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How Stress Causes Shingles

author image Barb Nefer
Based in Kissimmee, Fla., Barb Nefer is a freelance writer with over 20 years of experience. She is a mental health counselor, finance coach and travel agency owner. Her work has appeared in such magazines as "The Writer" and "Grit" and she authored the book, "So You Want to Be a Counselor."
How Stress Causes Shingles
Skin can be affected by shingles. Photo Credit skin image by Robert Kelly from <a href="http://www.fotolia.com">Fotolia.com</a>

You may think you're done with chicken pox if you had them as a child, or even as an adult, but they make you vulnerable to another skin condition called shingles. It involves ugly, painful, fluid-filled blisters that can happen at any age after you've had chicken pox, although the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center College of Medicine explains they are most common in people over age 50. Physical and emotional stress can make you more prone to this condition.

Physical Causes

Shingles are primarily caused by physical factors, according to the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center College of Medicine. They only occur in people who have had chicken pox at some point in their life. The varicella virus, which causes chicken pox, stays in the body and can resurface later to trigger a shingles outbreak. This can happen because of weakened immunity from physical trauma such as surgery, sunburn or other skin problems, or taking immunodepressant medication.

Stress Causation

Emotional stress makes a person more prone to developing shingles because it can lower immunity. Your body cannot fight off the virus effectively when you are not fully prepared to fight it. For example, you are more vulnerable to illness when you are in a stressful emotional state, such as anxiety or depression.


Shingles start out with an overall sense of illness, the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center College of Medicine explains. Symptoms include headache, nausea, chills, fever and diarrhea. Initially, the skin may hurt or feel itchy or tingly. Fluid-filled blisters will eventually erupt. Shingles itself can cause more emotional stress because the condition can be extremely painful.


Shingles usually occur on the same body parts where chicken pox commonly breaks out, including one side of the face, back or upper stomach region. Shingles may cause more emotional stress if they are in a highly visible spot, and the itching can cause anxiety and frustration.


Shingles usually go away on their own, and the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center College of Medicine explains that over-the-counter pain medication can make them tolerable in the meantime. The Mayo Clinic recommends applying cool, wet compresses as needed to soothe the skin. Prescription medication can be used to settle down the emotional stress that may have contributed to the break-out. For example, your doctor may prescribe anti-depressants or give you sedatives or tranquilizers to help you get more rest.


Avoid stress that may lead to future breakouts by exercising, getting enough sleep and finding outlets for anxiety such as writing in a journal or Internet blog or talking regularly to friends or a therapist. The Mayo Clinic also recommends quiet, calm activities such as reading, listening to music, doing tai chi or finding another hobby.

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