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Erythrophobia

Understanding the Fear of Blushing

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Updated January 29, 2013

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Erythrophobia, or the fear of blushing, is a relatively complex phobia to overcome. Blushing is a physiological response to, among other things, anxiety. This makes erythrophobia one of the few self-perpetuating phobias in that the more you worry, the more likely you are to experience your object of fear!

The Blushing Response

Blushing is part of the fight or flight response, an involuntary reaction triggered by the sympathetic nervous system. When we are anxious or embarrassed, our bodies are flooded with epinephrine, also known as adrenaline, which causes us to experience very real physiological symptoms. In addition to increasing the heart rate, suppressing the digestive system and inhibiting pain, epinephrine may also act as a vasodilator on certain blood vessels. It cause blood vessels to widen, improving the flow of blood and oxygen throughout particular regions of the body.

Blushing is an unfortunate side effect of the vasodilation of certain veins in the face. As these blood vessels in the face grow wider, the increased circulation causes the cheeks to redden. Vasodilation sometimes occurs for other reasons, including alcohol consumption and certain medical conditions, but no matter what the underlying cause, those with erythrophobia are likely to become anxious and embarrassed when it occurs. This leads to a vicious cycle in which the blushing is likely to become worse and worse.

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Social Phobia

The fear of blushing is a form of specific social phobia. Many people with erythrophobia also suffer from other social phobias, although it occasionally occurs alone. The fear generally is not of the blushing reaction itself, but rather of the attention that it might draw from others. If we are anxious or embarrassed, the last thing we want is further attention. The blushing is usually accompanied by a variety of negative thoughts that all focus on how we might be perceived. This, in turn, heightens the level of blushing, which further fuels the negative thoughts and then causes us to feel even more anxious or embarrassed.

Symptoms of Erythrophobia

Ironically, the strongest symptom of the fear of blushing is generally further blushing. As you perceive that you are losing control of the situation, you will likely grow redder and redder. In addition, you may experience such common phobia symptoms as shaking, sweating, an increased heart rate and difficulty breathing normally. You might stumble over your words or find it impossible to continue a conversation at all.

Over time, you might begin to develop anticipatory anxiety, in which you dread finding yourself in a situation that might cause you to blush. You might begin to avoid certain social situations or, in extreme cases, avoid going out at all. You might also develop additional social phobias, such as stage fright or the fear of eating in front of others, because of a fear that those activities might trigger a blushing reaction.

Treating the Fear of Blushing

Treatment depends on the severity and the complexity of the phobia. Ultimately, the fear is not actually of the blushing response itself, but of the reactions that you perceive others might have to your blushing. Brief therapy options, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, treat the phobia by teaching you new thought patterns and behaviors that help lessen the fear. Medications are also available, and are most often used as an adjunct to therapy. If you also suffer from other social phobias, your treatment plan will incorporate all of your fears, addressing them simultaneously. Surgery is available to limit blushing, but is not a recommended method for treating the fear.

Source:

American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th Ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Social Anxiety Institute. "Is Blushing a Symptom of Social Anxiety?". Retrieved January 28, 2013 from http://www.socialanxietyinstitute.org/blushing.html

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