Skin Symptoms Caused By Anxiety
Anxiety Skin Symptoms common descriptions:
- It feels like your skin is burning as though you have a sunburn or something very hot touched your skin but there are no apparent burn marks or visible reasons for your skin to be burning or feel like it is burned.
- It feels like your skin, or parts of your skin, is being burned by ‘hot sparks’ (like a hot piece of metal or “spark” has landed on your skin).
- It feels like your skin is experiencing a “crawly/crawling” sensation, yet there is no visible reason for it.
- Your skin feels a prickly, stinging, or biting sensation for no apparent reason.
- Suddenly a spot on your skin, or many spots, feel like something cold has touched it. It can also feel like something hot has touched it. It can also vary from cold to hot and back again even though there is no visible reason for it.
- It feels like suddenly a cold, wet cloth touched your skin when nothing did. It can also feel like your skin was burned by a blast of steam even though you weren’t near steam.
- It can feel as though your skin experienced a sudden electric shock or zap yet you weren’t near anything electrical.
- It feels like you are experiencing unexplainable nerve pain just under the skin but there isn’t any visible reason for it.
- Your skin feels like it is numb, tingling, or experiencing pins and needles but there is no apparent reason for it.
- It feels like someone suddenly rubbed their whiskers or a wire brush across your skin even though no one did.
- It feels like your skin suddenly, and without reason, experienced a carpet burn yet there is no visible mark.
- It feels like your skin is itchy (even very itchy and persistently itchy) or prickly, yet there are no visible reasons for these sensations.
- It feels like your skin is overly sensitive. For example, your skin can be super sensitive to air, touch, heat, cold, or anything resting on it, touching it, or dragging across it (blankets, clothing, others touching you, etc.).
- It feels like a patch or patches of your skin have been anesthetized.
- A patch of skin (or many patches) suddenly feel “shivery” or “goosebumpy.”
- And so on.
Anxiety skin symptoms can persistently affect one area of skin only, can shift and affect another area or areas, or can migrate all over the body and affect many areas and over and over again.
Anxiety skin symptoms can come and go rarely, occur frequently, or persist indefinitely. For example, you may feel one or many of the above symptoms once in a while and not that often, feel them off and on, or experience them all the time.
Anxiety skin symptoms can precede, accompany, or follow an escalation of other anxiety sensations and symptoms, or occur by itself.
Anxiety skin symptoms 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.
Anxiety skin symptoms can range in intensity from slight, to moderate, to severe. They can also come in waves, where they are strong one moment and then ease off the next.
Anxiety skin symptoms can change from day to day, and/or from moment to moment.
All of the above combinations and variations are common.
Anxiety skin symptoms can seem more disconcerting when undistracted, resting, doing deep relaxation, or when trying to go to sleep or when waking up from sleep.
Because each person can describe skin symptoms in unique, just because your particular description isn’t included above doesn’t mean it isn’t the same symptom. There can be many ways skin symptoms are described.
Anxiety skin symptoms often magnify merely by shifting your focus on them.
Why Does Anxiety Cause Skin Symptoms
Because many medical conditions can cause anxiety-like sensations and symptoms, including this one, we recommend all new, changing, persistent, and returning sensations and symptoms be discussed with your doctor. If your doctor concludes that your sensations and symptoms are solely stress related, including anxiety-caused stress, you can be confident there isn't a medical cause for this sensation or symptom. Generally, most doctors can easily determine the difference between stress- and anxiety-caused sensations and symptoms from those caused by medical conditions.
Doctors aren’t infallible, however. If you are uncertain about your doctor’s diagnosis, you may want to seek a second or more opinions. But if all opinions agree, you can be assured that stress, including anxiety-caused stress, is the cause of this symptom. Therefore, you can confidently rule out a medical cause.
It’s well documented that chronic stress, including the stress that anxious behavior causes, can cause a variety of skin-related symptoms. There are many reasons for this.
For example, the epidermis is the top layer of the skin. It is the body’s protective covering. The next layer down is the dermis layer. The dermis contains nerve endings, blood vessels, oil glands, and sweat glands, and also contains collagen and elastin, which make the dermis tough and stretchy.
The activation of the Emergency Response (Stress Response) causes stress hormones to be released into the bloodstream. Stress hormones cause the body’s senses and systems to be placed on high alert for emergency readiness. A part of this readiness includes a heightened sense of touch by making the nerve endings in the dermis more sensitive and reactive.
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 cause the body to remain in a state of semi emergency response readiness that we call stress-response hyperstimulation since stress hormones are stimulants.
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. These “reporting errors” can cause all kinds of odd sensations and symptoms simply due to the accumulative effects of chronic stress.
We explain this symptom in more detail in the Recovery Support area of our website.
While anxiety- and stress-caused skin symptoms can be annoying and distracting, they aren’t harmful. They are merely indications of persistently elevated stress. Therefore, there is no reason to worry or distress about them.
How To Get Rid Of Anxiety Skin Symptoms?
When anxiety skin symptoms are 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 anxiety symptom should subside. 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 anxiety skin symptoms are caused by chronic stress, such as from overly apprehensive behavior, it may take much longer for the body to calm down and recover, and to the point where this anxiety symptom subsides.
Nevertheless, when the body has recovered from the effects of chronic stress, anxiety skin symptoms subside. So again, this anxiety 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 your anxiety symptoms. Yes, anxiety skin symptoms can be bothersome, but again, when your body has recovered from the stress response and/or the effects of chronic stress (stress-response hyperstimulation), this symptom will subside.
If you are having difficulty refraining from worrying about this symptom, you may want to connect with one of our recommended anxiety disorder therapists. Working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to overcome anxiety disorder and its symptoms, including what seems like uncontrollable worry.
Play the clip below for Jim Folk's commentary about the anxiety skin symptoms, such as burning, itchy, crawly, prickly, stinging, biting, cold, hot, a cold wet feeling, a hot steam feeling, pinching, stabbing, electric zap or shock, nerve pain, tickling, numbness, pins and needles, wire brushed feeling, tingling, carpet burn feeling, or other skin sensations, feelings, sensitivities, and symptoms. Jim Folk is the president of anxietycentre.com.
Experiencing a wide range of skin symptoms is common for chronic stress, including the chronic stress caused by overly apprehensive behavior. Jim Folk experienced all of the anxiety symptoms mentioned at this website, with many to severe degrees during his 12 year struggle with anxiety disorder, including skin symptoms.
For a more detailed explanation about this symptom, anxiety, other anxiety symptoms, why anxiety 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.
1. Ghada A. Bin Saif, MD, et al. “Association of psychological stress with skin symptoms among medical students.” Saudi Medical Journal, January 2018, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5885122/
2. Peters, Eva M.J. “Stressed Skin? – a Molecular Psychosomatic Update on Stress‐Causes and Effects in Dermatologic Diseases.” JDDG: Journal Der Deutschen Dermatologischen Gesellschaft, Wiley/Blackwell (10.1111), 12 Mar. 2016, onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/ddg.12957.
3. “The Mind-Skin Connection.” WebMD, WebMD, 2003, www.webmd.com/beauty/features/effects-of-stress-on-your-skin#1.
4. Harvard Health Publishing. “Recognizing the Mind-Skin Connection.” Harvard Health, 2006, www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/Recognizing_the_mind-skin_connection.
5. Harvard Health Publishing. “Understanding the Stress Response.” Harvard Health, May 2018, www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-the-stress-response.
6. Mariotti, Agnese. “The Effects of Chronic Stress on Health: New Insights into the Molecular Mechanisms of Brain–Body Communication.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Nov. 2015, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5137920/.In-text Citation
7. Teixeira, Renata Roland, et al. “Chronic Stress Induces a Hyporeactivity of the Autonomic Nervous System in Response to Acute Mental Stressor and Impairs Cognitive Performance in Business Executives.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2015, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4373764/.
The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder coach, counselor, or therapist is the most effective way to address anxiety disorder and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed - the underlying factors that motivate apprehensive behavior - a struggle with anxiety disorder can return again and again. Identifying and successfully addressing anxiety's underlying factors is the best way to overcome problematic anxiety.
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Authors: Jim Folk, Marilyn Folk, BScN. Last updated November 20, 2018.