Struggling With An Anxiety-Related Rash? How To Get Rid Of Stress Hives

By Abigail Boyd

Updated October 03, 2019

Reviewer Melinda Santa

You've probably heard about the myriad of ways stress can hurt the body, including contributing to the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. What you may not be aware of is the connection of stress and skin symptoms, such as hives. If you're experiencing a stressful week and you suddenly notice patchy areas of itchy bumps, then you may be experiencing stress hives. Read on to learn how they happen, how to identify them, and how to get rid of stress hives.

How Can Stress Cause Rashes?

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If you've been experiencing frequent stress lately, and your skin is red and irritated, you may be asking, "Can stress cause itching and hives?"In some people, elevated stress hormones can trigger inflammation in the body, including triggering a rash on the skin. Additionally, chronic stress can weaken the immune system, making a person more vulnerable to rashes caused by environmental stimuli.

Stress-induced hives may appear anywhere on the body, most commonly on the face, neck, back, or arms. They are a fairly common reaction that many people experience. Stress hives may range from mild to severe in intensity, depending on the amount of redness or itchiness involved, as well as how large of an area is affected. Hives usually appear as very small bumps, but can sometimes be the size of a penny or greater. Itchiness may be worse at night for some people and interfere with their sleep.

Stress can also cause red patches of skin without hives. This reaction occurs due to the dilation of blood vessels underneath the skin. Usually, this type of rash is not itchy or irritated on the skin's exterior.

Hives can occur for many reasons other than stress. Allergies are the most common cause of hives. Allergies to everything from insect bites to certain foods to medications can trigger an outbreak of hives. Hives may be the only symptom, occurring soon after contact with the offending substance. Or they may be accompanied by other symptoms, like shortness of breath or lightheadedness. If you suspect that an allergy causes your hives, but you haven't yet been diagnosed with one, contact your doctor.

Other causes of rashes that may appear similar to stress hives include:

  • Overheating
  • Sweating
  • Chafing
  • Infections
  • Certain antibiotics
  • Alcohol use
  • Thyroid disease
  • Lupus

Stress hives may occur on a one-time basis or become chronic, especially if your stress is not under control.

The Physical Impact Of Stress

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Ongoing, chronic stress can have a serious impact on many parts of the body. The body's stress response is designed only to be active for short periods. In modern times, with chronic stress the norm for many people, this reaction can get stuck in the "on" position, producing a domino effect of negative ramifications over time.

Left unchecked, frequent stress can hurt the cardiovascular, immune, and central nervous systems, among other bodily processes. Chronic stress can weaken your body's ability to fight infections and put a strain on your organs. Frequent, severe stress is a strong indicator of developing physical ailments down the road, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and some types of cancer.

How To Identify Stress Hives

Stress hives are clusters of itchy red bumps that are usually slightly raised from the skin. They may appear in small clusters or larger formations, called whorls. Stress hives are not different in appearance from hives caused by allergies or other triggers.

It's important to narrow down the cause of your hives and rule out any underlying condition. Consider first whether you've recently changed any products you use, such as shampoo or body wash, or started a new medication. If you're concerned about your hives, contact your physician or dermatologist.

How To Get Rid Of A Stress Rash

While usually harmless, stress rashes can be frustrating and induce feelings of insecurity and self-consciousness. For most people, stress rashes last for only a few days, and they almost always resolve on their own within 4-6 weeks. Reminding yourself that stress hives are a common, temporary problem can help you manage any negative feelings that you may have.

If you want them to clear up sooner, there are steps that you can take to reduce their appearance and severity. The following are a few suggestions for treating your stress rash that has proven effective.

Use An Over-The-Counter Antihistamine Cream

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Commercial antihistamine creams can be effective at treating stress-related hives and rashes, especially those that cause mild to moderate itchiness and irritation. These creams can be found in most drugstores and supermarkets. Be sure to follow the directions exactly. If your stress rash does not respond to over-the-counter antihistamines, your doctor may prescribe a prescription-strength cream instead.

Avoid Products That Aggravate The Skin

Many lotions, body washes, and skincare products contain alcohol, fragrance, and other ingredients that may irritate sensitive skin. Some products can cause dryness, redness, and flakiness, especially when used over a rash. Switch to gentle products specifically made for sensitive skin or eczema.

Take An Oatmeal Bath

Oatmeal has many well-known soothing properties that can help treat stress-induced hives. Colloidal oatmeal is finely ground and can be mixed into a warm bath. Soaking in a bath has the added advantage of relaxing your body, lowering your stress hormones. Baking soda can be used as an alternative.

Use A Cold Compress

Stress rashes not only itch, but may also have a burning sensation that can be quite intense. A commercial or homemade cold compress can soothe the heat and inflammation and provide relief.

If your stress rash is still present after six weeks, or you have rashes that reoccur frequently, contact your doctor for assistance. It's also important to consult your doctor if you notice a fever, blisters, or pain accompanying your rash, as these may be signs of a more serious condition. In some cases, your doctor may prescribe steroids or antibiotics to treat the source of the rash.

Other Ways Stress Can Affect Your Skin

Triggering Acne Breakouts

Your body's stress response causes an increase in the production of hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. Among changes like an increase in your heart rate and blood pressure, these hormones also cause the oil glands in your skin to increase the production of oils that can clog your pores and encourage bacterial growth. This can lead to reoccurring outbreaks of acne on areas such as the face, chest, shoulders, and back.

Aggravating Psoriasis And Rosacea

Stress is a well-known trigger for psoriasis flares, especially in women. The same is true for rosacea. This is due to the immune system's inflammatory response when the body undergoes chronic stress. Proper stress management is considered to be an important part of minimizing flare-ups of these and other skin conditions.

HowTo Reduce Stress

When you start to notice physical symptoms of chronic stress, it's time to look for ways to lower that stress. While not every stress trigger can be eliminated, it's essential to pinpoint and reduce the ones that can. While skin problems and other external symptoms of stress can be upsetting, internal problems can seriously compromise your health.

Ways to decrease your stress level include:

  • Starting an exercise routine. Regular exercise has consistently been shown to be one of the best ways to manage and reduce stress. A minimum of 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise a day for 3-4days a week is recommended for healthy individuals. Consult your physician before beginning any exercise routine.
  • Drinking green tea. L-Theanine, an amino acid found in green tea, has been found to have a calming effect without being sedating. Studies have shown drinking green tea to suppress the body's stress response while encouraging a calm focus.

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  • Learning relaxation techniques. Relaxation techniques are helpful tools that you can use when you feel your body going into fight-or-flight mode. Deep breathing is a popular relaxation technique that involves a mindful focus on the breath. In progressive muscle relaxation, you perform a mental scan for any tension or stress in the body and then intentionally relax each muscle group.
  • Practicing mindfulness meditation. Meditation is gaining a reputation for its ability to manage and reduce stress. Meditation involves training the mind to focus on the present moment and allow thoughts and emotions without judgment, instead of reacting immediately. Studies support the conclusion that mindfulness meditation contributes to positive changes in the brain's structure and function. In one study, meditation was able to reduce stress after eight weeks of regular practice significantly.

How Therapy Can Help

Psychotherapy can also be a helpful addition to your toolbox to help you manage your stress levels. Reducing your stress can minimize the outbreak of stress hives and other related issues. A therapist can help you identify which parts of your life are triggering your stress and help you come up with and implement effective solutions for reducing your stress and the impact it has on your mind and body.

BetterHelp offers affordable online therapy that can work around your schedule. We're here when you need support and guidance to help you improve your ability to handle life's challenges. Connecting with a professional online counselor allows you to manage stress as it comes in a way that is flexible and convenient, no matter how busy your schedule may be.


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