Take a deep breath: Techniques to reduce blushing

Kids at a yoga class. File Photo  

A female staff member at an advertising agency has been given the opportunity to present a campaign proposal to a client for the first time -- something her boss believes she’s capable of taking care of.

But what should be a moment of joy is in fact a cause of fear. She imagines herself standing red-faced in front of the client. “That image is my nightmare,” says the 30-year-old, who suffers from erythrophobia, the fear of blushing.

She’s had the tendency to quickly go red since she was a teenager.

Even during seemingly innocuous situations, such as when someone asks her opinion, speaking during a family gathering when everyone is listening or when someone smiles at her.

Blushing is initiated by a feeling of shame, which puts the body on alarm footing, and causes its temperature to rise. That accounts for the feeling of having a hot head when you blush.

Blushing is a sign that the body has opened the blood vessels wider with the aim of cooling itself down. The problem with the fear of blushing is that it will cause the body to heat up even more and for the blushing to be more intense as the body tries frantically to reduce temperature.

“The real problem is not the blushing, it’s how the blushing is perceived,” says psychotherapist Doris Wolf. “For the affected person it’s very embarrassing, humiliating and shameful.” Fear of blushing often begins during teenage years and frequently affects socially insecure people, in Christa Roth-Sackenheim’s opinion. Women are more often affected than men but it’s not known why that’s the case. “Perhaps it’s because women are more likely to tailor their behaviour to what is socially accepted,” says Roth-Sackenheim, chairwoman of Germany’s Professional Association of Psychiatrists.

It is caused by uncomfortable experiences: The affected person turns red, feels ashamed, maybe even has a black-out, and would like to disappear into a hole in the ground. It becomes a real problem when it leads to the person avoiding certain situations or becoming overly aware of their body. The next stage is a downward spiral of fear developing.

“That’s when, like every other phobia, the fear becomes permanent,” says psychotherapist Michael Schellberg.

The woman from the advertising agency is considering whether it would be better to call in sick on the day of the presentation. “I’ll be standing there with a deep red face. Everyone will be laughing at me. The whole agency will find out about it and I’ll be the butt of everyone’s jokes,” she says.

A person who turns red in the face cannot simply pretend to be cool. It’s a sign of insecurity with the fear leading to a sense of loss of control.

One thing all phobias have in common is the fear that something will happen. Schellberg recommends seeing a therapist if your fear of blushing is influencing your life negatively. He says affected individuals’ concerns are often not taken seriously by others.

“Most people wait far too long before consulting a therapist. But if a phobia is looked at early it can be successfully treated quickly.” Schellberg’s advice to people with erythrophobia is the same as what he tells everyone with a phobia: Learn relaxation techniques such as meditation and exercise more.

The experts say it’s essential not to paint the situation blacker than it is. One piece of consolation is that blushing does not last for hours and the redness disappears after 10 minutes at the most. In most cases it’s gone after five minutes.

Another thing to remember is that most people don’t even notice the redness in another person’s face, and when they do, they often feel sympathy for the affected person. “Blushing is authentic and cannot be set up. Most people have also been in the same situation themselves,” says Roth-Sackenheim.

There are a few tips and tricks that can help prevent the situation from getting out of control. What absolutely does not help is saying to yourself that you will not blush. “Just the opposite will happen,” says Wolf.

She recommends using breathing techniques to calm the body down or try relaxing your muscles successively. Breathing deeply and calmly is very helpful. You can say things to yourself along the lines of, “I’m breathing quietly” or “I feel sure of myself.” Some people often find it helpful to say to another person, “This is quite embarrassing for me.”

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Printable version | Feb 28, 2021 2:17:14 AM |

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