What Is An Anxiety Rash? Causes And Treatment

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant
Updated February 22, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Have you ever woken up with a strange rash on your body and puzzled over what you touched, ate, or came in contact with? While there are many potential causes for the appearance of a rash, you may be surprised to discover that some rashes can be due to stress and/or anxiety. Physiologically, the symptoms of anxiety can present themselves through shaking, gastrointestinal issues, sweating, elevated heart rate, sleeplessness, body aches, or in some cases, a stress-induced rash.

Stress rashes usually manifest as groups of red hives. These bumps can be large or small and may be either brought on or exacerbated by stress. Those who live with an anxiety disorder or experience stress frequently may already be familiar with stress rashes. Many people who live with an anxiety disorder have learned to adjust their lives accordingly. Often, professional support plays a vital role in getting to a healthier place. If you frequently notice uncomfortable symptoms like hives, excessive worry, irritability, or rumination, you may be living with an anxiety disorder. Keep reading to learn more about why you might get a stress rash and what to do if you notice one.

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Stress can cause physical symptoms

How to navigate a new rash development

A skin rash is one of the less common physiological side effects of anxiety. Anxiety is usually associated with more frequently occurring symptoms like elevated heart rate, gastrointestinal issues, or muscle tension. But a rash can be an equally important symptom to look out for when you’re experiencing anxiety.

stress-induced rash can appear at any age and with varying frequency. It can exacerbate a pre-existing skin condition or appear without any prior issues.

Most often, rashes are your body’s immune system reacting to an infection or irritant, such as an allergen, a virus, or just a certain fabric. But there are times when hives can appear as a response to stress and/or anxiety. Not everyone who has an anxiety disorder — even those who experience severe symptoms daily — develops a skin rash, as everyone reacts to stress and anxiety differently.

Anxiety rashes can appear as annoying itchy bumps anywhere on the body, including the arms, torso, hands, etc. It can be in the form of hives that appear sporadically or larger groupings of bumps. In some cases, hives can last weeks and may even reappear after a while, but most of the time they should go away after a couple of days.

Anxiety rash causes

Anxiety rashes are caused most often by persistent tension or stress. When additional stress or anxiety-inducing situations are added, existing physical problems can become exacerbated, or new problems, like a rash, can form. Even if you’ve lived with an anxiety disorder for a long time, new symptoms and issues can occur at any time.

This is because our body’s 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 change depending on the amount of emotional stress or anxiety you’re feeling at any given point. It makes sense that when you experience feelings of heightened anxiety, especially if those periods are prolonged, existing skin conditions can worsen, or new skin conditions, such as a rash, can appear.

A rash can pop up during some key stressful periods, such as the holidays, exam season, or when you’re having relationship troubles. It can appear during a major life event, such as a wedding, divorce, 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.

It's hard to pinpoint when anxiety will lead to a stress rash since it can come about due to a variety of factors, and because everyone experiences anxiety differently. One person may not develop a rash until they’ve experienced a great deal of stress, while another may break out in a rash at the first flutter in the stomach. Having a rash isn't something to be embarrassed about, and you are not alone.

The effects of anxiety rashes

Even though rashes from anxiety are generally not serious conditions, they can be quite annoying, especially since their onset can be sudden and unexpected. An eye-catching rash can attract unwanted attention and become a new source of worry if you don’t know the cause, producing even more anxiety. While a little rash may not seem like a big deal, it can have a deep impact, both emotionally and physiologically, for the person living with it.

Emotional effects

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Imagine you experience anxiety when speaking in public and you have an upcoming presentation at work. If your stress and anxiety have caused you to break out in hives, the prospect of presenting in front of lots of people could seem even more daunting. A situation like that can cause further stress and exacerbate anxiety symptoms.

Some people have become so adept at masking anxiety that others wouldn’t even realize they struggle with it daily. But, when it manifests physically, hiding the anxiety becomes almost impossible and can damage the individual’s self-esteem and confidence.

Physiological effects

An anxiety rash is not life-threatening, but it can be itchy, painful, and distracting, not to mention embarrassing and inconvenient. Your skin may tingle, warm up, and feel uncomfortable; and the rash can last anywhere from a few minutes to several days.

Depending on the severity, stress hives might start to impact your daily life and activities. For example, a rash could cause physical discomfort when your skin brushes against your clothes during the day or while sleeping.

So, what exactly can you do to treat an anxiety rash?

Treatment of anxiety rashes

If you know you’re prone to anxiety rashes in certain situations, you can possibly pre-emptively treat a flareup of the condition. If you have more serious episodes of anxiety-induced rashes, you can talk to your doctor about a prescription for stronger anti-inflammatory medication. (The information found in the article is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have.)

While preventing a rash is not always a possibility, there may be some situations where you can head off a rash-inducing episode before it occurs. If you find yourself in the middle of a situation that’s causing you anxiety, and you feel your body starting to react, try taking a break to reset and calm your mind through deep breathing and mindfulness exercises. It may not be possible given the situation (e.g., if you’re anxious about flying and you’re in the air), but even a minute or two may be enough to stave off a rash.

You can also try reducing the amount of daily stress you experience and support your general health by eating healthy, balanced meals. That way, your blood sugar is more likely to be in check throughout the day. Exercising is another excellent natural way to reduce anxiety for some people, as it can help relieve stress by providing your body with endorphins, which are the feel-good messengers that boost your mood after a workout. You don’t need to go out and run a marathon. Walking a few times a week is a great place to start, but it doesn’t matter what you do 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 and meditation are also good activities to practice daily to help manage anxiety and unwanted stress, and refocus your mind on positive, non-ruminative thought patterns. If you’re able to train your mind to block anxiety-inducing thoughts, you could potentially have more control over your physiological reactions.

All of that said, one of the best and most successful ways of treating an anxiety disorder and its symptoms is to seek professional help from a therapist.

Seeking help

Getty/AnnaStills
Stress can cause physical symptoms

How do you know whether a rash is caused by anxiety? If you experience a rash as a symptom, make sure to consult with your doctor to eliminate other potential causes. Hives and rashes that take other forms aren’t uncommon and can have various causes.

Anxiety can become even more disruptive when you add physical symptoms and discomfort to the existing emotional concerns, so it is important to get support. When you seek medical treatment for hives, the doctor may look at your rash and ask questions about its frequency, intensity, and effects, then see if it’s something that can be addressed medicinally. They may or may not refer you to a specialist, such as a dermatologist.

If you think that your rash could be related to stress or anxiety, make sure to bring that up. When this is the case, a good strategy often includes the involvement of both a medical professional and a mental health professional who can address the underlying concern. Therapy can help you discover the tools available to reduce daily stress and mitigate high-anxiety situations that may cause your body to react physically. For example, a therapist may help you learn to practice mindfulness. Researchers who reviewed over 200 studies found mindfulness-based therapy to be particularly effective in reducing stress, as well as depression and anxiety. 

If you’re unable or do not feel comfortable seeking help in person or simply prefer the convenience of not having to leave your house, consider looking into online therapy options. Online therapy has been found to be just as effective as in-person therapy for most patients with anxiety and has added advantages, such as being able to contact your counselor when you need them.

Takeaway

Stress and anxiety can cause a variety of physical symptoms, including a stress rash. There are things you can do to help control your symptoms, especially with help from a professional therapist. Platforms such as BetterHelp are dedicated to providing help and support to those who face various concerns that might affect their mental health. Licensed therapists are available to answer your questions and be a supportive guide.

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The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
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