Recurrent Blushing Explained

As noted on NHS, blushing is an involuntary facial reddening, which is caused by emotions like stress and embarrassment. In addition to the face, other body parts can also redden, for example, the ears, neck, and upper chest. Blushing does not only cause the face to go red, but it also makes the red area feel hot. We blush when we are being thanked or praised or when we make a mistake; moreover, we cannot control it as we are able to control a laugh or a smile.

When it comes to this phenomenon, it is important to note that we need to distinguish between two different types, i.e. normal and abnormal blushing. The former happens occassionally and upon a strong emotional trigger of the nervous system, which in turn widens the facial blood vessels and elevates the blood flow, resulting in a red skin whereas the latter occurs on a more frequent basis and it is considered to be a consequence of both physical and psychological reasons like social phobia, GAD, rosacea, menopause, and specific medications.

Other possible causes of blushing are alcohol and hot drink consumption, eating hot or spicy food, abrupt temperature changes, and arduous workout. This article will focus on chronic blushing, the reasons for it, and available treatment options. 

The Struggles of Chronic Blushers

Believe it or not, chronic blushing is more common than you think and as emphasized on Psychology Today, this is the daily reality for 5 to 7 percent of the world population. Though it cannot cause harm in a physical manner, it can be destructive for one’s psychological well-being. Indeed, the world was shocked to learn that the 20-year old Brandon Thomas committed suicide by jumping from the 11-story dorm because it was devastating for him to wake up daily and think of ways to avoid blushing, as his suicide note revealed. This being said, excessive blushing must not be taken for granted and the public needs to become more aware about it.

Namely, Ray Crozier, a psychologist, asserts that even though blushing is omnipresent, many aspects of it remain unknown. What’s more, it easily causes changes in our visible feature, but it happens when we least want it, which can be quite the issue for a lot of people. As noted on The Atlantic, chronic blushers are more prone to embarassment and frustration, which could lead to even bigger problems like the development of erythophobia or the fear of blushing. Unfortunately, this may easily turn into a vicious circle and soon enough, the exxagerated worry of going red becomes the main reason for the the blushing.

Why Do some People Blush more than Others?

As explained on Psychology Today, facial reddening may be a consequence of an overactive sympathetic nervous system controlling the “fight or flight” stress response. To illustrate, when we are afraid or  nervous, blood is diverted from the gut into the muscles, stopping the digestion and getting the muscles ready for fleeing or fighting. Moreover, the pupils dilate, the blood pressure elevates, and the heart rate increases, resulting in a thick sweat over the skin. The muscles which are in charge of widening or narrowing the blood vessels belong to the symphatetic nervous system, and the face is known to be highly susceptive to quick changes. This is because the facial skin has more capilaries and the blood vessels in the cheek are more dilated and closer to the surface than in other body parts. The reason why or how some people have a more sensitive sympathetic nervous system and whether this is the main cause of chronic blushing, remains inconclusive.

Others believe that blushing has to do with self-consciousness or our image of others’ perception of us. Darwin, pointed out that blushing can be induced by shyness, shame, and modesty, as well as self-attention or the thought of what others think of us. What’s more, according to Leary et al., social attention is a major contributing factor to recurrent blushing and these are some known situations which can trigger it:

  • Feeling that our public identity is being threatened (loss of control, violations of norms, etc.)
  • Bigger openesss to criticism like when we are the center of attention
  • Being “accused” of blushing
  • Receiving praise and positive attention

The Link between Social Anxiety and Blushing

Recurrent blushing sufferers consider their blushing to be shameful and associate it with loss or control, social incompetence, and weakness. Unfortunately, this growing anxiety is further increased not only by learning that blushing is uncontrollable, but by knowning that higher self-consciousness about it can intensify or trigger it. As noted on The Psychologist, chronic blushing is often linked to social anxiety disorder as a lot of people who look for blushing treatments meet the criteria. The blusher regards the reddening as the main objective to their social issues and as something unpleasant and unattractive; they are convinced that their social skills will be resolved once they stop blushing. However, according to research, high score on self-report measure of blushing did not show that these people are more likely to blush more than others, which further implies that the main issue could be one’s view on blushing rather than its intensity or frequency.

Available Treatment for Chronic Blushing

As seen on Psychology Today, depending on the severity and the reasons for it, there is a wide array of treatment options offered for excessive blushing. Here are some:

  • Corrective makeup with green color (by counteracting the redness)
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (by learning how to eliminate unwanted and stressful thinking)
  • Breathing techniques (to increase calmness)
  • Prescrption meds like beta blockers or SSRIs (for people who experience excessive blushing as a result of social anxiety)
  • ETS surgery ( by cutting the nerves between the sympathetic nervous system and the affected organ)

Final Thoughts on Recurrent Blushing

Without doubt, the struggles and the challenges a chronic blusher faces are numerous and a lot of sufferers decide to try some of the above-mentioned treatments with the aim to improve their overall quality of life. Nonetheless, as pointed out on The Atlantic, not everything is so negative about blushing as one may think. Darwin associated blushing with sensitivity and self-awareness while a recent study done at the University of California concluded that blushers do not only appear to be trustworthy and generous, but actually are. Kate Townshend also puts accent on the crucial role of acceptance, which helped her cope with her own chronic blushing.

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