Stress doesn’t technically cause shingles, but it can cause your immune system to weaken — and a weakened immune system can put you at risk for shingles.
A viral illness, shingles is caused by varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. The virus lives in your body and reactivates more readily when your immune system is suppressed. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 1 million people in the United States experience a shingles outbreak every year.
If you get shingles, stress also can exacerbate your misery, by making the itching, burning, painful rash seem worse and lengthening your recovery time.
Shingles and Emotional Stress
Emotional stress is considered a trigger for shingles because it has been shown to weaken the body’s immune system. This can happen in those who have undergone a sudden shock, such as the death of a loved one, or people who face chronic work or life stress. 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.
Stress also has been shown to alter a person’s perception of pain. People who are under stress are likely to feel the physical symptoms of a disease more acutely. The itching, burning, and aching normally associated with shingles becomes even more intolerable when a person is under stress.