We have all been there: suddenly, we are the center of attention, and our face is the first one to tell others how we feel about it. In social situations, blushing is one form of unconscious and involuntary expression that others could easily notice.
This is because the most significant factor of blushing is self-consciousness.
Thankfully, there are some steps to follow to silence this facial snitch.
Step 1: Identify the source
You are the best judge in determining what situations bring that sudden blood rush.
Uncomfortable events (like parties) cause discomfort, and that discomfort leads us to blush1. Although blushing may seem unpredictable, it is just the opposite. If we are aware of our feelings of discomfort and/or anxiety towards certain situations before they occur, we can be prepared before the actual sensation begins.
Let’s look at these undesirable events to find a possible source.
Recently, I attended a large party that had the infamous karaoke center stage. Since my public speaking skills have been tested in the past, I thought singing could not be that much different, right? I grabbed the microphone, and there it was, a common undesirable source of blushing: embarrassment.
In this case, I did not realize singing was my source of embarrassment because after all, I am an avid public speaker. As it turns out it was something that makes me feel embarrassed and caused the dreaded blush. Even though that I am a proven public speaker I did not specifically identify public singing as a source of embarrassment.
To avoid this, look for those specific events or situations that are the root of discomfort. For example, becoming the center of attention given an office presentation or showing remorse to others during an apology could lead to blushing2.
In the same way, consider desirable events. Given feelings of pride or being recognized for an outstanding performance could lead to blushing3. Interacting with individuals that we could consider potential partners could also be a source of blushing4.
But, keep in mind that the mere expectation of blushing can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. However, pinpointing which are the sources of undesirable and desirable social interactions reduces its unpredictable nature.5
Step 2: Listen to your thoughts and body
What is my body telling me? In social situations, it is remarkably easy to ignore ourselves and focus on the observer.
Return your attention to how you are responding to the interaction or the event. First, take notice of your immediate thoughts of being a blusher or blushing. Labeling oneself as a blusher could increase our likelihood and intensity of blushing1.
Noticing these thoughts beforehand could limit its sudden appearance. Taking this step into consideration could give you control of a situation that is perceived as unpredictable. Along with your thoughts, your body might also be telling you of temperature changes, which could be an antecedent for blushing. These are common in social interactions. Still, this heat could also serve as a sign to reduce its effects in the form of blushing.
Evaluate what is your sensitivity to this change and how strongly do you consider this temperature change to be. This is because individuals who give much importance to this change are more prone to blushing and do so at a faster rate than others in social situations5.
Actively try to reduce how important this temperature change is to you.
Step 3: Look for irregular behaviors
When in the moment of embarrassment, pride, partner selection, or remorse, some of us begin to behave in ways that might come across as unnatural to others and even to ourselves.
Ask yourself, does this behavior seem like something I would do? For example, I pay close attention to my hand placement and movement. When I stand close to a person I am trying to get to know, my hands almost become actors of the anecdotes I am trying to tell and not my words.
Without a doubt, this movement becomes a source of distraction both from the social interaction and the feelings of discomfort that blushing is so gracefully displayed on our faces. On the other hand, pun intended, noticing this behavior early during the conversation allows me to detect and stop blushing before it begins.
Next, take notice of what are the small movement changes that serve you as your warning sign for blushing.
These could include:
- Feet movement: Ask, do I generally shake my legs like this? Am I sitting overly comfortably or still? I have found that this particular movement to be more common while I am sitting and asking important questions during a meeting.
- Blinking (or lack thereof).
- Tone and voice volume: being loud or too quiet could mean that our self-consciousness is emerging without us even knowing it. This could increase your chances of blushing.
- Distance from the individual or audience: although distancing ourselves from others physically separates us from uncomfortable situations, it also lets us know just how uncomfortable we really are. Trying to avoid contact with others during social events makes our anticipation of the event that much more menacing once it does occur, leading to blood rush.
Another factor to take into account is finding ourselves discussing uncommon topics.
Whether the topic is one you love or one that illicit discomfort, ask yourself, do I normally speak about this topic?
Do I talk about [the topic you love] with this type of people? Preparation to talk about a subject or its presentation to others leads to feelings of control. This means that the theme at hand will not hit you by surprise. This could also be the case of discussing topics that are private1.
These topics could place us in a vulnerable place. Keep in mind that taking control of the extent of and the amount of details you are willing to share could reduce discomfort and the chance to blush.
Step 4: Set limits to its influence
We might think that blushing could send others messages about ourselves regarding how we think or feel about them and our capabilities. These ideas could include how knowledgeable we are, how secure we might be, and our feelings towards others1.
These thoughts seem to give blushing a lot of negative power and influence with those we interact with socially. Some persons could also see blushing as a reason other individuals use to evaluate us1.
The truth is that the fear of blushing could be leading us to have strong misconceptions5 about how friends, peers, colleagues, co-workers, and even how strangers might feel about us. Reflect on are the other ways people had and have to evaluate your performance and how you present yourself prior to and during the social event.
This process allows for more accurate perception and assessment of your abilities and strengths, limiting how blushing impacts the undesirable or desirable event.
How to stop blushing in social settings, in summary
- Identify the source
- Listen to your thoughts and body
- Look for irregular behaviors
- Is this the “natural” me?
- Set limits to its influence
- What is the true power of blushing?
Remember, taking control of your body and beliefs will reduce that pesky and colorful reaction6.
1. Drummond, P. D., & Su, D. (2012). The relationship between blushing propensity, social anxiety, and facial blood flow during embarrassment. Cognition & Emotion, 26(3), 561-567. doi:10.1080/02699931.2011.595775
2. de Jong, P. J., Peters, M. L., Dijk, C., Nieuwenhuis, E., Kempe, H., & Oelerink, J. (2006). Fear of blushing: The role of the expected influence of displaying a blush on others’ Judgments. Cognitive Therapy & Research, 30(5), 623-634. doi:10.1007/s10608-006-9040-y
3. Nikolić, M., Colonnesi, C., Vente, W., Drummond, P., & Bögels, S. M. (2015). Blushing and social anxiety: A meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology: Science & Practice, 22(2), 177-193. doi:10.1111/cpsp.12102
4.Rot, M. H., Moskowitz, D. S., & de Jong, P. J. (2015). Intrapersonal and interpersonal concomitants of facial blushing during everyday social encounters. Plos ONE, 10(2), 1-19. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0118243
5. Kiho, K., Sungkun, C., & Jang-Han, L. (2012). The influence of self-focused attention on blushing during social interaction. Social Behavior & Personality: An International Journal, 40(5), 747-753.
6 . de Jong, P. J., & Dijk, C. (2013). Social effects of facial blushing: influence of context and actor versus observer perspective. Social & Personality Psychology Compass, 7(1), 13-26. doi:10.1111/spc3.12009