Anxiety is a mental health issue, but physical symptoms, such as itching, can also occur. This, in turn can cause further irritation and anxiety.
Anxiety and itching can also lead to a vicious circle in some people.
This cycle of anxiety and itchiness can be hard to break. In some people, anxiety may also cause underlying skin conditions to flare up, causing more itchiness.
Keep reading to learn more about the link between itching and anxiety.
Although it is not always the case, anxiety and itching can sometimes share a very close relationship.
An anxiety disorder may cause the sensation of itching. If this happens, the itching is not due to an underlying skin condition or irritant, but instead, appears as a symptom of anxiety.
For example, a 2016 study found that skin conditions, including itching and flaky scalps, are common in people experiencing high-stress situations, having psychological conditions, or going through a major life event.
Stress causes several changes in the body, such as hormonal fluctuations and changes in the nervous system, which could lead to unpleasant sensations along one or more nerves. These sensations can cause a burning or itching feeling anywhere on the skin.
Anxiety and skin conditions
A person with an underlying skin condition may also experience increased itchiness relating to their preexisting condition. In these people, symptoms of stress
People living with chronic skin conditions that cause itchiness
Skin conditions that may worsen with anxiety include:
Can itching cause anxiety?
While anxiety may cause or worsen itching, the reverse is also true. Itching, and conditions that cause persistent itching, can be a source of anxiety.
People with a skin condition, such as eczema or psoriasis, may find the condition itself a source of stress and anxiety. Symptoms can disrupt daily life, and a flare-up can be distracting and irritating.
The physical itch is not the only source of anxiety for people with these conditions. People with skin conditions that cause visible damage or marks to the skin may deal with social stress or anxiety when interacting with others.
Learn more about the link between psoriasis and social anxiety here.
Treatment will vary based on the underlying condition and the root cause of the itchiness or anxiety.
Treatments for skin conditions may include medicated creams to help stop itching, as well as targeted medications for the individual symptoms or condition itself.
A therapist or psychologist can also help people with anxiety disorders manage their anxiety levels through behavioral therapy. This therapy can help people change the thought patterns that lead to anxiety. In some people, medications may be necessary.
It is also important to find ways to reduce stress, as it can trigger symptoms. Practices that may help reduce stress include:
- massage therapy
- movement activities, such as tai chi or yoga
- breathing exercises
- regular exercise
The first step toward treatment for anxiety and itching is to identify the root cause and break the cycle of symptoms.
A full physical and mental assessment is necessary for an anxiety diagnosis. An initial treatment provider may also refer people to a mental health specialist to help identify any underlying causes of anxiety.
- generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
- social anxiety disorder
- panic disorder
- separation anxiety disorder
Each type of anxiety disorder will have different symptoms and diagnostic criteria. For example, for a diagnosis of GAD, a person must exhibit excessive anxiety and worry most days for at least 6 months.
Learn more about the different types of anxiety and their diagnoses in our dedicated hub.
Diagnosing skin conditions
Doctors can help diagnose underlying skin conditions or refer the person to a dermatologist for additional testing. They may ask the person to take medical tests, such as blood tests, to screen for other problematic conditions that may influence itching.
Once the person receives a diagnosis, a doctor can begin treatment.
As part of a diagnosis for itching skin, doctors will check for other potential causes. Several different conditions and factors can cause itching, including:
- neurological conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, diabetic neuropathy, and shingles
- other psychiatric conditions, such as depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder
- diseases involving the internal organs, such as liver or kidney failure, anemia, and even some types of cancer
- pregnancy and hormonal changes
- side effects from some medications
In some people, the itching is idiopathic, meaning it has no known cause. The person will need to work closely with their doctor to find ways to manage this symptom.
Anyone experiencing itchiness or anxiety that affects their daily life should contact a doctor. A doctor may refer the person to a dermatologist to test for skin conditions or to a mental health specialist for therapy for an anxiety disorder.
Anyone who notices additional or worsening symptoms after starting a new treatment may also wish to speak with a doctor to modify their treatment.
Although it is not true in every person, anxiety and itchiness often have a close relationship.
People with skin conditions, such as psoriasis and eczema, may notice symptoms flare up during periods of high stress or anxiety. Anxiety disorders may also cause itchiness.
Additionally, chronic itching can be a source of irritation, stress, and anxiety for many people, potentially leading to a cycle of symptoms that can greatly reduce a person’s quality of life.