Can anxiety cause itchy skin

Can Anxiety Cause Itchy Skin? Exploring the Hidden Connection

Writen By: Sadia Mirza
Reviewed By: Huma Khan
Publish Date: January 18, 2024

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you’re feeling anxious and your skin suddenly starts to itch uncontrollably? Having that itchy skin while being anxious may make you wonder: Can anxiety cause itchy skin? 

Anxiety affects our mental and emotional health but it also takes a toll on our physical health such as by causing itchy skin. It is evident from the research study that there is a great connection between skin disease and anxiety. 

Read with us and uncover this mysterious connection between the itch-anxiety cycle and discover if anxiety truly has the power to make our skin crawl. In this blog post, you will find answers to Can overthinking make you itchy? What is the science behind it? and how to overcome itchy skin. 

Anxiety

Anxiety can be described as a feeling of uneasiness, nervousness, and worry about future events and uncertain outcomes. It is triggered by specific events or situations that you are afraid of. Anxiety has signs that help you know when it’s there.

Symptoms of Anxiety

  • Restlessness
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Sleep problems
  • Excessive worrying
  • Racing thoughts
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Muscle tension
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Muscle tension
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dry mouth

Itchy Skin conditions

You might be wondering Can itchy skin be caused by anxiety? But before exploring this connection, let’s dive into the various itchy skin conditions and the causes behind them. There are many different types of itchy skin conditions and there are also different causes behind them other than anxiety. 

Some common types of itchy skin conditions are:

1. Eczema

2. Psoriasis

3. Hives

4. Scabies 

5. Rosacea

Causes of Itchy Skin 

Itchy skin conditions are caused by many reasons, such as: 

  • Dryness can cause itching, especially in cold weather.
  • Any allergic reactions also cause itchy skin conditions. It can be triggered by using wool or soap, or can also be caused by eating any food or taking medications. 
  • Fungal, bacterial, and viral infections also cause itchy skin.
  • Some internal diseases, like liver, kidney, and thyroid problems, can also cause itching.
  • Insect bites also cause itching.
  • Stress and anxiety can also cause itching.

Can Anxiety Cause Itchy Skin?

We now know about anxiety as well as some common itchy skin conditions. Now let us talk about the connection between these two health conditions. We’ll address the most fundamental query: Can stress and anxiety cause itchy skin? 

First, we have to look at the connection between mind and skin, known as ‘psychodermatology’. It means the condition of our mind affects the skin. So, when we are anxious, it manifests in the form of itching. The relationship between anxiety and itchy skin is a two-way street. Anxiety can also worsen existing skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis, and the constant itch itself can fuel further anxiety, creating a vicious itch-anxiety cycle.

The psychological condition that leads to physical symptoms in our body is known as the ‘Psychosomatic Connection’, such as anxiety, which can cause our bodies to itch. This research from PubMed further clarifies this connection between mind and skin, which shows that skin itching is associated with psychological conditions such as anxiety, stress, and other mood disorders.

So, why does anxiety cause itching? Several reasons can explain that.

  • Our mind and skin are both connected through the nervous system. As stress triggers the release of cortisol hormones, it activates itch-related nerves in the skin. So it’s true that itchy skin conditions are associated with high levels of anxiety and stress, according to research.
  • The connection between the brain and the skin and how they communicate with each other is known as the ‘skin-brain axis.’ Our skin is covered with nerves that directly communicate with our brain. This skin-brain axis transmits sensations like an itch, but it also receives signals from the brain, influenced by emotions like anxiety. So, when you’re stressed and anxious, your brain can send itch signals that trigger itching sensations.
  • Stress and anxiety also trigger the release of a chemical called histamine, which is released by the body’s immune system in response to stress and anxiety. Histamine causes blood vessels to dilate and leak, leading to inflammation and itching.
  • Stress and anxiety cause changes in the skin’s barrier function, which is responsible for protecting the body from harmful substances such as bacteria and allergens. When the skin barrier function is altered, it leads to irritation and itching. 
  • Anxiety also heightens our sensory awareness, making us sensitive to all body sensations and, as a result, having an unbearable urge to scratch even the slightest itch.
  • Scratching due to anxiety further irritates the skin, leading to increased itching and inflammation.

So it is evident from research studies that itchy skin conditions are associated with high levels of anxiety and stress. Also, we just talked about how anxiety can make your skin itchy, answering the question “Can Anxiety Cause Itchy Skin?” Now, let’s see if the opposite is true: Can having itchy skin make you feel anxious?

Can Itchy Skin Cause Anxiety?

After reading “Does anxiety cause itching?”, we are going to investigate “Can itchy skin cause anxiety?” Research shows that itchy skin conditions (dermatosis) can cause psychological distress, such as depression and anxiety. Itchy skin doesn’t just make us uncomfortable; it also induces anxiety, which takes a toll on both our physical and mental health.

Another research indicated that many people with chronic itch also reported psychological stress. Thus, the following are the causes of anxiety brought on by itchy skin:

  • Persistent itching disturbs your sleep pattern, making it difficult for you to sleep and disruptions in your sleep pattern eventually cause anxiety.
  • It interferes with daily activities, causing constant discomfort due to scratching, leading to irritability, frustration, and eventually anxiety.
  • Excessive scratching and visible skin conditions develop self-consciousness and social anxiety, impacting your social life.
  • Furthermore, a study found that people with chronic itch, when exposed to fearful and stressful visual images, were shown to have severity in their itching. 

After addressing the questions “Can Anxiety Cause Itchy Skin?” and Can Itchy Skin Cause Anxiety?” it’s evident that these conditions are connected, with each potentially making the other worse. Recognizing this relationship is crucial for effective management in both areas. Let us now explore the kinds of itchy skin conditions that anxiety affects. This exploration will help us find better ways to treat them.

Types of Skin Conditions Influenced by Anxiety

There are many skin conditions that are influenced by anxiety. Let’s view some common skin conditions that are influenced by anxiety.

1. Eczema

Eczema is a chronic inflammatory skin condition that results in dry, itchy, and inflamed patches, often on the face, hands, and inner elbows. While genetics also play a role in developing eczema, research showed that eczema and psoriasis are associated with an increased risk of depression and anxiety.  While anxiety may not be the sole cause of eczema, it may worsen it and delay healing.

2. Psoriasis

Psoriasis is characterized by red, thick, and scaly patches of skin. It is an autoimmune skin condition linked to anxiety. Research shows that anxiety may exacerbate psoriasis and the prevalence of anxiety in psoriasis patients was 7-48%. Both are related to each other, so treating anxiety will help treat psoriasis.

3. Rosacea

This condition causes redness, flushing, and visible blood vessels on the facial skin. It is often accompanied by pimples and pustules. While the exact cause of rosacea remains unknown, stress and anxiety are known to trigger flare-ups and worsen symptoms.

4. Hives

These are the itchy welts on the skin, also known as urticaria and they are triggered by various factors, including stress and anxiety. When the stress hormone cortisol surges, it causes blood vessels to leak, leading to hives.

If you’re struggling with a skin condition and doubt that it might be due to anxiety, consult a dermatologist and a mental health professional to develop a comprehensive treatment plan that addresses both your physical and mental health problems.

How do I know if my itching is from anxiety? 

Our skin condition doesn’t always indicate that it is a result of anxiety; there can be other reasons too. Plus, it can be tricky to find out the source of your itching, but here are some signs and clues that might indicate that your itching is due to anxiety. You can look out for the following:

  • You can tell it by looking at the timing patterns, such as if your itching flares up during periods of high stress or anxiety, like exams, deadlines, or arguments. It could be due to anxiety.
  • Anxiety-related itching often occurs without any visible rash or blemishes in skin texture.
  • A common feature of anxiety-induced itching is scratching. It provides temporary relief but worsens the itch in the long run.
  • If you experience itching with other symptoms of anxiety, such as a racing heart, difficulty breathing, or muscle tension, it strengthens the possibility of a connection between itching and anxiety. 

These are just clues to check whether your itching is related to anxiety or not. To get a proper diagnosis, consult a healthcare professional, as the doctor will ask you about your history, examine your skin, and maybe prescribe some tests such as blood tests or skin biopsies.

7 Best Tips for Anxiety-Induced Itchy Skin

As we get to know the answer to the question, Can anxiety cause itchy skin? We now have to be informative about the ways to overcome it. We’ll talk about fixing the itching and dealing with the anxiety that’s causing it. There are different things we can do for both.

1. Hydration

Dryness is one of the causes of itching and being hydrated can minimize it. Drinking plenty of water regularly can keep your skin hydrated.

2. Hygiene

Avoid harsh soaps and detergents and hot baths, opting for lukewarm showers. Also, pat your skin dry instead of rubbing it.

3. Diet

Certain foods can trigger itching and worsen it. Limit spicy foods, alcohol, and caffeine, as they may exacerbate itching.

4. Exercise

Exercise can be very helpful in reducing anxiety and improving skin health, as it releases natural mood boosters and endorphins. You can find physical activities you enjoy, like swimming, cycling, running, and yoga. 

5. Sleep Routine

Your sleep routine should be adequate and healthy, as sleeping is crucial to promoting skin health and managing stress. Try to sleep 7-8 hours each night.

6. Mindfulness and Meditation

Mindfulness and meditation can also help manage stress and anxiety, reducing their negative effects on the skin. You can engage in activities like mindfulness meditation, guided imagery, or deep breathing exercises regularly.

7. Relaxation techniques

There are many effective relaxation techniques, such as Progressive muscle relaxation, biofeedback, and spending time in nature, which help reduce stress and anxiety and promote relaxation.

Additional Tips: If your anxiety or itchy skin is severe or doesn’t improve with self-management techniques, then you can consult a doctor or dermatologist. They can guide you better and provide further assessment, diagnose any underlying conditions related to anxiety and itching, and recommend appropriate treatment plans, including medications when necessary.

Self-Help Books

Self-help books can be a great tool to overcome anxiety and reduce its physical effects, such as itching. Let’s look at them.

1. The Anatomy of Anxiety: Understanding and Overcoming the Body’s Fear Response

This book is by Dr. Ellen Vora, MD. This book provides a healing process to reframe our views about anxiety and our relationship with it, helping us to live a more balanced and fulfilled life.

2. Stop Anxiety Now

This book is by David Redmore. It gives step-by-step strategies to manage anxiety and panic attacks, as well as how to control your mind, eliminate negative thinking, and master your thoughts and emotions. 

3. Mindful Anxiety Relief

Kimberly Contreras wrote this book. It helps calm stress and anxiety in 30 days by offering a transformative path and building life-changing habits.

Treatment Options 

Many treatment options are available that can be helpful for your itching and anxiety. Let’s discuss them in detail.

Treating The Itch

1. Medications

Certain topical or oral medications such as corticosteroids, antihistamines, and others can be helpful in reducing itching and inflammation.

2. Skincare routine

A good skin care routine such as gentle cleansers, fragrance-free moisturizers, and cool compresses can help to soothe and protect your skin from itch.

3. Light Therapy or Phototherapy

Light therapy is the type of therapy that uses direct sunlight or artificial light to treat certain medical disorders. It can help treat your itchy skin also. You can take some time in your day and expose yourself to sunlight as it is a great source of Vitamin D that could be beneficial for your skin and bones.

Treating the Anxiety

1. Medications

There are many medications available that can treat anxiety. Antidepressants such as SSRIs, SNRIs, and anti anxiety medications Celexa, Lexapro, Prozac can be helpful for treating anxiety. There is research backing up that anti anxiety medications and psychological treatments such as CBT can have anti itch effects too as treating anxiety also minimize itching.

2. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

CBT can help treat anxiety as it identifies and modifies negative thought patterns that result in anxiety. It is an effective form of therapy that especially works on our thoughts and behavioral patterns. 

3. Exposure Therapy

This therapy involves slowly exposing yourself to situations that trigger your anxiety in a safe and controlled environment. This can help you learn to manage your fear and response that results in anxiety. With the help of a professional therapist, guiding you about exposure therapy you will be able to get rid of your anxiety.

4. Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)

The focus of ACT is on accepting your thoughts and feelings completely without judging yourself and making it easier for yourself to face your negative thoughts and fears. Anxiety is often developed due to negative thought patterns and feeling fearful and anxious. ACT could be the best option for dealing with anxiety.

5. Mindfulness-based therapies

Mindfulness-based therapies teach you how to focus your attention on the present moment without judgment, which can help you manage anxiety and stress. Anxiety usually occurs due to focusing so much either on uncertain future events and mindfulness-based therapies help with that as they bring our mind into the present moment.

Therapy Providing Organizations

1. BetterHelp

Better help gives you the services of licensed and accredited therapists that can help you with depression and anxiety. Treating anxiety means treating your itchy skin.

2. Support Groups Central

It provides support for various mental health conditions including anxiety. They offer a wide range of support groups.

3. Anxiety and Depression Association of America 

ADAA provides licensed mental health therapists specializing in anxiety, depression, OCD, PTSD, and related disorders.

Conclusion

In this blog post about Can anxiety cause itchy skin? We read in detail about both anxiety and itch and their impacts on each other. The first thing to address and treat any issue is to have enough authentic information about it and you have taken the first step toward that.

In today’s world, mental health is not taken seriously so many people don’t know that anxiety could be the reason for itching. Being aware of it and spreading the word about it can be helpful for many people going through it.

If you have anxiety-related itching, try to address it and get professional treatment for it. It can help minimize its effects on your daily and work lives.

FAQs

1. Does anxiety cause itching at night?

Yes, anxiety can cause itchy skin as it disrupts the sleep pattern, making it difficult to fall asleep, which can worsen itching. When you aren’t able to sleep, your skin becomes more irritated and itchy. Secondly, our mind and body are closely linked so what happens in our mind affects our physical health. So if you constantly think about anxiety, it manifests in the form of itching.

2. How do I stop thinking about itching?

Stopping the itchy thought cycle can be difficult, but there are some strategies that you can try to overcome when thinking about it. You can focus on your other sensations, like listening to music, having a cup of tea, or inhaling a soothing scent like lavender. Furthermore, physical and mental exercises, deep breathing techniques, and progressive muscle relaxation can also help overcome thinking about itching.

3. How long can anxiety itch last?

The duration of anxiety itching can vary from person to person. It can be a short reaction to a specific stressful situation or a chronic condition that can last for weeks, months, or even years. In many cases, itching may come and go, flaring up during periods of increased anxiety and stress.

4. How long does stress itching last?

Stress itching tends to last according to the stressful situation. Once the stressor is resolved, the itching typically finishes within a few days or weeks. However, in some cases, it may become chronic and can last for months or even years. 

5. What mental disorders cause itching?

Itching can be linked to certain mental health disorders, such as:

  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Compulsive behaviors in OCD, like excessive skin-picking, can lead to itching.
  • Somatization Disorder: It involves experiencing unexplained physical symptoms, including itching, linked to psychological distress.
  • Depression and Anxiety: These conditions may manifest physical symptoms, including itching.
  • Delusional Parasitosis: A psychiatric disorder where individuals believe they are infested with parasites, causing itching.

Consulting a healthcare professional is crucial for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

6. Can anxiety cause an itchy scalp?

Yes, anxiety can cause an itchy scalp because it leads to stress, which triggers the release of hormones that cause inflammation and itching. Anxiety can also cause people to scratch their scalp more, which further irritates it and makes it itchy.