Chronic stress affects more than your mental health, it can also affect your skin. If you have pre-existing conditions like psoriasis, eczema, and rosacea, stress can exacerbate them and cause a flare-up. Even worse, watching that stress rash on your neck spread to your face can cause more stress and anxiety, leaving you stuck in a never-ending cycle of discomfort.
The most common ways to manage the itchy red welts that are the sign of a stress rash are to use topical creams and antihistamines. While these treatments are generally effective, they don’t address the underlying causes of stress that lead to anxiety-related hives in the first place.
What Is A Stress Rash?
According to the American Institute of Stress, a stress rash – raised, puffy welts on your skin that may spread or itch – might look like an allergic reaction but can occur as a result of being overly stressed.
Stress affects people’s skin in different ways. The term ‘rash’ is a broad term that may describe skin that is covered in small, irritated red bumps. Stress hives may occur if your skin gets red or itchy. If you have a skin condition, such as acne, psoriasis, or eczema, stress can worsen your symptoms.
Why do you get rashes when you’re stressed?
Stress rashes occur when your sympathetic nervous system becomes overstimulated. This causes histamine release, which leads to hives or itchy skin welts. Histamine is a compound that your cells release in response to an injury. It occurs during inflammatory and allergic reactions.
How long until stress rash goes away?
Most of the time, a stress rash will clear on its own within a few days. However, new welts may form if you’re continuously under stress.
Traditional Chinese Medicine And Stress
So, if you are looking for a more natural, holistic way to deal with a stress rash, you might consider how Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can help you manage both your level of stress and your skin health.
TCM is based on the belief that vital energy, or qi, flows along channels or meridians and that this energy ensures and maintains the optimal physiology of the body. If the flow of qi is blocked, an imbalance between yin and yang will occur. And compromise the state of health, making the body more prone to toxins and external pathogens.
As explained by Senior TCM physician at Real Health Medical clinic in Singapore, Brandon Yew, “Stress can cause disturbances to the flow of qi, which will increase the formation of various toxins and pathogens. These, in turn, wreak havoc and cause disorders of the vital viscera, mainly the lungs, liver, heart, and spleen. As TCM believes the lungs are very delicate compared to other organs, they will be particularly vulnerable to these toxins and pathogens. Furthermore, the skin is directly related to the lungs from a TCM perspective. As such, skin issues will come up easily when you’re stressed.”
Keep reading to learn five ways to alleviate the discomfort of a stress rash and keep it from returning.
Acupressure is the hands-on application of pressure to points on the body. These points are located on specific meridians, which influence the flow of energy through the body. By manipulating these points, you can remove the energy block, restore its circulation, and regain the balance between yin and yang.
Scientific studies have shown promising results that acupressure can help alleviate symptoms of stress rashes and other skin issues. However, acupressure alone is unlikely to cure your stress rashes and should be complementary care to other therapies.
The great part about acupressure is it’s cheap, non-invasive, and you can do it yourself at home! If you want to try acupressure for yourself, here are some of the most common acupressure points for treating stress rashes.
Physician Yew advises using fingers or blunt objects for acupoints at home. “Stick to certain acupoints and apply the appropriate amount of pressure to elicit sore or numbing sensation.” Furthermore, he encourages you to massage each acupoint in both clockwise and counterclockwise motions 20 times. Repeat for at least 3 minutes per acupoint.
The acupoints that might help relieve stress rash are:
Xue Hai (SP10)
When the patient’s knee is flexed, cup your right palm to his left knee, with the thumb on the medial side and with the other four fingers directed proximally and the thumb forming an angle of 45 degrees with the index finger. The point is where the tip of your thumb rest.
Qu Chi (LI11)
When the elbow is flexed, midway between the elbow fold and the lateral epicondyle of the humerus.
Yu Ji (LU10)
On the radial aspect of the midpoint of the first metacarpal bone, on the junction of the red and white skin.
Shen Men (HT7)
On the wrist, at the ulnar end of the transverse crease of the wrist, in the depression on the radial side of the tendon m. flexor carpi ulnaris.
Zu San Li (ST36)
On the anterior aspect of the lower leg, 4 fingers-breadth below the outer depression of the knee joint, one finger-breadth (middle finger) from the anterior crest of the tibia.
Tai Chong (LR3)
On the dorsum of the foot, in a depression proximal to the junction of the first and second metatarsal bones.
2. Herbal Treatments And Supplements
Herbs are a fundamental part of TCM. They are used as part of a personalized regimen that targets all of your underlying issues. Components of herbal treatment are chosen to address all underlying issues, not just target one medical complaint. Many of the herbs used in TCM have been shown in studies to have anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
For example, American ginseng tea is a cooling herb beneficial for neutralizing heat toxins that are often formed and accumulated in the body as a result of experiencing stress and anxiety. Herbs like fineleaf schizonepeta, dahurian angelica root, chrysanthemum, and a weeping forsythia can help reduce itchiness, ease inflammation, and restore a healthy complexion. However, physician Yew urges not to self-medicate with herbs. “Instead, seek TCM professional help for herbal prescriptions. They can address underlying specific root causes based on your unique body constitution”
3. Dietary Changes
Stress can often cause you to make poor dietary choices. Because when you’re stressed, you often reach for foods that are more comforting than nourishing. But cookies, cakes, and greasy takeout can make you feel worse in the long run, and even show up on your skin. In TCM, foods have heating and cooling properties. Many skin conditions, like rashes, are the result of excess heat in the body. Eating foods that have heating properties can lead to more stress rashes.
To help soothe a stress rash eat cooling foods like bananas, watermelon, leafy vegetables, such as kale, and bitter herbs like dandelion or mustard greens. In TCM, these foods will help neutralize the heat by counterbalancing yang (warming energy) with yin (cooling energy). These foods are also rich in vitamins and minerals that will help your skin health. For even better results, you can also try eliminating artificial food additives, caffeine, and alcohol.
A stress rash can also be the result of a food allergy or food sensitivity. Even if you’re not having a severe anaphylactic reaction, you can still feel the negative effects of the foods you’re eating, leaving you with red welts and hives.
4. Treatments By A TCM Practitioner
If you aren’t seeing the results you’d like, visit a professional! A trained TCM practitioner will look at many factors when determining your treatment. There may be underlying issues that are affecting your skin health and overall stress level which they can address with their treatment.
Acupuncture: If you’re struggling to control your stress rashes, try acupuncture. In an acupuncture treatment, practitioners use needles to target points of energy in the body. Just like in acupressure, targeting these points clears energy blocks and allows qi to flow smoothly throughout the body and restores the balance between yin and yang. Just like herbal treatments, acupuncture treatments address your unique health concerns.
Cupping: Cupping has become much more popular recently. The practitioner uses small cups to create a vacuum effect on the skin. As well as helping qi flow throughout the body, cupping also increases blood and fluid circulation.
Tuina: If you’re looking for hands-on treatment, tuina is a form of medical massage which is similar to acupuncture. But instead of needles, a practitioner uses their hands to get qi flowing.
5. Adopt A Mindfulness Practice
It’s not possible to remove all stressors from your life, but it is possible to learn how to manage stress better. Adopting a mindfulness practice forces you to slow down, listen to your body, and calm your nervous system. Managing the stress in your life can help cut down on the number of stress rashes you deal with.
One easy-to-adopt mindfulness habit is meditation. Meditation can take many forms, but simply, it is any technique you use to focus your awareness. It can be as simple as sitting quietly and listening to your breath, or meditation can be a more structured practice, like yoga or tai chi.
If you want to try a simple breathing exercise, you can try qigong, a TCM practice.
Basic Qigong Breathing
- Use a straight-backed chair to help you with your posture. Make sure your head, neck, and spine are aligned.
- Place your hands on your abdomen.
- Take a deep, slow breath. Make sure your hands move as your lungs fill with air and that inflates your torso. This ensures that you are not taking shallow breaths. Pause at the top of the breath and focus on the way it feels to breathe deeply.
- Exhale slowly, empty all the air from both your abdomen and lungs.
- Continue breathing in this manner for several minutes.
Small changes in your daily habits can reduce the stress in your life as well as reduce the frequency and intensity of stress rash flare-ups. Consider implementing any of these ideas into your self-care routine. Don’t go it alone! Seek the advice of licensed practitioners and see a doctor if your symptoms worsen.
Save this article so you are prepared the next time you feel the familiar tingling of a stress rash.
- Scripps. 2020. Can Stress Cause Rashes.
- National Eczema Association. 2017. Acupuncture, Acupressure and Eczema.
- National Eczema Association. 2017. Traditional Chinese Medicine and Eczema.
- US National Library of Medicine. 2014. Diet and Dermatitis: Food Triggers.
- Pubmed. 2020. Traditional Chinese Medicine For Food Allergy and Eczema.
- Mayo Clinic. 2020. Mindfulness Exercise.
- US National Library of Medicine. 2017. Effects of Ginseng on Stress-Related Depression, Anxiety.
- American Institute of Stress. 2019. What to Do When Stress Gives You Hives.
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