Dear Annie: I am a 25-year-old woman with an embarrassing problem: I blush easily — like, really easily. In fact, I can feel my cheeks getting hot while writing this letter, just from thinking about blushing.
I’ve had this problem since I was a kid. I’m light-skinned with reddish hair, so not only am I more prone to face redness but also it’s more noticeable when it happens, because my face suddenly matches my hair.
My blushing used to be the worst whenever a cute guy would talk to me. Now that I’m older and a bit more confident around men, that’s not so much of an issue, though it does still happen occasionally.
The place where it’s the biggest problem is at work. I’m a pretty shy person, so speaking up at work makes me nervous. I try to set those feelings aside, though, and make small talk and jokes with my co-workers from time to time throughout the day, and I also try not to let my nerves get in the way of my speaking up during meetings.
But when I’m about to say something during a meeting, my heart begins to race, and as soon as the words are out of my mouth and everyone is looking at me, I feel my face go red hot. The warmth comes over me so quickly that it’s as if someone put a match to a pilot light inside me. The worst part of all this is that knowing I’m visibly red makes me even more embarrassed, and I blush even more. It’s a vicious circle.
I’ve tried some redness-reducing creams (which I refrigerate, for an extra-cooling effect), but they don’t seem to be effective when I turn into a socially anxious tomato.
Help! What can I do to conquer this? Am I just doomed from my genetics?
Dear Bashful: This is less about physiology than psychology. Sure, there are things you can try to address the physical aspect of the problem. Hot beverages and caffeine can cause flare-ups for people prone to redness (so hot coffee is a double whammy), as can spicy foods, so you might want to avoid those things. You might also want to use warm, not hot, water when washing your face and showering. And drink plenty of cold water throughout the day.
But all of these solutions are only skin-deep. Really addressing this problem means turning off that internal “pilot light,” as you put it, and that is your propensity for anxiety. Notice how you no longer blush around men because of your confidence. You need to find confidence in the workplace, too.
You can try doing this on your own with positive self-talk — reminding yourself that you are a valuable part of the team, that you have a right to speak, that no one (aside from you) is going to remember if you stumble over your words or share a less-than-stellar idea during a meeting. But as this vicious circle has been whirling for quite some time, it may take a professional to wind it down. Cognitive behavioral therapy, in particular, is a good treatment modality for interrupting unhelpful thinking patterns.
Consider making an appointment today. Dispensing with these anxieties will help you to stop blushing, but even more important, it will help you to start living your life as the confident person you were meant to be.
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— A native Californian, Annie Lane writes her Dear Annie advice columns from her home outside New York City, where she lives with her husband, two kids and two dogs. Her debut book, Ask Me Anything: A Year of Advice From Dear Annie, features favorite columns on love, friendship, family and etiquette. Email your Dear Annie questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.