Itchy skin affects a lot of people and can be very irritating and embarrassing for some, and whilst there are many potential causes and factors that go into skin irritation, anxiety has been linked as one of them.
As with a lot of physical symptoms of anxiety, the triggers lie within our caveman brain. This is the survival-driven part of our brain that our newer, rational cortex grew on top of. Its primary concern is keeping us alive, so when our brain perceives a threat, it releases these stress chemicals and activates a response called the fight, flight or freeze response. The stress hormone cortisol or the chemical adrenaline are released and this puts our body on high alert, and as a result, our body prepares to either fight, flight or freeze.
Why Can Anxiety Cause Itchy?
There’s a couple of reasons why anxiety can cause itchy or irritated skin, the first being that when our fight, flight or freeze response is activated our heart rate increases so that blood and oxygen can be circulated to where it’s needed most which are normally large muscles like our legs or back, and away from our skin, leaving it feeling cold and stimulating the nerves in the skin cells to feel irritable.
The other reason is that when we’re in this survival mode, our body becomes hypersensitive. Logically, this is to spot any danger coming our way, but when we’re suffering from anxiety it just makes us more tense and jumpy at sudden sounds or movements. It also makes us notice irritations that were too small to notice beforehand which causes us to pay attention to the itch or irritation, thus making it worse.
How Can I Stop This Symptom?
From a circulatory perspective, movement and exercise are the best ways of getting the blood and oxygen moving back around your body, including towards your skin. You can also try breathing exercises to calm your nervous system and lower the levels of hypersensitivity.
Of course, in order to prevent the symptoms of anxiety occurring in the first place, you need to manage or build strategies to tackle your anxiety. There are several options available including CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), mindfulness, medication and group therapy. If you’re unsure, please contact your GP for more information.