Do You Have Anxiety Rash? Causes, Effects, And Treatments
Updated December 18, 2018
Reviewer Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC
Forty million adults ages 18 and older in the United States live with anxiety disorders. While there are plenty of coping mechanisms and treatments available to help individuals living with anxiety thrive, many of us do not take advantage of available tools. Anxiety can express itself not just emotionally, but physiologically too. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, "people with an anxiety disorder are three to five times more likely to go to the doctor."
Anxiety can wreak havoc on our lives in myriad ways. It can cause emotional stress, problems with interpersonal relationships, and physical setbacks. Physiologically speaking, the symptoms of anxiety can be many. Whether it be the shakes, gastrointestinal issues, sweating, stuttering, sleeplessness, body aches, or rashes, anxiety has a way of making itself known in physical ways in addition to the emotional stress it causes.
For many of us dealing with anxiety, we can joke about it and do our best to recognize those situations when anxiety may be heightened. Many people who live with anxiety on a daily basis have learned to adjust their lives accordingly, while others have sought out the help of a professional to gain tools to help them keep anxiety at bay. Still, anxiety has a way of showing itself physically even to a small degree.
One of the less common physiological side effects of anxiety is the anxiety skin rash. Anxiety is traditionally thought of as more of a mentally focused condition. Having their doubts, many may ask, "Can anxiety cause a rash?" The answer is a resounding yes. Anxiety skin rashes can appear at an early age or can become another symptom of anxiety later in life. It can occur frequently or seldom. It can appear as a result of an already existing skin condition, or a completely new rash caused by anxiety in the first place.
Anxiety Rash Defined
Most often a rash caused by anxiety is a response to your body's immune system attacking the anxiety. This does not happen to everyone who experiences anxiety, even those of us who experience a great deal of anxiety on a regular basis.
Each person's body reacts to stress in different ways. For someone who breaks out in a rash or hives caused by anxiety, the body's immune system is physiologically responding to the increased levels of anxiety hormones in the body. The immune system releases histamines to the rest of the body to fight the anxiety. Anxiety cannot be eliminated through histamines, and so the skin reacts to the histamine buildup by becoming dotted with itchy rashes or hives.
A rash from anxiety can come in the form of annoying itchy bumps all over the body or just on one part such as the arms, trunk, hands, etc. It can be in the form of hives that appear sporadically or become connected into massive areas. In severe cases, hives can last weeks, but most of the time they reduce after the anxiety-inducing situation subsides.
Anxiety rash is caused most often by persistent tension or stress. Dealing with anxiety on a daily basis may be a norm for you, but when additional stress or anxiety-inducing situations stack on top of your high stress operating norm, existing physical problems can become exacerbated, or new problems can form.
This is because our bodies emotional well being is directly tied to our physiological well being. When one is compromised, the other is affected as well. The physical condition of your body can be more or less impacted depending on the amount of emotional stress or anxiety you're feeling at any given point.
When you are experiencing feelings of heightened anxiety, especially if those periods are prolonged, existing skin conditions can worsen, or new skin conditions, such as an anxiety rash can begin to form. Anxiety rash can pop up as a result of a stressful time of the year such as the holidays, or while studying at school during exam season. It can appear during a major life event such as a wedding or death in the family. Or, it can pop up here and there when you're anticipating a stressful situation, such as public speaking or attending a big party.
The level of anxiety that induces an anxiety rash will be specific to each person. One individual may not develop it until they have experienced a great deal of stress. While another individual may break out into anxiety rashes on a regular basis.
Effects Of Anxiety Rash
Most anxiety rash effects are minor, but they can be quite annoying. A rash from anxiety can be embarrassing for the person experiencing them since their onset can be sudden and unexpected. A rash caused by anxiety or hives caused by anxiety can attract unwanted attention to the already anxiety-filled person dealing with them.
Imagine getting married and breaking out in hives on your wedding day. When all the wedding photography comes in, it arrives a month late due to all the photoshopping that had to be done to cover up the hives. Or imagine you work in a public position as a teacher, and although you love your job, the moments when administrators come in to observe your class causes you to break out in a rash that all of your students notice and ask about. Hiding a rash caused by anxiety is hard to hide, and may cause further stress by its presence.
For some of us, we have become adept at masking our anxiety by putting on a happy face we present to those around us. For many of us, other people don't even realize we live with anxiety on a daily basis. But for those of us who break out in anxiety rashes in stressful situations hiding or masking anxiety becomes almost impossible.
Anxiety rashes are not life-threatening, but they can be embarrassing and rather annoying. Your skin may feel uncomfortable, warm, and itchy. It may take hours for the rash to subside, or it may subside within minutes.
Anxiety Rash Treatment
Since anxiety rashes are essentially an autoimmune reaction to the high levels of stress in your body, non-prescription antihistamines can have some effect on them. If you know you are prone to anxiety rash in certain situations, you can preemptively treat the condition. If you have more serious episodes of anxiety-induced rash, you can talk to your doctor about a prescription for stronger anti-inflammatory medication.
Other non-medicinal anxiety rash treatments include prevention. While preventing an anxiety-rash is not always a possibility, there may be some situations where you can head a rash-inducing episode off before it occurs. If you feel yourself in the middle of an intensely anxious situation, and you feel your body starting to react, try taking a break if you can, to reset and calm your mind through deep breathing and mindfulness. It may not be possible given the particular situation, but even a minute or two may be enough to stave off an anxiety rash.
Also, try reducing the amount of daily stress you experience by eating a healthy balanced, well-rounded diet full of all the nutrients your body needs to maintain optimum efficiency. Make sure to exercise your body on a regular basis according to your physical capabilities. This will help relieve stress and anxiety and pump your body with natural endorphins. You don't need to go out and run a marathon, a walk a few times a week is a great place to start. Just as long as you get your body moving enough to have those endorphins kick in and give your muscles an opportunity to stay strong.
Mindfulness or meditation are also good practices to observe on a daily basis to help flush out unwanted stress and refocus your mind on positive, non-ruminating thought patterns. The more you can train your mind to not allow thoughts in that feed anxiety, the more control you will have over your physiological reaction to that anxiety as well.
For some of us, anxiety rash will be an unavoidable part of our lives. But, there are many tools available to help reduce rash-inducing episodes in the first place. Talking to a mental health professional is a great first step in discovering all of the resources available to reduce daily stress, mitigate high anxiety situations, and avoid escalating stress levels to the point our bodies decide to react physically.
You can also talk to your doctor to discuss your rash, its frequency, and its intensity to see if there are remedies that can be addressed medicinally or through lifestyle changes. For persistent and intense cases of rash, a good strategy includes involvement by both a medical professional and mental health professional.
If you are dealing with anxiety skin rashes or other physical symptoms of anxiety that hampers your ability to have successful and productive days, whether it be the physical symptoms that are slowing you down or the potential embarrassment of breaking out in hives in a public situation, do not hesitate to reach out to a doctor or counselor for help.
Anxiety alone can become incredibly intrusive. Physical symptoms on top of the existing emotional toll anxiety take can quickly become a burden you shouldn't have to bear without tools in place.