our sleep and we’re very focussed on our achievement.  If your drive system was activated all the time, you’d eventually end up feeling burnt out.

The SOOTHE system is our care giving system. When we feel cared for, we get a surge of a brain chemical called Oxytocin, sometimes called the love hormone.  We feel calm, relaxed, and kinder towards ourselves.  Everything is much slower and we can recharge our batteries.

How does psoriasis affect our emotional regulation systems?

When you have psoriasis, there’s a lot to push you into threat – a flare-up, a hospital appointment, leaving flakes of skin at your work desk, having to take your children swimming, feeling judged and ashamed, feeling fearful that it’s out of control and it will get worse.

There’s also a lot to put you into drive – using your treatments correctly, trying the next recommended diet or alternative therapy, feeling you’ve got to overhaul your lifestyle, vacuuming constantly, moisturising, going to great lengths to hide your skin.

What this means is that you can spend all your time bouncing between threat and drive and you don’t activate your soothe system.  You don’t do the things to make you feel calm, content and cared for.  It’s not surprising we often feel totally overwhelmed. 

What can I do?

Watch my youtube video to learn more and see what the systems are like for three famous festive characters.  Think about your own system and what you can do to activate your soothe system.

For me, things that activate my soothe system are walking my dog on the beach, curling up with a hot drink and a good book, using aromatherapy, taking a moment to meditate.  There are good ideas in the video.  Try a few and see what works for you to help you cope better this winter.