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Stress Rash on Face, Arm, Chest and More: Treatment & Prevention
Prominent author and doctor Hans Seyle is known as the father of research in the area of stress, and he once stated that, “It’s not stress that kills us, it’s our reaction to it.”1,5 The mind-body connection is very powerful, and stress can cause physical problems in the body.
Developing a rash somewhere on the body, or in various locations, is a common response to psychological stress. Although this is typical and can happen to anyone, it also occurs often in individuals who have been diagnosed with anxiety and panic attacks.4 A 2010 study that was carried out at the University of Plymouth found a strong correlation between chronic rashes and post-traumatic stress disorder.2
What does stress rash look like? It usually presents in the form of large hives that can cluster together to form misshapen ‘weals.’ These raised areas of inflamed skin can be extremely itchy and may feel like they’re burning or stinging. Generally the rash is red, but it may also look white with red, inflamed skin in the surrounding area.6
Medically, a rash is classified as chronic if it lasts longer than 6 weeks. However, the large majority of the time, the condition resolves itself within a few days. If the rash does remain beyond that, it almost always disappears before the 6-week mark.
Can Stress Cause a Rash?
Experiencing more stress than you can handle leads to a physiological response in your system. There’s an area in the brain called the hypothalamus which is activated if there’s a threat in your environment, whether real or perceived. At this point your adrenal gland proceeds to flood your system with the hormones adrenaline and cortisol.3
In a transient stressful situation, adrenaline causes your heart to race, your blood pressure to elevate, and gives you more energy. Cortisol helps to repair your system, and it also increases the amount of glucose in the body and brain. Another thing cortisol does is to suppress your immune system, because in an emergency situation this could be helpful. However, the weakened immune system can open you up for developing rashes and other conditions.3
When your stress level is more than just transient, but constant, it can have a devastating impact on your body. The exposure to high levels of these hormones all the time can lead to many medical conditions, including rashes. Stress can also render your skin oversensitive to stimuli that it wouldn’t have reacted to under normal conditions, leading to a rash. In addition, it can make existing skin conditions like psoriasis much worse.6
Rash Caused by Stress
A stress induced rash is not localized to any one particular part of the body. It can crop up pretty much anywhere on your skin and can make life temporarily unpleasant. There can be differences in the way the rash presents, and how it feels, depending on its specific location.
Stress Rash on Face
The face is a particularly sensitive part of the body, so you may feel a rash there more acutely. It may itch more than in other areas. A red rash can cover your neck or your chin or appear in the form of blotches on your cheeks.
Stress Rash on Arm
Stress rash on your arms can appear in the form of big red welts, or tiny little red dots clumped together. It’s difficult to resist itching a rash on your arms because they’re so visible, and you use them quite a bit every day. However, do try not to scratch, since this will make the condition worse.
Stress Rash on Chest
On the chest area, a stress rash usually presents as little red welts that clump together. The rash may cover the entire chest area, or only a portion. Naturally a rash on the chest will rub against clothing all day, which will irritate it immensely.
Stress Rash on Stomach
The stomach can also be a sensitive area, and a rash in this area will rub against clothing all day and worsen. A stress rash on your stomach is usually a large area of redness that’s extremely itchy.
Stress Rash on Hands
The hands are the most common location in the body to get a rash. Having a stress rash on the hands is tricky, because of how much we need to use them during the day. Between that and having to wash them several times every day, the condition can become exacerbated. A rash in this area may be just in a small area, or it may cover the fingers and even encircle the wrist.
Stress Rash on Legs
Rashes on the legs may also appear in one or more small blotches, or they may extend all over the leg area. Rashes in the region may also cover the area behind your knees, making it painful when you walk. They may get irritated by rubbing against clothing, making them more uncomfortable. The feet may also develop rashes, usually in the form of raised bumps clustered together that can even crop up on the bottom of your feet and in between the toes.
Stress Rash Treatment
Most of the time a stress rash can be treated very easily with over-the-counter anti-histamines or anti-histamine cream like Benadryl. Another helpful treatment is a non-prescription steroid cream. Outside of medication, treating the condition with a cold compress or a bath can be helpful. Sometimes a rash is too severe, and a corticosteroid prescription or antibiotics may be required.
Stress Rash: How to Prevent It
The only real way to prevent this type of rash is to work consistently on managing your level of stress. In order to do this you have to make sure your immune system stays strong. This entails getting an adequate amount of sleep, exercising regularly, eating healthy food (rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants), and maintaining a supplement regimen (multivitamins, testosterone support, workout recovery supplements) assuming your doctor has approved such products. If your stress comes from having too many responsibilities, try to cut down on a couple of them.
There are many different types of methods that can help lower stress and anxiety. Some of these include meditation, mindfulness, breathing and relaxation exercises, and cognitive behavioral therapy.
- 1 Canadian Medical Hall of Fame (2019). Hans Selye, Md, PhD. The Canadian Medical Association. Retrieved online at http://www.cdnmedhall.org/inductees/hansselye
- 2 Chung, M., Symons, C, Gilliam, J. & Kaminski, E. (2010). The relationship between posttraumatic stress disorder, psychiatric comorbidity, and personality traits among patients with chronic idiopathic urticaria. Compr Psychiatry, 51(1): 55–63. Retrieved online at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0010440X09000273?via%3Dihub
- 3 Mayo Clinic Staff (2019). Stress Management. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved online at View Reference
- 4 Shebak, S. S., Pinkston, J., & Ali, R. (2016). Rash Associated with Panic Attacks. The primary care companion for CNS disorders, 18(1). Retrieved at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4874754/
- 5 Walling, Elizabeth (2019). 16 Eye-Opening Famous Quotes About Stress. The Nourished Life. Retrieved online at View Reference
- 6 Whalen, S. (Dec 2017). The Mysterious Stress Rash: What It Is and What You Can Do About It. Zwivel. Retrieved online View Reference