The study of anxiety and panic disorders is a still-growing field in modern times. The list of signs and symptoms of anxiety is constantly growing as science discovers a new way that our psychology affects our bodies. One of these signs of serious anxiety and panic attacks is a burning sensation on the skin that feels like a sunburn. This symptom can take on several forms, such as feeling like:
- Skin irritation
- Or even pins and needles
Some people may even experience these feelings in the eyes, tongue, and lips!
However, no matter what form this symptom takes, they all have one thing in common: it’s mighty uncomfortable. But, for the estimated 19% of Americans who suffer from anxiety in America, these sensations can be a regular occurrence.
Let’s take a deeper look at the burning sensation on the skin that feels like sunburn and its relation to anxiety.
Reasons for a Burning Sensation on the Skin that Feels Like a Sunburn
A burning, sunburn-like sensation on your skin may be related to your anxiety. However, this is not the only time that you may experience this symptom. In fact, there are a number of disorders and reasons that this may occur.
For instance, skin conditions such as eczema, herpes, and psoriasis may cause a burning or itching sensation. You may also be suffering from something as simple as a pesky insect bite. In some cases, individuals report these symptoms as the result of an allergic reaction or even the shingles.
While anxiety can certainly make the symptoms of these conditions worse, you have to have the disease in order for anxiety to affect any changes or worsening symptoms.
That Burning Sensation on My Skin that Feels like a Sunburn – Is it Anxiety?
One of many symptoms of anxiety that you may experience is an itching, burning feeling on your skin that may feel like a sunburn. But there is no one time that your anxiety can produce this symptom. For instance, you may feel it when you have anxiety or a panic attack. Or, you may have it if any existing skin conditions flare up that make you feel uncomfortable or embarrassed. Some people may experience this symptom from a mild jolt of anxiety in their day-to-day. This is a result of your body entering fight-or-flight mode.
The Fight-or-Flight Response
Evolutionarily, your fight-or-flight response is an automatic response by your body to deal with potential threats. For some people, the resulting rush of adrenaline and cortisol forces them to run – sometimes literally – from their problems or the source of the threat. For others, fight-or-flight forces them to freeze in place, unable to respond to the threat or their other surroundings.
The physical and chemical changes that result from this anxiety-induced rush of adrenaline may be what’s responsible for that burning, itching sensation in your skin that feels like a sunburn. This may be because it changes how your blood flows – or how you feel your blood flow – through the body. This may result in skin that feels numb, tingly, or even burning.
Let’s take a deeper look at adrenaline and cortisol to examine their effects on your anxiety as well.
Adrenaline, Cortisol, and Anxiety
Adrenaline and cortisol, the hormones responsible for your fight-or-flight response, affect your body in a number of ways. For instance, adrenaline causes your body to:
- Increase your heart rate
- Raise your blood pressure
- Give you a sense of increased energy
- Make you feel jittery or like you need to move
Cortisol also affects your body and mind. Additionally, prolonged exposure to cortisol may result in a weakened immune system and more reactive senses. Cortisol works by:
- Increasing glucose in the bloodstream and brain
- Increasing the chemicals and cells that help repair damage
- Suppressing the digestive, reproductive, and growth systems and processes
- Altering your perception of mood, fear, and even motivation
This stress hormone may exacerbate or worsen the effects of anxiety, including the burning or sunburn-like sensation on your skin. Specifically, because cortisol alters your perceptions, this may lead to states of hypersensitivity. For some, this means that their feeling of being in danger becomes overwhelming, leading to anxiety or panic. For others, their physical senses may become overactive. This can lead to everyday actions – such as putting on a coat – feeling like your skin is burning or itching.
How Do I Stop the Burning Sensation?
Without medication, it’s impossible for you to control your hormones. That means that if you’re in the middle of an anxiety attack that leads to a burning or sunburn-like sensation on your skin, the best course of action is to wait it out and calm down.
This may include using relaxation techniques or doing deep breathing or yoga poses. For those individuals who have a skin condition in addition to anxiety, using prescribed or over-the-counter skin medications may also help relieve the symptoms. Additionally, for those in the middle of a panic attack, taking prescription anxiety meds, such as a benzodiazepine like Xanax or Ativan, may relieve the anxiety and the burning sensation in the process.
However, the best way to address the burning sensation is to prevent it from happening in the first place. While you may not be able to guarantee that your panic attacks will never happen, there are steps you can take to reduce your anxiety and stress overall. For instance, you may want to look into:
- Eating a healthy, plant-based diet
- Taking supplements to bolster your diet
- Exercising regularly
- Taking walks or hikes in nature
- Scheduling a massage a few times a year
- Booking a slot in your week for “You Time” where you read, draw, or watch a good movie
- Connect with friends who make you feel good, rather than anxious
- Signing up to volunteer
Not all of these tips may work for everyone. However, many can benefit from making a point to slow down, enjoy their free time, and scheduling a day to be spoiled once in a while.