Shingles: The emotional symptom increasing your risk – how to reduce your chances

Eamonn Holmes says his shingles ‘spoiled’ son’s wedding photos

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Shingles, or herpes zoster, is a common infection of the nerves. It is caused by a virus. Shingles triggers a painful rash or small blisters on an area of skin. It can appear anywhere on the body, but it typically appears on only one side of the face or body. 

Stress doesn’t technically cause shingles; however, it can cause your immune system to weaken — and a weakened immune system can put you at risk for shingles.

If infected with the condition, stress also can exacerbate your misery, by making the itching, burning, painful rash seem worse and lengthening your recovery time.

Emotional stress is considered a trigger for shingles because it has been shown to weaken the body’s immune system.

An emotional stress can occur for those who have undergone a sudden shock such as a death of a loved one.

It can also occur for those under immense stress at work or in life.

An immune system weakened by stress provides the shingles virus with a window of opportunity. This is particularly true of people who already have challenged immune systems, either because they are older or because they have an immune deficiency or a chronic disease.

The itching, burning, and aching symptoms normally associated with shingles becomes even more intolerable when a person is under stress.

According to available research, stress, stressful life events, and depressive symptoms are identified antecedents to outbreaks of shingles.

A 1997 retrospective study from Singapore examined the records of 164 patients with shingles.

Approximately 20 percent of these patients reported at the time of presentation to their clinician the symptoms of depression and feeling helpless.

In a 2012 case-controlled French study reported among 250 patients a relationship between recent depression and the onset of shingles.

The remaining studies in this area have examined the presence of various psychological symptoms during or after the development of shingles.

For example, in a 1992 study from the United States, 19 individuals with shingles were examined and found that anxiety, depression, and less life satisfaction were associated with higher levels of pain following the outbreak.

Other studies have pinpointed the three lesser-known factors increasing a person’s risk of shingles which included age, nutritional status and mood disorders.

Ways to help reduce your stress levels and improve your overall mood include:

  • Eat and drink to optimise your health
  • Exercise regularly
  • Stop using tobacco and nicotine products
  • Study and practice relaxation techniques
  • Reduce triggers of stress
  • Examine your values and live by them
  • Assert yourself
  • Set realistic goals and expectations.

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