May 28, 2024

How to Stop Stress Itching?

Woman scratching her arm

How to Stop Stress Itching

Anxiety and itchy skin are separate conditions that might seem to have nothing in common. However, they sometimes occur together, with each intensifying the other.

What is stress itching, and how can you stop it? This article answers those questions.

How Anxiety Causes Itchy Skin (and Itchy Skin Aggravates Anxiety)

Our mental/emotional state and skin are more interconnected than you might think. Some clear demonstrations of that connection include when someone is embarrassed or nervous and blushes, breaks out in hives or gets sweaty palms. Not only is there a cause-and-effect relationship, but the effect is almost instantaneous.

Stress itching (also called psychogenic itch) can have several causes, including:

  • The release of stress hormones when we’re stressed can cause sensory symptoms like itching or burning skin.
  • Stress hormones may also initiate an immune response that includes inflammation and the release of substances that stimulate nerve endings, causing dry, itchy skin.
  • Some people rub or scratch their skin as a coping mechanism when stressed, which damages the skin and makes it itchy.
  • Chronic anxiety can compromise the skin’s barrier function, making it more susceptible to irritation and itchiness.
  • Stress can aggravate existing skin conditions, causing itching.

When someone experiencing stress starts to have itchy skin, a vicious cycle can develop. The discomfort of itchy skin and feeling helpless to stop it can worsen anxiety, and increased stress can intensify the itchiness.

How to Treat Stress Itching

Because stress and itching can exacerbate one another, it’s crucial to treat both. Effective stress reduction therapies and techniques include:

  • Breathing exercises
  • Massage therapy
  • Meditation
  • Tai chi or yoga
  • Acupuncture
  • Regular exercise

If you have persistent anxiety, your doctor may recommend behavioral therapy and medication to control your symptoms.

While you’re working to reduce your stress and anxiety, you should take steps to relieve your itchy skin, including:

  • Using a fragrance-free, hypoallergenic moisturizer daily
  • Avoiding exposure to bright sunlight, rough-textured clothing, hot baths or showers, and anything else that might dry or irritate your skin
  • Drinking plenty of fluids to stay hydrated and running a humidifier to keep your skin moist
  • Using over-the-counter itch-relief products like calamine lotion, topical anesthetics, or corticosteroid creams
  • Avoiding scratching as much as possible, and keeping your fingernails trimmed for when you can’t resist the urge to scratch

If those actions don’t help, your doctor may prescribe medications to alleviate your itching. Drugs that can be effective include hydroxyzine, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), tricyclic antidepressants, and antipsychotic medications.

Talk with Your Baptist Health Doctor About Stress Itching

Stress and itching are uncomfortable conditions that can intensify one another. However, addressing the two issues simultaneously can reverse the vicious cycle and produce improvements in both areas.

It can take time to get the two conditions under control. However, your Baptist Health primary care doctor can advise you on lifestyle changes and medical interventions that will gradually reduce and potentially eliminate your symptoms.

If you don’t have a Baptist Health physician, you can find one using our online provider directory.

Learn More.