The Stress-Rash Connection: What You Need to Know

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Are you noticing an irritating rash or hives that appear out of nowhere? You may be surprised to know that it is entirely possible for stress and anxiety to contribute to a variety of different skin conditions.

We understand you are likely overwhelmed by your current predicament but don’t worry! We are here with all the information you need to understand what exactly this mysterious and uncomfortable thing called a “stress rash” is, its causes, symptoms, and how to prevent them from returning in the future.

Can stress and anxiety cause rashes?

Stress and anxiety can indeed be linked to a variety oof skin conditions, including the development of rashes. Stress-induced rashes are known as stress rashes and can be caused by various factors, including emotional stress, hormonal changes, or weakened immune systems.

A stress rash can range from mild to severe and may present as hives, red blotches, or a burning sensation on the skin. These rashes can appear anywhere on the body but are often found on the face and chest.

How does stress affect the skin?

Stress can affect the skin in various ways, such as through stress-induced rashes. Stress rashes are often red, itchy bumps on the skin caused by elevated stress levels. Stress can also cause dryness and irritation in the skin, weaken the immune system, and upset hormonal balance, leading to acne breakouts and other skin problems.

Stress has been linked to skin conditions like psoriasis, eczema, and hives. While this may be common knowledge, what you may not know is at the root of these skin conditions often lies a dysregulated nervous system. Because our nervous system regulates the stress hormones that are released when our bodies go into fight-or-flight mode, a chronically stressed or dysregulated nervous system can result in a large number of mental and emotional symptoms like stress and anxiety, as well as physical symptoms like chronic illness or chronic skin conditions.

Later in this article, we will explore how to heal a dysregulated nervous system, as well as the physical and emotional symptoms you may be experiencing as a result.

Why does the body react to stress this way?

Stress and other psychological conditions can cause changes to your skin health. When your body feels stressed, your sympathetic nervous system releases hormones like cortisol and adrenaline which can increase oil production in your skin and lead to clogged pores and acne breakouts.

The immune system may also respond with increased internal inflammation, sending out an inflammatory response regardless of whether there is a threat or not.

A disruption of the balance of bacteria in the gut caused by stress can also lead to inflammation which may manifest externally as a skin condition. People with chronic inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, or rosacea are more sensitive to flare-ups when they feel stressed.

Signs and skin symptoms of a stress-induced rash include:

1. Itchy skin

Itchiness is one of the most common symptoms of an anxiety or stress rash. The itchiness can be mild or severe, and a burning or tingling sensation may accompany it. The itchiness may be constant, or it may come and go.

2. Red, inflamed skin

Another symptom of a stress or anxiety rash is red, inflamed skin. The skin may be hot to the touch and may be swollen. The inflammation may also cause the skin to feel tight or uncomfortable.

3. Hives

Hives are another common symptom of a stress or anxiety rash. Hives are raised red bumps or large welts that appear on the skin. They are often itchy and can be very uncomfortable. Hives can range in size from a few millimeters to several centimeters.

4. Blisters

Blisters are another possible symptom of a stress or anxiety rash. Blisters are small, fluid-filled sacs that form on the skin’s surface. They can be painful and make the affected area very sensitive to touch.

5. Crusting or scaling

Crusting or scaling of the skin is another possible stress hives or anxiety rash symptom. Crusting or scaling occurs when the top layer of the skin dries out and begins to flake off. This can make the affected area very dry, rough, and irritated.

6. Changes in skin color

Changes in skin color, such as redness or paleness, can also be a stress or anxiety rash symptom. The skin may also look blotchy or patchy.

Note: Please seek medical attention if you are currently dealing with a rash or hives flare-up and experiencing severe symptoms like trouble breathing. You’ll want to be sure your healthcare provider can rule out other factors, for example: a serious allergic reaction or high blood pressure.

How To Treat a Stress Rash?

1. Identify the rash.

A stress rash or chronic hives usually appears as small, red bumps on the skin. The bumps may be itchy or painful and appear on just one area of the body or be widespread.

2. Determine the cause of the rash.

Stress rashes are often caused by an underlying condition, such as a dysregulated nervous system.

3. Keep the affected area clean and dry.

Stress rashes can sometimes become infected, so keeping the affected area clean and dry is important. Avoid using harsh soaps or detergents that could further irritate your skin.

4. Apply a topical cream or ointment.

Many over-the-counter creams and ointments can help to soothe and heal stress hives or rashes in the short-term. If your skin rash is severe, you may need a prescription medication from your doctor.

5. Take an oral antihistamine.

If your stress rash is causing itching, an oral antihistamine can help to relieve your symptoms. Be sure to read the label carefully and take only the recommended dosage.

6 . Reduce chronic stress in your life.

It is well-known that stress and anxiety can worsen any existing skin condition. But what do we do if we’re chronically stressed and dealing with stress rashes more than the average person?

How to prevent a stress rash from coming back

Most articles will tell you to incorporate deep breathing, meditation, and other “stress reduction techniques” or “mindfulness techniques” into your daily life to “manage stress levels”. While these practices can certainly benefit your overall health and wellness, the key to preventing future stress rashes is to get to the root of your skin conditions and heal them from the inside out.

This is where nervous system regulation comes in.

We learned earlier that when the body goes into fight-or-flight mode, the sympathetic nervous system releases stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. When we are chronically stressed, overwhelmed or anxious, this is a sign that the nervous system is dysregulated. Meaning, it is no longer “recovering” from these releases of stress hormones. Rather, it is staying stuck in fight-or-flight mode.

Most people live for years or decades with a dysregulated nervous system before realizing it is the root cause of their steady decline in mental, emotional and physical health.

If you are experiencing chronic stress rashes or hives, or other unexplained emotional or physical symptoms, it may be time to start regulating your nervous system.

Conclusion

In conclusion, stress and anxiety can indeed cause rashes. Stress affects the skin in ways we may not be aware of until it’s too late, but understanding what is causing our body to react with a rash doesn’t mean it has to stay that way.

With proper knowledge of how stress affects your skin and knowing how to treat a rash caused by stress, one can start down the path of preventing future breakouts.

If you’d like to start this journey of regulating your nervous system to calm your skin from repeated bouts of stress-induced rashes, then join the waitlist for our program The Nervous System Solution. With our support, you’ll finally get off the never-ending cycle of undue stress leading to uncomfortable breakouts.

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Dr. Linnea Passaler

Dr. Linnea Passaler

Dr. Linnea Passaler has dedicated 20+ years to serving patients, first to a small number of individuals as a successful surgeon and then to thousands of people worldwide as the CEO of a digital health startup. After overcoming her own struggles with a dysregulated nervous system, she created Heal Your Nervous System (HYNS) to empower others in their healing journey. Her combination of neuroscience and somatic work helps those struggling with overwhelm, trauma, burnout, and anxiety to heal their dysregulated nervous systems and thrive.