What Is An Anxiety Rash? Causes And Treatment
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
How long do stress rashes last?
The length of time stress- and anxiety-related rashes last can depend on the person and the situation. Some people may only experience symptoms for a few hours, while others may have flare-ups that last a week or more.
Can emotional stress cause skin rashes?
It is not uncommon for emotional and psychological challenges to cause physical symptoms in the body. These can vary widely, ranging from exhaustion to nausea or even difficulty breathing. For some people, skin rashes are another possible effect of stress and anxiety.
Rashes may flare up due to stressful triggers, such as work deadlines or relationship conflicts. They often take the form of raised, itchy patches of skin, sometimes with a burning or tingling sensation. That said, symptoms like these may also be due to other factors, such as:
- Eating certain foods
- Environmental triggers, like poison ivy
- Insect bites
- Other types of rashes, like contact dermatitis or eczema
It can be important to familiarize yourself with other possible triggers to avoid confusing a stress rash with an allergic reaction.
What helps an anxiety rash?
If you have concerns about a skin condition, it may be worth consulting a medical professional. That said, a variety of treatments and strategies may help to relieve symptoms of anxiety- and stress-related rashes. These include:
- Stress management techniques
- Over-the-counter antihistamines
- Over-the-counter ointments, like cortisone cream
- Good skin hygiene
- Proper sleep, diet, and exercise
- Self-care, such as healthy hobbies and relaxation activities
In addition, taking steps to manage stress and anxiety can also be important for preventing a future flare-up.
Why does stress cause skin irritation?
The reason stress can trigger skin irritation is the subject of ongoing research. That said, various factors may be involved in stress-related skin conditions.
Stress, especially chronic stress, can cause the body to release hormones like cortisol. In the long term, these hormones can lead to inflammation and changes in the immune system, which may cause physical symptoms like rashes. Stressful situations can also lead to changes in eating, sleeping, and bathing patterns, which may all affect skin health. Stress may also worsen existing skin conditions, causing further irritation.
How can stress affect your health?
Aside from a possible rash, stress and anxiety may have several other health impacts. Examples of these include:
- High blood pressure
- Trouble sleeping
- Changes in eating habits
- Unexplained aches and pains
- Digestive issues
These are a few of the health effects that may be caused by stress. That said, specific symptoms may depend on the person.
Can stress change your skin tone?
Short-term stress rashes can temporarily change skin tone, often by creating red and pink patches on the body. However, skin tone typically returns to normal once the rash subsides.
Long-term or chronic stress can also affect skin tone. In one 2014 study, researchers exposed mice to stressors and observed a decrease in the production of melanin, a type of pigment found in the skin. This suggests that chronic stress may lead to a decrease in skin pigmentation.
- Previous Article
- Next Article