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Anxiety That Provokes Burning Skin

Alexandra Richards, DClinPsy
Anxiety That Provokes Burning Skin

Scientists are continuing to discover and learn about the many ways that the mind affects the body. Many of those that suffer from serious anxiety and panic attacks experience a burning sensation - a feeling of heat, itching or irritation in the skin that can be uncomfortable and even frightening.

That burning sensation really can be a symptom of anxiety. It may occur with or without an anxiety attack, and it may even be associated with flare ups of existing skin conditions.

Many now believe that anxiety has the ability to mimic health conditions in most systems of the body. In many cases, it can be hard to tell the difference between anxiety and another health issue.

Causes of Burning Sensations in Skin

When you experience anxiety, your body is in fight or flight mode. This is an automatic response of the nervous system in relation to threat, thought to have evolved to increase chances of survival. 

Amongst other effects, the response involves a rush of adrenaline as your body prepares for "action." Adrenaline affects multiple properties within the body. Chemically, anxiety changes the balance of hormones and neurotransmitters from top to bottom. Anxiety also constricts blood vessels and sends a rush of blood to other areas of the body. Anxiety also affects how you interpret sensations, and so much more.

This experience changes the body in many different ways. The following are some examples of how anxiety might lead to different sensations in the skin.

Burning Skin from Blood Flow Changes

Anxiety changes the way that blood flows throughout the body. Most of the time, even with anxiety, these changes have little effect on the skin. But the skin is your largest organ, and as your largest organ it is possible that the changes in blood flow make your skin feel more tingly, numb, or possibly give it a burning sensation.

Burning on Areas of the Skin and Skin Disorders

These blood flow changes can create a situation where the skin is more sensitive, both to the touch and to outside skin conditions. Anxiety weakens the immune system and stress from anxiety releases cortisol - a hormone that makes the skin more sensitive. 

This combination means that the skin may react stronger to otherwise normal sensations (for example, rubbing across a surface with friction), or respond more strongly to allergens and chemicals, like sweat or lotion. This may lead to burning sensations depending on your pain response. You may also not be able to necessarily know what causes it, which can be especially frustrating.

Anxiety has also been found to trigger several skin conditions, including:

These skin disorders may cause a burning feeling. While anxiety doesn’t create these conditions (you have to already have them), it can make them worse. 

Finally, anxiety may also create what’s known as hypersensitivity. That’s where a person becomes more mentally attuned to the way they feel, in a way that may make the feelings they do experience stronger. Thus, if a person has a very mild burning sensation (from anything) that they would normally be able to ignore or may not even notice, the hypersensitivity means that they notice it AND it feels stronger than it otherwise would. 

Burning Sensation in Your Eyes

Some people experience a burning sensation in their eyes. As with all anxiety symptoms, there are plenty of medical issues that may cause the same problem and it is worth visiting the doctor to rule out other issues.

Nevertheless, burning in the eyes can be caused by anxiety. Burning behind the eyes may be due to the way adrenaline dilates pupils and pumps blood to and from the eyes, leading to eye stress and strain. For some, that pain exhibits itself as a burning feeling. 

How to Stop the Burning

You can't turn off your adrenaline. If you're in the middle of an anxiety attack and it's causing your skin to burn, you need to wait it out. But you can manage your anxiety.

The best way is with prevention - using anxiety reduction techniques to keep your anxiety and anxiety attacks from occurring, and the burning feeling will reduce.

Also, while you're suffering from anxiety, use traditional relaxation techniques to calm yourself down. Deep breathing and visualization are both very effective, and can keep your anxiety from becoming too stressful.

Remember that the mind also has the ability to make normal sensations feel less normal. A “normal” burning sensation caused by a mild allergy or a bit of friction from a shirt can lead to a more severe burning feeling that is disruptive. So addressing your anxiety is going to be important, as you have to reduce anxiety to reduce hypersensitivity. 

Dealing with Unusual Anxiety Symptoms

Overall, it is definitely possible for anxiety to cause a burning feeling in your skin and eyes. It's an unusual symptom, of course, but it does occur. If you have burning sensations on your skin that are not caused by a medical condition, see if it’s anxiety, and if it is, make sure you seek out treatment to see some much needed anxiety relief.

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