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Stress Rash: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

I am a consulting doctor and a health writer who has been writing online for 8 years.

Read on to learn what skin rash is, what causes it, the symptoms to look for, and various approaches to treatment.

Read on to learn what skin rash is, what causes it, the symptoms to look for, and various approaches to treatment.

What Is a Stress Rash?

Although doctors don't know exactly why it occurs, some people get skin reactions to anxiety. The theory is that negative emotions affect the immune system, releasing histamine. It all comes down to how we handle pressure because emotions have a powerful effect on the body and can cause hormonal imbalances, which can affect (among other things) your hair, nails, and skin.

You may get hives, itchy bumps, or other rashes. If you already have skin problems, such as rosacea or eczema, you may find that they worsen and take longer to heal. The bottom line is that—like it or not—your skin sometimes acts as a billboard for your emotions and anxiety.

What Are the Exact Causes of Stress Rash?

When you suffer from anxiety, the body reacts by secreting cortisol and adrenaline into the bloodstream. This sometimes causes the skin to develop a rash or become more sensitive and reactive to substances like lotions and creams. In other words, your skin's natural ability to protect you is depleted, and other conditions which have been dormant can flare up. This is why stress tends to make psoriasis, eczema, herpes, and other skin diseases reoccur.

After running some tests to eliminate the alternatives, your doctor may help you determine that your rash is caused by stress, although it is difficult for a doctor to tell the exact cause of any rash. A stress rash does not have definitive characteristics. The best way to deal with it is to pinpoint its trigger and change your lifestyle.

This photo (along with the others in this article) are examples of what your stress rash might look like.

This photo (along with the others in this article) are examples of what your stress rash might look like.

How Do You Control Stress Rash?

Unfortunately, the development of a rash may only make stress worse, thereby exacerbating the condition. If you can learn to manage your emotions and anxiety, the rash will lessen and possibly disappear. As you relax more, you will produce less cortisone and adrenaline. It may take a week or more, so you should be patient.

You can ask your doctor about trying prescription medication. Over-the-counter antihistamines can be quite effective. Cool baths, compresses, and loose-fitting clothes made of natural fibers might help, as may avoiding sweating, direct sunlight, and hot baths. However, you should combine doctor-recommended treatment with stress reduction for faster and long-lasting results.

Pinpointing the Cause

The first thing to do is identify the source of stress in your life. Sometimes the exact source is not that easy to discover. Your own thoughts could be the trigger.

Where does it come from?

  • Is it caused by a specific place, activity, or person?
  • Does it seem related to professional or personal problems?
  • Or is it triggered by something internal like procrastination, negative thoughts, doubts, low self-esteem, fear, or worry?

Identification of the source requires some serious introspection on your part. Identify the trigger and then you can find the control mechanisms that work for you.

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Stress-Reduction Techniques

Stress will always creep back into your life, but it won't be so overwhelming if you know how to deal with it.

  • Some people control outbreaks by going out for a walk, while others hit the gym. Others eat healthy foods as a coping mechanism. These are all positive ways of dealing.
  • Drinking alcohol and taking drugs to avoid feeling may offer some temporary distraction but may also worsen the problem.
  • Find people who can help when it becomes too much. They might be friends, family, or trained professionals. Keep positive people around you when you feel anxious; talking to certain people may exacerbate your condition.
  • Some people find relief and distraction from listening to motivational tapes, reading good books, watching interesting movies, or simply unwinding with music.
  • There are numerous mental health apps available that are free or low-cost and can be easily incorporated into a busy lifestyle. Here is a great resource to help you find the best stress reduction app for your situation: Mental Health Apps

The “Four As” of Dealing With Stress

This is a simple mantra but one that requires discipline:

  • Avoid the triggers
  • Alter your response
  • Adapt your mind
  • Accept that there is stress but try to resolve it proactively

Remembering this will help you to learn how to say “no,” become more assertive, avoid stressful people and situations, become more organized, and take the lead in letting people know your true feelings rather than bottling them up. The four As cover most of what you need to get balance in your life.

Treatment and Lifestyle Changes

Stress management is crucial if you want to keep your symptoms at bay. No more stress means no more rash; it is as simple as that.

Your doctor may prescribe oral antihistamine levels to keep histamine levels in the blood in check. Cold compresses can also give relief if your skin is getting itchy, but remember to be conscientious in your use of them.

Establishing regular sleeping patterns can help. Having a balanced diet can reduce the problem. Regular exercises and yoga can help with emotional balance and help flush out toxins from the body, boosting overall health and fitness.

Dr. Radjeep Mysore on Stress Rashes

Further Resources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Comments

Je on October 04, 2020:

Hello there.

This is Alex.

Mary Lupe on January 23, 2020:

My itching starts with small little bump (moscito looking bite, when I scratch it starts swelling and getting large...it last about 2 or3 days. Don’t know what courses this.

Kelly Ann Christensen from Overland Park, Johnson County, Kansas on December 29, 2019:

Decades ago I developed a rash from head-to-toe. I was working a job that would not let me have 5 minutes off, going to school full-time, raising my young child, and going to childhood sexual abuse therapy. I loved the job but I quit, and when I did they hired two people to replace me. She called back three times with the offer of more money, an assistant, and my own office, each time with me asking if I could have a day off and her saying no. So I said no. Burnout. I learned balance after that, but it was a very productive time in my life. I've never had another stress rash in the decades since that time.

Thank you for another informative article.

Ellen on June 05, 2019:

do you feel like sometimes you could just scratch the the skin off the rash? Like nothing makes it better? This thing itches worse than anything I have ever experienced. It's crazy!

Tiffany on May 03, 2019:

I had a paralegal that wouldn’t return my calls, and got bad news from the court she didn’t file my paperwork boom 1 hour I was so stressed and upset I loyally started to welt up and rash !! Crazy how your emotions can do this !!

Fallyn on May 02, 2019:

I have an itchy rash on my neck and have been trying to control it, but it's really bothering me... I think it might be a stress rash but i'm not 100% sure.

Joan marghani on February 24, 2019:

I live in libya and have a rash,when i visit my family in uk the rash goes away so im assuming its stress related as im not touching chemicals and wear gloves to do washing,cleaning

Mazz38 on December 16, 2018:

I’m currently experiencing a bad stress rash most likely due to me worrying a lot more lately and not getting any sleep

jay1212 on October 26, 2018:

Is there something that you would suggest to replace which still has the same benefits? Thank you

sharing

Amy DeMarco from Chicago on October 08, 2018:

I had a rash on my foot that lasted six months. It finally went away a week after I said enough and quit my job. Stress rashes are definitely a thing. Thank you for shedding light on this.

chinni on August 31, 2018:

excellent article.hats up sir

Gramma on December 04, 2017:

Fabulous article. I needed to read that stress can cause rashes.

wirralme on June 10, 2017:

So the anti-social neighbours with there Dogs barking for 18 months and Magenta doing f-all about it and non english neighbours above with a liking to walk around with brick shoes on 20 hours a day with a screaming child that wakes up at 1 - 2 - 4 am when it feels like and screams for 30 minutes without its selfish parents giving a s@it mabe has caused a rash I cannot yet get a medical reason for!!!!! now I know but how do I get a doctor to prove its stress and take these basstard anti social scum to cour for there disrespet

Tanya on May 10, 2017:

Wonderful information, this article made me realize that I have been bottling up issues inside to avoid conflict, but it has only created conflict within myself, therefore, manifesting thus horrible stress rash... No more... It's going to be about my feelings first from now on

Ray Crowe on January 25, 2017:

Very helpful and insightful article. I'd also like to point out regular meditation (or simple focused belly breathing} as a way of reducing or eliminating the triggers of stress themselves. It makes us less likely to respond to triggers with stress or anxiety in the first place.

Milk on January 21, 2015:

Well given so many young people who have eihter attempted or were successful suicide isn't a new problem. I just want teens of today to realize teens of yesterday, or yester- decade+ endured the same thing. Fortunately my friend lived to regret her attempt find true love and have a beautiful daughter, but so many others as you know don't. Just doing my little part to get the word out. Thanks Katie, enjoy your Sunday.