Anxiety is essentially uncontrollable stress, and stress has a known effect on your organs. Your skin is the largest organ in your body, so it's only natural that some people develop skin problems as a result of their anxiety.
Anxiety-produced skin issues are a fairly common symptom, and many people find that their anxiety causes them to grow red and pink blotches on their skin that occasionally itch or burn.
Red Blotches = Anxiety?
Red blotches may be a sign of an illness. Or they may be a flare up of an unwanted skin condition or allergy. But often when they pop up during times of intense stress, they're the result of anxiety. Our free anxiety test can score your anxiety severity, see how it compares to others, and help you learn more about controlling your anxiety.
Your Other Anxiety Symptoms
One of the easiest ways to tell if your red blotches are from anxiety is if they tend to pop up when you're experiencing other anxiety symptoms. Red blotches are almost never the only sign that you're stressed.
Take my free 7-minute anxiety test to find other symptoms of anxiety and learn what they say about your overall anxiety levels.
Likely Causes of Red Blotches From Anxiety
Skin reactions are often the first sign of illness and are associated with some very serious physical ailments. We're told at a young age to be wary of any rashes or red bumps because they may be a sign of:
- Chicken Pox
- Allergic Reactions to Medications
As we get older, we're told to watch out for changes in skin health because it may be a sign that something is wrong. It may very well be - that's why if you're concerned, you should see a doctor to find out if the rash is a sign of something more. Only a doctor can diagnose the cause of your red blotches.
But the reality of visible skin rashes and ailments is that sometimes they're caused by nothing at all. Your skin can react to all sorts of chemicals, hormones - even temperature. Some people get very severe looking rashes for no apparent reason.
So while you should always see a doctor to get a complete diagnosis, many red blotches have no serious health cause, and many more are caused by anxiety. Anxiety may cause red blotches in several ways:
The most likely cause of red blotchy skin is an increase in body heat. During times of intense stress and anxiety, your body heat rises, and this releases a chemical inside of your body known as histamine - the same immune system chemical that is released during an allergic reaction. As histamine rises to the surface, your body creates hives, which often manifest as itchy, red blotches on the skin.
Body heat-related hives may cause a rash anywhere on your body, but the most common areas are the:
Anxiety also causes sweating. Sweating can lead to the same release of histamine, and the same give as an increase in body heat. But it can also result in another harmless skin rash known as miliaria (not to be confused with malaria). Miliaria is a simple sweat rash that can affect many people that suffer from serious anxiety attacks.
Irritated Skin Conditions
Those that already have skin conditions may find that their skin conditions become irritated as a result of anxiety. For example, those that have had chicken pox in the past may be more prone to shingles outbreaks. Chickenpox is related to the herpes virus, and like herpes, it never truly leaves your body. During times of intense stress, the virus becomes more prone to activation, and it may rise to the surface and lead to a very itchy and painful outbreak, known as shingles.
Several skin conditions are known to be activated during times of stress. While it's less common for these skin conditions to affect the chest and neck area, they may still become red blotches when you're experiencing intense anxiety.
Finally, the cause of your red blotches may be related to your anxiety in ways that are still unclear. Skin often goes through unusual and unexplainable reactions. You may develop red blotches simply as a result of the stress your body goes under during anxiety attacks.
However, if you appear to get these red blotches every time you have anxiety, it's most likely that you're experiencing an outbreak of hives.
How to Cure These Red Blotches
Whether or not you can stop your red blotches depends on their cause. If your anxiety has irritated some type of skin condition - like shingles - then you simply have to wait until it cures itself naturally, or treat the underlying virus that caused the reaction.
But if your red blotches are caused by histamine, then the solution becomes a bit easier.
Short Term Anxiety Control
In many cases, the histamine release is temporary and will reduce itself by the time you've controlled your anxiety. If you are experiencing a serious anxiety attack, try the following:
- Slowed Breathing Many anxiety symptoms come from breathing too quickly or too full. An anxiety attack can make you feel like you're not getting a deep breath, and the tendency to over-breathe makes your anxiety symptoms worse. A good way to control them is to slow your breathing down so that your body can regain its carbon dioxide balance. Deep breathing exercises may also be useful.
- Distract Your Senses Try to locate a healthy distraction. If you have a friend you can call, call them up and talk to them on the phone. These types of activities take you out of your head so that you focus less on the way you feel and more on the conversation (or any healthy distraction). Doing so tends to calm the nerves and lead to less anxiety.
- Encourage Yourself Often when people have red blotches they fear the embarrassment. Unfortunately, that fear just causes further anxiety. Your ability to simply say to yourself "whatever, I don't care about these blotches" and go about your day anyway will decrease that added stress that comes from trying to hide the blotches and worrying about the fear.
These aren't complex strategies mind you, but anxiety reduction isn't about some complex strategy. You can't cure anxiety right away. These are simply tools to help you calm down, and when you feel calm, your blotches should fade or go away completely.
If you can't seem to calm down or the blotches don't fade right away, you can also consider antihistamines. Generally, it's not a good idea to turn to medicine when you're feeling stressed, and antihistamines - like Benadryl - can also make you drowsy and cause other issues that may affect your life. But when your hives are too severe to control, these fast-acting antihistamines should be able to help.
Long Term Anxiety Solutions
Finally, you'll still need to address your anxiety if you want your blotches to go away completely. You simply cannot stop these blotches from coming back if you allow your body to try to fight off all of that stress.
I've helped many people with red anxiety blotches fight their symptoms. I tell them all to start with my free 7-minute anxiety test. It's a symptoms questionnaire to better understand your anxiety to come up with a better solution.
So if you're ready to cure you're anxiety, start the anxiety test here.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Dec 05, 2017.