How to Identify and Treat a Stress Rash

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A stress rash typically shows up as hives (urticaria) on the face, neck, chest, or arms. Stress causes your immune system to release chemicals that help fight off foreign substances or allergens that present a physical "threat" to your body. Essentially, your body is having an allergic reaction to stress.

This article discusses stress rash, including what it looks like, what causes it, how to treat it, and ways to help prevent it from occurring.

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What Does a Stress Rash Look Like?

A stress rash usually presents as hives or welts on the skin. These bumps can appear on any part of the body but are more common on the face, neck, chest, and arms. Hives are often raised off the skin (swollen) and can vary in color.

Stress rashes are typically very itchy. You might also notice a burning or tingling sensation in the affected area.

It's estimated that up to 20% of people will experience hives at some point during their lives.

Stress Rash Causes

Your skin is an organ that detects when the body is stressed and reacts to stress. The exact reason why stress causes a rash is not clear, but the nervous system and immune system both play a role.

The nervous system reacts to stress (physical or emotional) by releasing a hormone called cortisol that triggers a "fight or flight" response. Increased cortisol levels lead to increased inflammation and excess sebum and oil production in the skin. This can cause hives and other skin issues such as acne.

The immune system releases a chemical called histamine when presented with an allergen—anything your body might recognize as a "foreign substance." This causes an allergic reaction. Histamine can also be released in response to stress.


Treatment for stress rash includes addressing the underlying stressors and managing symptoms when they occur.

Address the Cause

The best way to treat a stress rash is to address the underlying cause: your stress. Though not all stress is avoidable (or even bad), there are things you can do to decrease symptoms of stress. Try these tips:

  • Identify your stressors: Pay attention to when your stress rash occurs. See if there is a specific trigger that can be identified. If possible, avoid these triggers.
  • Practice coping strategies: Positive coping skills can help you decrease symptoms of stress, including a rash. These can include deep breathing, meditation, yoga, stretching, journaling, or taking a walk. You might have to try different activities until you find what works for you. Then, make time to include it in your regular schedule.
  • Talk it out: Consider sharing your stressors with a close friend or professional counselor.
  • Schedule "me time": Set aside time during your day for reading, exercise, or any other self-care activity you enjoy.

Treat the Symptoms

Stress rash symptoms can often be treated at home. Over-the-counter antihistamine medications such as Benadryl (diphenhydramine) can help to block the histamine that is causing your allergic reaction. For more severe symptoms, your healthcare provider might prescribe steroid medications for short-term use.

Home remedies can also help:

  • Apply anti-itch cream
  • Use a cold pack on itchy skin
  • Moisturize daily with fragrance-free lotion
  • Wear loose clothing made of cotton
  • Avoid the heat to reduce sweating

Preventing Stress Rash

Stress rash is not always preventable, but identifying your triggers and managing your stressors can help decrease the frequency and intensity of your symptoms.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If your rash does not improve with home remedies, see your healthcare provider. It's important to have your rash looked at if it:

· Covers your entire body

· Comes on suddenly and spreads quickly

· Contains open blisters or sores

· Is painful

· Appears infected

Is It Really a Stress Rash? Other Possible Causes

Talk to your healthcare provider to determine the cause of your rash. This symptom can be caused by many different conditions. Examples include:

Stress rash often occurs when you are in a high-pressure situation or feeling anxious. You'll likely have other physical symptoms of stress at the same time. These can include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Sweating
  • Dizziness
  • Shakiness
  • Faster breathing
  • Tightness or tension in your muscles
  • Pale or "flushed" skin
  • Difficulty sleeping


A skin rash can be caused by stress. It typically appears as hives or bumps on the face, chest, neck, and arms. The exact cause of stress rash isn't clear, but your immune system and nervous system both play a role. Treatment for stress rash includes addressing the cause of your stress and managing symptoms with home remedies and medications.

A Word From Verywell

If you suspect you are experiencing stress rash, talk to your healthcare provider to rule out other medical conditions that can also cause this symptom. Be intentional about incorporating stress reduction techniques into your daily life.

In addition to stress rash, chronic stress can play a role in developing more serious conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, depression, anxiety disorders, and cancer.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can anxiety cause a rash?

    Rashes can occur from anxiety. Often called a stress rash, this condition most often appears as hives on the face, neck, chest, and arms.

  • How long do stress hives last?

    Hives caused by stress often disappear within 24 hours, but for some people, they can last for days.

  • What can be mistaken for hives?

    Many skin conditions can cause bumps that can be mistaken for hives. Examples include dermatitis, eczema, lupus, shingles, and psoriasis. See your healthcare provider to determine the cause of your skin condition.

11 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Aubrey Bailey, PT, DPT, CHT
Aubrey Bailey is a physical therapist and professor of anatomy and physiology with over a decade of experience providing in-person and online education for medical personnel and the general public, specializing in the areas of orthopedic injury, neurologic diseases, developmental disorders, and healthy living.