Why Do I Blush All the Time and How Do I Stop?
It's No Fun Turning Beetroot Red!
"Why do I blush all the time?"
Do you find yourself asking this question often? Are you sick and tired of being held back by this socially debilitating occurrence? If you answered 'yes,' then you have come to the right place because I'm going to share a wealth of information that will not only enlighten you but also fill you with renewed faith. Blushing affects everyone to some degree, but most people only seem to suffer in extreme circumstances whereas the rest of us (me included) flush at the slightest provocation.
For some, the regularity of facial reddening has become so bad that it has caused the formation of a new phobia which has been termed erythrophobia—a fear of blushing. As if things were not already bad enough with the constant unexplainable reddening of the face, we are now beset by a new phobia of the ridicule and embarrassment that comes from blushing in front of people. This inevitably causes us to hide away from social situations and call in sick to work whenever we are faced with the prospect of having to attend a seminar, meeting, or team gathering of any kind. I know—I have battled this problem since my teens. Here are some of the symptoms that walk hand in hand with facial flushing:
- Rapid heartbeat, pounding heart or palpitations
- Shaking visibly or inside
- Choking sensations or lump in throat
- Smothering or shortness of breath sensations
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Dizziness or unsteadiness
- Feeling light-headed
- Derealization (feeling unreal or dreamy)
- Depersonalization (feeling outside yourself or like you don't exist)
- Paresthesias (numbness or tingling sensations) in face, extremities or body
- Chills or hot flushes
Erythrophobia - a fear of blushing
No, I'm blushing again...
Charles Darwin's Thoughts
For many years, Charles Darwin's observations and analyses provided the only information on the subject of blushing, and are still pertinent today. Darwin proposed that our faces flush when we believe we are the sole object of others' attention, especially when we think they may be judging or criticizing us. Darwin also observed that the reddening of the face was accompanied by the emotions of shame, guilt, modesty, and shyness. Darwin summed up why people blush in a nutshell, but there is one more question that has always bugged me. "Why is it that my face has to turn red so everyone can see?" Yes, what's the deal with that? Isn't it enough to simply 'feel' shame, guilt, shyness, and modesty? Why do we have to put it on display so the whole world can see? What is its purpose?
A Hypersensitive Sympathetic Nervous System
Darwin's explanation was quite detailed. However, it didn't tell us why some people blush incessantly, especially when tired, stressed, or emotionally stimulated. The answer is that some people are born with a hypersensitive sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for regulating glands and organs. More importantly, this system also controls the diameter of blood vessels in the face and, in some people, is extremely sensitive to emotional stress. This results in the constant facial tinting.
A stammering man is never a worthless one. Physiology can tell you why. It is an excess of sensibility to the presence of his fellow creature, that makes him stammer.— Thomas Carlyle, letter to Ralph Waldo Emerson, 17 November 1843
Awkward Situations That Can Trigger Facial Reddening
- Relating a story and finding all the attention of a group has focused on you
- Being complimented unexpectedly or with fervor
- Performing in front of others
- Meeting authority figures
- Having a conversation one-to-one with the opposite sex
- Being clumsy in front of others
- Receiving criticism especially when others are present
Are you a Highly Sensitive Person?
Great Book on Highly Sensitive People
Social Phobia and the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) Trait
In 1991, Dr. Elaine Aron began the study of high sensitivity in human beings. Being a sufferer of high sensitivity herself, she was extremely interested in finding out why a small minority of people seemed to be far more sensitive than others. Dr. Aron discovered that in the animal kingdom approximately 20% of each species was highly sensitive as a means of sensing danger, humans included.
Here is a short paragraph from Dr. Elaine Aron's website:
"This trait is not a new discovery, but it has been misunderstood. Because HSPs prefer to look before entering new situations, they are often called "shy." But shyness is learned, not innate. In fact, 30% of HSPs are extraverts, although the trait is often mislabeled as introversion. It has also been called inhibitedness, fearfulness, or neuroticism. Some HSPs behave in these ways, but it is not innate to do so and not the basic trait."
Since being a Highly Sensitive Person means you feel the subtleties of your environment far more than the average person, you can become overwhelmed more easily, and it can cause blushing. If you find yourself flushing easily and often, you may well be a HSP. To find out for sure, take Elaine Aron's free test at her website here: Highly Sensitive Person Test.
Social Phobia Causes Blushing in Sufferers
Social Phobia, or Social Anxiety Disorder, is another reason why people blush excessively and comes in a number of forms, including:
- Fear of speaking in public
- Fear of writing in public
- Fear of eating
- The Big Daddy of them all: Fear of being judged harshly or negatively
It's all because of the 'fight-or-flight' system in our brain which is trying its best to protect us and keep us safe from harm. The problem is, in this modern day and age danger isn't always so imminent. The biggest threat we may face could be crossing the road on any normal day so the fight-or-flight system is kind of redundant, yet it is still there and is causing us all sorts of problems, such as blushing.
An Explanation of How Social Phobia Could Develop
Social Phobia usually develops as a result of a traumatic or highly embarrassing situation in which we were the object of attention. In my case, I remember the beginning of my Social Phobia and consequent fear of blushing. I was a young child of about seven, and during an assembly a group of us were to sing to a hall filled with students, but when it came to my solo I had forgotten the words. As a result, I stood and cried while the other kids laughed at me. BANG! Social Phobia began and from then on, whenever I encountered a situation where I was expected to perform, speak, or even just interact, I would become highly aroused and redden profusely! This led to a fear of blushing.
As children we aren't taught about programs and habits and how they are programmed into our subconscious mind. If the fear attached to the situation was the cause of my blushing, then a few simple words of encouragement from a peer or parent would have helped stop my subsequent problem.
Social Phobia usually develops as a result of a traumatic or highly embarrassing situation in which we were the object of attention.
It's All in the Memory
Once that awful moment has occurred, you are left with a souvenir: the memory of it. This memory has the ability to trigger the 'fight-or-flight' system operated by the amygdala in your brain, which warns you and causes you to freak out as if there were actual danger present. Danger? They are just people! Harmless observers, no? Tell that to your brain.
Why then do I blush? The answer is simple—we are sensitive, more so than others; and because this is such a rare phenomenon in children, we suffer and become ashamed of it. What happens when you feel shame? Your face turns red.
Stop the shame - you stop the blush.
I realized one thing about myself, and it ultimately helped me to stop blushing. I realized that I had spent my life being a victim, placing responsibility for my feelings upon others instead of on myself. Shame serves no purpose - scrap it and you scrap the blushing.
Fear Conditioning Experiments Performed on Rats
Memory and Emotion can Cause Blushing and Social Phobias
Researchers have found that the neural mechanisms of a rat's brain are similar to those of a human, and this discovery has greatly helped to increase our understanding of the human brain and its functions. One such function is the conditioning of fear: a person experiences an unpleasant situation and is so strongly affected that they are emotionally aroused and experience fear. What then happens is the brain remembers the sensory stimuli that caused the fear and it becomes a part of the fight-or-flight response. If the situation is about to occur or is even pictured in the mind the fight-or-flight response kicks in and the person experiences fear and may blush, sweat, and experience a whole host of other unpleasant physical symptoms. In other words your brain is telling you to 'get out of there!"
A person experiences an unpleasant situation and is so strongly affected that they are emotionally aroused and experience fear.
Researchers were able to gather these findings by experimenting on rats. They did this by pairing a sound and a mild electric shock to the foot of a rat. In one set of experiments, the rat hears a sound which has very little effect on the animal's heart rate or blood pressure. Next the rat hears the sound coupled with a shock to the foot. After several such pairings, the rat begins to hold still and experience a rise in blood pressure whenever the sound is heard.
The result: The rat has been fear conditioned. The same occurs in humans, and from this we can see that as a child, any unpleasant situations we are subjected to could cause fear conditioning. This is why people experience awful physical symptoms in certain situations.
Is this why your face chronically reddens? Think back and unravel your memories. You may find the cause of your blushing is fear conditioning that occurred years ago.
Facial Blushing Causes us to Hide in the Shadows
Blushing Problem Poll
Is excessive blushing a severe hindrance to your life?
A Few Tips on How to Prevent Blushing
- Use Your Imagination
Get comfortable and relax. Now imagine a situation in which you normally blush and let it happen. Experience the situation in as much detail as possible, sights, sounds, smells, etc. Next, imagine that there is a thin film of ice covering your face and neck, cooling and soothing you. When you imagine the sensation of cold, it has the same effect as when we imagine the sour taste of lemon in our mouths. The lemon causes us to produce more saliva, the cold sensation reduces the blood flow to our face and neck, therefore preventing facial flushing from occurring. Try this technique over and over in your imagination until you are able to achieve the desired effect. Check in the mirror too just to make sure. Once you feel confident you can begin using the technique in social situations.
- The Look Around Technique
Quite often, when experiencing anxiety, we tend to stare at a fixed location or avert our gaze from people. A good way to lower anxiety is to use the "look around' technique. Next time you are in a social setting, look around the room naturally and see just how many people are looking at you with judgement in their eyes. Move around as well. Scratch your face or shift your feet. Shuffle some papers or whatever action is natural. Performing this technique often while in social situations will gradually lower anxiety levels, resulting in less frequent reddening of the face.
When you imagine the sensation of cold, it has the same effect as when we imagine the sour taste of lemon in our mouths.
- Take Opportunities to Do Things You Might Not Normally Do
If you are really serious about stopping blushing once and for all, this is a technique that you must use. If you get the chance to do something you would normally be afraid of, do it. The more you hide, the stronger the symptoms of anxiety become. Try simple things at first such as: clearing your throat in a room full of people, or humming a song and then observing the other people's reactions. You will find that they aren't watching you and judging you because you are simply blending in with them, being natural.
- Set a Daily Challenge For Yourself
Starting with something easy first, set a challenge for the day ahead each day or as often as possible. Challenges could be:
- Hum a song while on the bus or on a train
- Stretch naturally as if you are alone while in the presence of others
- Sing a line from a song
- Tell a story
- Say hi to a stranger in the street
- Start up a conversation with a member of the opposite sex in a shop or cafe
- Spark up conversations with your colleagues at work
- Tell a joke to one person and then a group
These are just a few challenges you could set but you get the idea, right? Your problem won't disappear overnight. It will take time and effort, but the more you practice being natural and normal without the fear, the more the blushing will dissipate.
Don't be Ashamed
A List of Shy Celebrities
- Abraham Lincoln
- Albert Einstein
- Annie Oakley
- Orville Wright
- Thomas Edison
- Thomas Jefferson
- Bob Dylan
- Brad Pitt
- Cathy Rigby
- Cher Bono
- David Letterman
- Elvis Presley
- Gene Hackman
- Harrison Ford
- Jim Carrey
- Julia Roberts
- Kevin Costner
- Lady Gaga
These are just a few. There are many more shy famous people out there. They got over it and so can you!
A Look on the Bright Side - Blushers Make Better Lovers!
According to recent research, blushers are more generous than others, and this makes them much more giving lovers.
Yes, constantly turning red can be very embarrassing in certain situations, but it also reveals to others that we are a kind and sensitive person who cares about others.
When we turn rosy, it is basically a non-verbal apology to whomever we are interacting with and shows them we mean no harm.
The biggest part of why people blush is often the fear of blushing itself. The shame we experience while our face flushes only serves to make it worse.
Don't be ashamed—be proud of the fact that you are sensitive and giving.