Burning skin, burning skin sensations - Anxiety Symptoms
Burning skin symptom:
Common descriptions of the anxiety burning skin symptom include:
- It feels like your skin is burning as though you have a sunburn but there are no apparent burn marks or reason for your skin to be burning.
- It feels like your skin, or parts of your skin, is being burned by ‘hot sparks.’
- It feels like your skin is itchy (even very itchy and persistently itchy) or prickly, yet there are no apparent reasons for these sensations. Your skin also can feel as if it has a tickle feeling or "crawly" sensation under the skin.
- It feels like your skin can feel overly sensitive. For example, your skin can be super sensitive to air, touch, heat, cold, or anything resting on, touching, or dragging across it (blankets, clothing, others touching you, etc.).
- Your skin may feel like it is numb, or that a patch or patches of your skin have been anesthetized.
- A patch of skin (or many patches) may feel cold, ‘shivery,’ and/or goosebumpy.
The burning skin symptom can appear anywhere on or in your arms, hands, fingers, toes, legs, feet, head, face, stomach, or anywhere on or in the body.
The burning skin symptom can persistently affect one area only, can shift and affect another area or areas, and can migrate all over and affect many areas over and over again.
The burning skin symptom can come and go rarely, occur frequently, or persist indefinitely. For example, you may feel a burning skin symptom once and a while and not that often, feel it off and on, or feel it all the time.
The burning skin symptom may precede, accompany, or follow an escalation of other anxiety sensations and symptoms, or occur by itself.
The burning skin symptom can precede, accompany, or follow an episode of nervousness, anxiety, fear, and elevated stress, or occur ‘out of the blue’ and for no apparent reason.
The burning skin symptom can range in intensity from slight, to moderate, to severe. It can also come in waves, where it’s strong one moment and eases off the next.
The burning skin symptom can change from day to day, and/or from moment to moment.
All of the above combinations and variations are common.
The burning skin symptom often seems more disconcerting when undistracted or when trying to rest or go to sleep.
What causes anxiety burning skin?
There are a number of reasons why anxiety can cause a burning skin sensation.
Four of the most common are:
1. Anxiety has caused a stress response
Behaving anxiously activates the body’s stress response. The stress response immediately causes specific physiological, psychological, and emotional changes in the body that enhance the body's ability to deal with a threat - to either fight with or flee from it - which is the reason the stress response is often referred to as the fight or flight response.
Part of the stress response changes include shunting blood away from parts of the body less important for survival and to parts that are vital for survival. Since the body only has so much blood, the body needs to shunt it around accordingly and based on the requirement at the time.
For example, blood is shunted away from the skin (so that if the skin is cut, the body doesn’t bleed to death) and to the brain (so the brain has more fuel to process information). This shunting action can stimulate nerve cells in the skin, which can cause a burning sensation to occur during an active stress response.
2. An active stress response causes the body’s nervous system and nerve responses to become heightened
The stress response also puts the body’s nervous system on high alert. This emergency readiness can overstimulate nerves, including sensory nerves, such as those associated with touch. This stimulation can cause a ‘burning’ sensation throughout various parts of the body.
3. Stress-response hyperstimulation
When stress responses occur infrequently, the body can recover relatively quickly from the physiological, psychological, and emotional changes the stress response brings about. But when stress responses occur too frequently and/or dramatically, the body has a more difficult time recovering, which can result in the body remaining in a semi hyperstimulated state.
When the body becomes stress-response hyperstimulated, the nervous system can act erratically and more involuntarily than normal. This increase in erratic and involuntary behavior can cause the nervous system to “over-report” and/or “misreport” sensory information, including the information coming from the skin.
For example, nerve endings in the dermis can send the sensation of being touched when no touch has occurred. They can also send the sensations of pain or being burned when the skin hasn’t been harmed or burned. All of these sensations are common when stress and anxiety are higher than normal.
Persistently elevated stress can cause the blood to be continually shunted away from the skin. When the skin is constantly deprived of a generous supply of blood, it can be more susceptible to irritations, rashes, and infections. Minor skin pain or discomfort resulting from these irritations can be experienced as itching, crawling, burning, or cold sensations.
4. Adverse reaction to medication
Burning skin can also be an adverse reaction to medication, including anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications. If you believe your burning skin is caused by an adverse reaction to medication, you should discuss this with your doctor and pharmacist.
How to get rid of anxiety caused burning skin symptoms?
When the burning skin symptom is caused by apprehensive behavior and the accompanying stress response changes, calming yourself down will bring an end to the stress response and its changes. As your body recovers from the active stress response, this feeling should subside and you should return to your normal self. Keep in mind that it can take up to 20 minutes or more for the body to recover from a major stress response. But this is normal and shouldn’t be a cause for concern.
When the burning skin symptom is caused by persistently elevated stress, such as too frequent and/or dramatic stress responses, it may take a lot more time for the body to recover and to the point where this burning skin symptom is eliminated.
Nevertheless, when the body has fully recovered from an active stress response and/or stress-response hyperstimulation, the burning skin symptom will completely subside. Therefore, this symptom needn’t be a cause for concern.
You can speed up the recovery process by reducing your stress, practicing relaxed breathing, increasing your rest and relaxation, and not worrying about this symptom. Sure, it can be unsettling and even bothersome. But again, when your body has recovered from the stress response and/or sustained stress, this burning skin symptom will completely disappear.
Play the clip below for Jim Folk's commentary about the anxiety symptom burning sking. Jim Folk is the president of anxietycentre.com.
Burning skin is a common symptom of elevated stress, including the stress anxiety can cause. Jim Folk experienced multple episodes of burning skin, and to severe degrees, during his 12 year struggle with anxiety disorder.
For a more detailed explanation about anxiety symptoms including the burning skin symptom, why symptoms can persist long after the stress response has ended, common barriers to recovery and symptom elimination, and more recovery strategies and tips, we have many chapters that address this information in the Recovery Support area of our website.
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Return to our anxiety symptoms page.
Authors: Jim Folk, Marilyn Folk, BScN. Last updated May 2015.