Is That A… Stress Rash?

By Siew Ching

You read that right – that itchy spot you’ve been clawing at could be the result of stress in your life. Here’s how to deal with it.

By now, you already know that stress can manifest in your body in many ways – fatigue, irritability, sleepless nights, anxiety, loss of appetite. But did you know that stress can also cause your skin to flare up?

If you’ve been noticing red bumps or hives on your skin lately, it’s a good idea to check on what your mental health is like. Working overtime? Dealing with a difficult client? Trouble at work and at home? This can cause your skin to flare up in hives or in extreme cases, trigger an eczema attack, especially if you’re prone to such skin conditions.

Take my friend for example. He’s been complaining of his new boss and the amount of pressure he’s under to perform. During one of his venting sessions, I noticed he’s been scratching at his knuckles, which coincidently were red and dry.

“Hey, what’s up with your skin?” I asked. “Oh this, I don’t know! It suddenly flared up overnight and no amount of cream can ease the itch,” he said.

So we went through the usual culprits – did he eat something wrong? Rubbed against something that irritated his skin perhaps? Used a wrong cream maybe?

Two weeks passed and we met up again. This time, the rash seemed to have subsided and I asked if he did anything different.

“Not really. It just slowly went away. Oh did I tell you that I managed to find a way to work better with my new boss?” shared my friend.

So how does stress cause hives? It’s all in the chemicals. When your cortisol levels increase in response to the stress you’ve been experiencing lately, your body’s histamine response goes into action, manifesting in inflammation that causes these itchy, red welts.

It’s how the body works – when stress goes up, your immune system becomes more reactive to protect you, thus making the skin more sensitive. The natural response is to scratch… which unfortunately causes the skin to become more itchy and more rashes to appear.

Rash Be Gone! Fortunately, stress rash can go away on its without treatment. But it can also come back as quickly as it goes away – depending of your stress levels.

Unfortunately, some may persist for as long as six weeks. And this could be the result of increased cortisol levels as well as persistent scratching.

What are you to do? Try these home treatments.

  • Place a cool compress on the affected areas. You can apply some calamine lotion to ease the itch
  • Avoid hot and spicy foods, hot showers, excessive sweat as all these can make the itchiness worse and spread harmful bacteria
  • Keep cool with light clothing. Avoid anything that rubs on your skin
  • Change your bedding regularly! Dust mites can further aggravate your condition

You can also try over-the-counter oral antihistamines depending on the severity of your stress rash. Make sure to speak to a medical professional first before taking anything.

Of course, the most important way to deal with your stress rash? Stress relief! Here are some ideas:

#1 Recognise the Triggers What are the things that cause the outbreak – feeling overwhelmed? Overworked? Personal dilemmas? Some stress rash can be a one off but if it is recurring, you may want to evaluate the triggers and see how you can avoid them.

#2 Practise Mindfulness Self-care and me-time go a long way towards managing stress, improving your quality of life. So consider doing the following: Go for regular walks, pick up meditation, learn how to focus on breathing especially when you are overwhelmed, do the things you enjoy!

#3 Get a Hobby! Nothing like doing something you enjoy – baking, dancing, journaling – to help you forget about the stress, even for a while!

#4 Watch a Comedy on Netflix Search “Standup Comedy” and voila, instant stress relief! Laughing is a great way to lighten your mental load. So Trevor Noah and Ronny Chieng it is!

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash.

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