What Even Are Stress Hives, Anyway?

As if being stressed wasn’t uncomfortable enough, your body just loves to throw a rash on top of your list of problems

These last few months have really tested the boundaries of our ability to be stressed. Just as you think you couldn’t possibly feel more emotionally taxed amidst thousands of people dying every day from coronavirus, bam! We’re confronted once again with the systemic murder of Black people by police and increasingly blatant fascist suppression of the protests surrounding them. It feels… um…. really bad (words fail me). 

Stress will literally make you sick. You feel it emotionally, of course, but its effects creep into your ability to eat well, get enough sleep or maintain healthy relationships. Over time, stress can even kill you. But for some people, one of the more immediate manifestations of stress appears right on their skin, in the form of stress hives. 

“Stress hives” is basically a blanket term for any type of red bumps, welts or itchy patches on the skin, ranging in size from a pencil eraser to a dinner plate. Some people break out in multiple hives, while others experience only a single hive. Hives are usually the result of some form of allergen, like specific foods or pollen — the body can misinterpret a non-harmful substance as foreign and toxic and produces histamines in an attempt to flush them out. Histamines produce symptoms like a runny nose, sneezing, watery eyes and rashes, which are basically the result of the body trying to push a substance out through the skin’s surface. 

When someone experiences stress hives, their body is interpreting the hormones of stress as an allergen. Fortunately, this means you can usually treat stress hives as you would any other type of allergic reaction. Over-the-counter antihistamines like Benadryl will help calm the hives, especially if they itch or burn. A cool compress or bath along with topical treatments like Hydrocortisone can also relieve the symptoms. 

As weird as they might be, stress hives are pretty normal. If you’re experiencing them for the first time during all this, it’s definitely understandable, although you might want to check your routine and see if you’ve been using a new laundry detergent or body products, as these might actually be the culprit.

As for making stress hives go away, you probably just have to be patient. Most go away in 24 hours, though some can take weeks. Scratching will only make them last longer and be more uncomfortable. 

Obviously, stressing about it isn’t going to help, either. The best way to manage stress hives is, frankly, to not be stressed. That seems pretty much impossible now, but at very least, try not to add stress hives to your list of stressors.