Blushing is a common symptom of psychological distress. It doesn't just occur when you're anxious - it also occurs when you're embarrassed, self-conscious, and even sexually aroused.
But it's also a symptom of anxiety, and in some cases blushing can be so common that it becomes its own embarrassing feature.
Blushing = Anxiety?
A slightly red or pink face is common with many different conditions, most of which are harmless. Blushing from anxiety is never the only symptom, so the best way to learn more about your anxiety and how to cure it is to examine it as a whole.
Take my free 7 minute anxiety test to learn more.
Blushing Causing Anxiety
Some people find that blushing too much actually causes them more anxiety. They become self-conscious, because they know they blush too easily most of the time and are worried others can see it.
Ideally, you should take my anxiety test now to really learn more about your anxiety as a whole. See if you likely have anxiety and get an idea of what it takes to cure it. That way you can learn strategies to reduce blushing and find out the likelihood that blushing is causing your anxiety or vice versa.
How Blushing Occurs
What's fascinating about blushing is that even though it can be caused by so many different psychological responses, it seems to be activated by the same exact system. What is perhaps more interesting is that the system that activates blushing is the very same system that is responsible for anxiety - even when you're embarrassed.
Blushing is caused by the activation of your fight or flight system - the system designed to keep you safe from danger by making it easier for you to fight or flee at a moment's notice. The fight or flight system releases adrenaline into your body in order to turn on functions that would otherwise help you stay safe:
- More energy by increasing your blood flow.
- Sweating to cool you down in a fight.
- Pupil dilation to help you see faster.
These are just some of the ways that your body prepares for fight or flight mode. One of the other effects that it has is known as vasodilation, which is when your body opens up your blood vessels so that blood flows through more easily.
This, in turn, allows blood to flow into your face at a faster rate than it does normally, and "blushing" occurs. It's not clear what the evolutionary benefit of this is, but all animals show "signals" that indicate someone is afraid or embarrassed, presumably as a form of non-verbal communication. Perhaps the degree of vasodilation signaled to early man that the person either was or was not dangerous, based on their response in a given situation.
Dogs, for example, will roll over when they're afraid to signal that they're not harmful. Cats will occasionally fall down and look like they're sleeping. Many animals show this type of behavior, so it's possible (although we may never know) that blushing provided a similar benefit.
How to Control Blushing From Anxiety
Of course, now that you know that you blush, what can be done to control it? This is a bit more difficult. While there are some symptoms of anxiety you can reduce on their own, blushing is not one of them. Unfortunately it is too automatic, and you don't have the mental ability to turn off blushing if it occurs.
But that doesn't mean there aren't a few things that you can do. The key is to simply reduce your adrenaline, much like you would with other anxiety reduction techniques:
- Jog If you have an opportunity to go for a light run, do it. Jogging may first speed up the heart, but it also reduces some of the extra energy and adrenaline that you have going through your veins. Jogging also seems to have a natural calming effect on stress, so that can help. If you can't jog, going for a walk can sometimes help as well.
- Deep Breathing Deep breathing is a relaxation technique that many people find beneficial for relaxation. Sit on a comfortable chair with your back straight and your arms at your sides and breathe in very slowly through your nose. Try to fill your stomach first and your chest second. Hold for a few seconds, then breathe out very slowly through pursed lips like you're whistling. This type of relaxation exercise doesn't work right away - you need to do it long enough where you're not overthinking what you're supposed to do - but eventually you should find it very calming.
- Be Honest Remember that blushing may be a form of body language, where you blush in order to tell others that you're embarrassed. So one solution that many people find helps is to reduce the need for this type of body language by telling others directly that you are embarrassed or anxious. Holding back the information never seems to help, and while people sometimes feel more embarrassed by telling others, the truth is that anxiety is usually fueled further by trying to hold everything in.
Otherwise, the key is going to be to simply reduce the frequency and severity of your anxiety and panic attacks. Since blushing is an automatic process, the best way to fight it is to stop it at its source.
I've helped many people that struggled with blushing control their anxiety forever. Start with my free 7 minute anxiety test. This test is a great tool for recognizing your anxiety issues and learning how to control them.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.