A stress rash is an affected area of the skin caused by anxiety, stress, or other psychological reasons. Stress rashes can affect any part of the body but is most commonly found on the face, neck, chest, hands, back, arms and legs. Although the appearance of one may cause more anxiety, it is not a cause for concern. Most are mild and can be easily treated at home with DIY solutions.
Most people develop a stress rash at some point in their lives, although they may not correctly diagnose the reasoning behind it. For some people, stress can induce other skin conditions, such as eczema, hair loss, or psoriasis. For others, the the rash can go away in minimal time.
As you can see, stress levels and skin health are directly linked. When you are stressed, your body releases specific chemicals that can negatively affect your body’s responses, damaging your hair and skin.
The brain has a considerable part to play in terms of your health. Your mood, psychological state, and overall well-being can be altered based on various factors in your daily life and mind. For some individuals, stress can immediately show on their bodies. For others, it may take a more serious psychological break or traumatic event to manifest itself in physical form. The following guide aims to educate you about the prevalence of stress rashes, how the body and brain are continually linked, and how to manage one if one occurs.
Understanding stress rash
Let’s look at the details of a stress rash to find out the main symptoms, causes, how it’s diagnosed and the most effective treatment techniques to help alleviate your discomfort.
Symptoms of stress rash
There are specific symptoms of warning signs of a stress rash that can help you correctly diagnose your skin condition. The most common form of a stress rash presents itself in hives, raised areas, itchy patches of skin, and swollen areas. You may also find that the hives are blotchy and discolored.
In some individuals, their skin condition worsens over time and turns into large welts or darker patches of skin. In most people, the bump or hive will dissipate in 24-48 hours. However, for some who have acute hives or a chronic stress rash, symptoms can last for 4-6 weeks.
Example photos of stress rash on the body
See the following stress rash photos of the common places you may get them, including the face, neck, chest, hands, back, arms and legs. Please note that these photos aren’t exactly how all stress rashes will show up.
Stress rash on the face
Stress rash on the neck
Stress rash on the chest
Stress rash on the hands
Stress rash on the back
Stress rash on the arms
Stress rash on the legs
Causes of stress rash
There are many causes of stress rashes, and the same will not apply to everyone. In some cases, the response could be simply physical to introducing a new item in an environment (ex: pollen, illness, disease, reaction to specific drugs, bugs, etc.). In other cases, the cause of a stress rash is psychological or social. Many people find that a they can occur after the following:
- Over-exerting exercise routine
- Death in your close social circle or family
- Quitting smoking, drinking, or drastically changing your diet
- Challenging times at school or job
- Starting a new phase of life — getting married, starting school, beginning a new job, making new friends, moving to a new city, etc.
- Long-term insomnia
- Poor hygiene or poor living conditions
Furthermore, individuals who have a history of mental illness, such as bipolar disorder or chronic insomnia, may find that stressful situations exacerbate their skin more than others.
Differences between stress rash and other skin conditions
Other similar conditions can be easily confused for stress rash. Some of the most common skin affectations include:
- Stress acne – this specific type of acne is typically caused by anxiety.
- Heat rash — Heat rash is the build-up of sweat and dirt in blocked pores from hot and humid conditions.
- Rosacea — Rosacea usually manifests in red bumps and patches on the skin.
- Dermatitis — Contact dermatitis looks like a red and itchy rash that can sometimes turn into swollen areas and blisters.
- Eczema — Eczema appears as dry patches on the face, feet, folds of skin, feet, or hands that result in flaky and itchy skin.
- Shingles — Shingles, which is a type of herpes, usually appears as a rash of blisters that is commonly found on the torso.
- Athlete’s Foot – Athlete’s foot is commonly found on those who come in contact with areas where fungus can easily grow, such as humid environments, pools, wrestling mats, locker rooms, or showers.
In most cases, a stress rash looks like hives and welts filled with clear fluid.
How to deal with stress rash
There are a few ways to deal with stress rash to help alleviate the symptoms and prevent future breakouts.
Managing stress levels
One of the best ways to deal with a stress rash is to use stress-relief techniques as an individual or with a therapist. Understanding what causes you to be stressed out can help you avoid these situations or people altogether. However, if this is not possible, finding out ways to cope with stressful situations can reduce the effect it has on your body.
Some helpful stress-relieving techniques include exercising, going outside, spending time with loved ones, going on walks, doing breathing techniques, and finding hobbies that you enjoy.
Maintaining a healthy skincare routine
Along with using stress-relieving techniques, keeping a hygiene routine that is gentle on your skin is critical to avoiding any stress rashes or allergic reactions to products. Consider the following:
- Avoiding long-term exposure to high levels of humidity
- Avoid tight clothing on affected areas
- Use fragrance-free and dye-free hair care products
- Limit your caffeine and alcohol intake
Over-the-counter ailments (non-prescription)
One of the main ways to help treat a stress rash is to use an antihistamine to relieve painful itching, skin inflammation, dry spots, or hives. Consider going to a doctor to see if you should begin using a topical or oral antihistamine to reduce your discomfort levels. If managing your stress levels is not helping to clear up your rash, you can also turn to over-the-counter products designed to help with skin conditions.
Other medicines that can help with a stress rash include a targeted prescription to help your particular outbreak. Some common OTC treatments include Zyrtec, Allegra, Claritin, hydrocortisone, calamine cream, CeraVe, or Benadryl.
Seeking professional help with a Doctor
Suppose a stress rash constantly recurs in your daily life. In that case, you may find that talking to a professional therapist or doctor can be the best way to manage the causes and symptoms.
Talking to a therapist can help identify the triggers that spur anxiety and stress reactions for some individuals.
For others, speaking with a doctor, like a dermatologist, can help a person obtain the proper medication (ex: corticosteroids, cyclosporine, Singulair, etc.) that can treat or prevent hives from forming.
Making lifestyle changes to reduce stress
Suppose you lead a high-stress lifestyle, such as a hectic schedule, juggling multiple aspects at one time, living in an unsafe atmosphere, or surrounding yourself with toxic people. In that case, this can cause a build-up of stress. Try to change your lifestyle if you find that you are in a constant state of anxiety or stress.
Prevention of stress rash
Prevention is always better than cure. You can take a few steps to help prevent a stress rash from forming in the first place. The best way to “cure” one is to take preventative care and take care of your well-being before any outbreak occurs.
Incorporating self-care into daily routine
Self care is prioritizing every aspect of your health and well-being so you can be a well-rounded individual. Taking care of your psychological, physical, mental, and emotional health is all key to staying healthy for the long term.
Little ways to incorporate more self-care into your daily routine include getting in a daily dose of exercise, spending time with your loved ones, partaking in mentally fun and stimulating activities, and processing emotions:
- Physical – Gong for a walk, sleeping enough every night, eating a well-rounded diet
- Social — Spending time with friends, creating a solid social network, talking to your family
- Mental — Finding books, movies, shows, seminars, and other tools to help inspire you and challenge your mind
- Emotional — Talking about your feelings and processing emotions
Reducing triggers of stress
There are a few ways to reduce stress triggers in your life. Triggers can cause you to experience high levels of stress and anxiety, which can exert themselves in physical form. Have you heard of the ‘Stress Bucket‘ concept? It’s a great visualization tool, to be able to better manage your stress levels.
The best ways to reduce stress are to practice mindful breathing techniques, play with a stress ball, eat a healthy diet without processed foods or sugars, slow down your daily life if you are feeling overworked, take a break from everyday obligations, make more time for what you enjoy, and relax your muscles.
Practicing relaxation techniques
Those who are new to using relaxation techniques may need some practice beforehand — but that is okay! Everyone has to start somewhere. Incorporating relaxation and de-stressing techniques into your daily life is vital to managing stress and preventing it from happening in the first place:
- Visualization — Creating relaxing mental images to help you stay calm in a tense situation. You can visualize multiple senses at the same time, such as smell, touch, taste, and auditory sounds.
- Muscle relaxation — Slowly tense and relax each muscle to become more aware of your body and loosen your muscles.
- Deep breathing — Sit comfortably, breathe in through your nose, exhale through your mouth, and focus on your breaths to help quiet your mind.
- Self massage — Use aromatic oil and knead tight muscles in your body, such as the back of your neck, back of your legs, calves, and shoulders.
- Mediation — Along with deep breathing, meditation is an intelligent way to focus on each breath, activate your parasympathetic nervous system, and calm your body. Studies have shown that meditation can help with reducing the risk of dementia and heart disease.
Eating a healthy and balanced diet
Stress is directly linked to your physical state — chronic stress can increase your body’s requirements for more nutrients, leading to a nutritional deficiency. Plus, food is oftentimes used as a crutch during times of stress or anxiety. This can make a person gain weight over a short period of time, which can place more physical stress on their body and mental stress on their sense of self.
The best way to cope with stress is to eat a balanced diet. Focusing on eating a well-rounded diet with whole foods, vegetables, lean protein, complex carbohydrates, and fruits is vital in managing changes that could occur due to stress.
A healthy and whole-food diet can help repair your immune system, cope with stress, and avoid overthinking about planning and making meals. Whole foods, all-natural ingredients, and organic foods are more likely to have a positive impact on your physical and mental state than high-sugar or high-fat foods.
Studies have even shown that omega-3 fatty acids and starchy vegetables can help reduce cortisol in the body. This hormone is in charge of stress and overeating.
Furthermore, eating a balanced diet means that you are eating “mindfully.” Mindful eating can help reduce stress levels by making smart food choices, reducing anxiety around choosing food items, and increasing the satisfaction from each meal, which aids in digestion.
Overall, a stress rash is a skin condition caused by high levels of stress and anxiety. This type of rash presents itself in the form of redness, itchy skin, hives, or fluid-filled welts that usually dissipate after 24-48 hours. However, if you leave a stress rash untreated — or the leading causes of the stress itself — the skin condition can reappear or get worse over time.
The main solutions for helping with a stress rash are finding out the culprit for the high levels of stress, obtaining skin medication, partaking in stress-reduction techniques, and making healthy lifestyle changes. Focusing on relaxation techniques, eating a whole-food diet, prioritizing self care, and preventing excess stress in your life can help you lead a wholesome lifestyle.
We recommend any person who feels stressed or has high levels of anxiety to speak with someone about their thoughts and feelings. Being able to talk with a professional, whether that is a therapist or dermatologist, can help you feel better about yourself and find a solution that works for you.