I’ve had psoriasis since I was around 3 years old. I still remember the fluorescent lights in my first dermatologist’s office. And I’ll never forget the smell of the steroid ointment that my parents rubbed into my scalp every day for years while I was growing up.

When I was about 26, I started experimenting with holistic treatments for my skin and overall health. After doing an elimination diet, I noticed improvements to my digestion and my psoriasis when I didn’t eat gluten.

Over time, I switched all of my self-care products to natural alternatives. I now make my own shampoo, deodorant, and body oils. I also adopted acupuncture and Ayurvedic eating practices to help treat my flare-ups.

While I’ve totally transformed many aspects of my self-care in the past decade, there’s one area I haven’t been great about tackling yet — stress.

Here’s the issue: Stress is the biggest driver that causes my psoriasis to flare up.

I’m an entrepreneur and teacher. I run an online coaching business called Voice Body Connection to help speakers and performers have healthier, stronger voices.

I love my work, but I can easily lose track of time. I can spend the majority of my waking hours either with my students and clients or working on the backend of my business.

Major flare-ups tend to happen when I get lost in my work and let myself get stressed out. For instance, my last major psoriasis flare happened right after a big performance. The one before that was while I was writing my graduate school thesis. So, I have to be careful when I take on big projects.

Back in February, before the pandemic, I decided to enroll in a business accelerator program called Get Sh!t Done, designed to help female entrepreneurs scale. I knew I had to be mindful, as I was consciously adding 10 hours of classes, homework, and coaching to my regular workweek.

Part of the reason I wanted to do the program is that I coach many start-up founders on their pitches, and I thought it’d be useful to do a pitch myself. Plus, I wanted support to scale my business to the next level. Little did I know what was about to happen to the world.

As you’ll see from my journaling, I was managing plenty of stress before things got even more intense.

I’m so grateful I decided to journal my experience through these challenging weeks. Journaling helps me go understand how I’m feeling so I can catch myself if I’m going off balance. Here’s what I recorded:

February 21, 2020

Whoa, adding classes to my schedule on weekday evenings is hard. I spend my whole day working and then go to class.

I’m having trouble leaving myself enough time to make dinner, and I’m finding myself wired at 9 p.m. when we finish class and I want to be winding down for bed. I noticed a new psoriasis spot on my neck and on the back of my shoulder yesterday. Ugh.

February 27, 2020

Last night I realized that even though I’ve been giving myself permission to rest, I’m still struggling with the willingness to actually do it. I love getting up early, but when I stay up late working, I’m burning the candle at both ends.

So as much as it pains me to do this, I decided to let myself sleep in today. I have to be honest, I feel a lot better.

March 15, 2020

And… suddenly we’re in the middle of a pandemic. Wow. This time last week, I had tons of things on my to-do list. But a week later, I’m living in a new reality and every priority is changing.

So much of the way I treat my to-do list is fear-based — I think something terrible will happen if I don’t finish that website tweak by tomorrow or send my accountant my taxes ASAP. But then my energy crashes and I feel guilty that I couldn’t get an impossible number of things done.

Well, if the accelerator program wasn’t already teaching me to let go of this, now my entire existence is. I hereby surrender my to-do list. Everything that needs to get done will get done. My job is to take care of myself and trust the process.

April 4, 2020

As the quarantine continues, it’s been easier and easier to leave myself more space during the day for pockets of rest.

Sometimes I take a nap. Sometimes I go up to my roof and dance. I do extra-long meditations. The more I sleep and rest and meditate, the better ideas I have for my business.

The accelerator program has given me support to completely pivot my goals from what I thought I was going to be focusing on right now (enrolling in a course) to what’s actually most helpful for my clients right now (to offer extra community warmup sessions).

Today during my meditation, I had a major breakthrough in the structure of the book I want to write. Yay! Oh, and my spots are clearing up right now, too!

April 7, 2020

Demo day presentations for the accelerator course are this Friday, and as I expected, I’m freaking out.

I’ve coached so many other peoples’ pitches that now I have total imposter syndrome about doing one of my own. So, I scheduled an extra one-on-one session with my mentor Alex. And guess what she said to me?

“Elissa, I’m not worried about your presentation. I’m worried that you’re blocked. What would make you happy right now?”

My answer was to do the things I loved to do as a kid — to go spend an hour singing and soaking in the sun on my roof. So, she told me to do that. And I did. And then I came back downstairs and wrote my presentation in an hour. Genius.

April 10, 2020: Demo Day

I woke up feeling nervous this morning, so I meditated. A check-in:

Eventually, I did my hair and makeup and rehearsed my presentation a final time. And guess what? It went great. I’m really proud.

I used to think that I needed to work harder to accomplish more. I thought I needed to spend more hours sending emails, tinkering on my website, and brainstorming how to market my services.

But when I operated that way, I’d get less sleep, eat less nutritious food, and ultimately wind up having a psoriasis flare. I would completely and totally overextend myself.

I realize now that if I take radically good care of myself, my health improves, my clarity of mind improves, and the benefits to my business improve.

Here’s my recap of the experience:

Over the years, my psoriasis spots have become like a report card, letting me know how I’m doing with my self-care. When they’re popping up in new places and getting redder and flakier, that’s a reminder that I need to eat well, get lots of sleep, and mitigate my stress.

I promised myself that I’d do things differently this time. If I noticed more spots, I wouldn’t ignore that cue. I’d slow down and prioritize taking care of myself.

I was already busy with the accelerator program. With the added stress of the pandemic, I now have no question that self-care is the most important thing.

I know that when I’m stressed out and overwhelmed, I have to get back in alignment first. I have to do things with the energy I actually have, because my energy isn’t unlimited. Once I’m feeling better rested and balanced, then I can do my work.

Not only does that keep me sane, healthy, and flare-free, but I’ve also learned it’s the only real way to get things done.

Elissa Weinzimmer is Founder of Voice Body Connection, empowering speakers and singers to have healthy, powerful voices. She has been a voice and presence coach since 2011. Through her courses and podcast, she has helped thousands of students to find their voice and speak their truth. Elissa has coached for eBay, WeWork, and Equinox, and as a psoriasis advocate she has been a regular contributor to Healthline: Living with Psoriasis, and has been featured on the cover of Psoriasis Advance, on Psoriasis.org, and in the Dove DermaSeries campaign. Find her on YouTube, Instagram, or check out her podcast.