Blushing is a general term applied to a temporary erythema (redness) of the skin, especially the upper thorax, neck, and facial areas. The discoloration results from a brief infusion of blood following a rapid dilation of blood vessels in the affected area.

Blushing from embarrassment is governed by the same system that activates your fight-or-flight response: the sympathetic nervous system. This system is involuntary, meaning you don't actually have to think to carry out the processes.

When you're embarrassed, your body releases adrenaline. This hormone acts as a natural stimulant and has an array of effects on your body that are all part of the fight-or-flight response. Adrenaline speeds up your breathing and heart rate to prepare you to run from danger. It causes your pupils to grow bigger to allow you to take in as much visual information as possible. It slows down your digestive process so that the energy can be redirected to your muscles. All of these effects account for the jolt you feel when you find yourself embarrassed.

Adrenaline also causes your blood vessels to dilate (called vasodilation), in order to improve blood flow and oxygen delivery. This is the case with blushing. The veins in your face respond to a signal from the chemical transmitter adenylyl cyclase, which tells the veins to allow the adrenaline to do its magic. As a result, the veins in your face dilate, allowing more blood to flow through them than usual, creating the reddened appearance that tells others you're embarrassed. In other words, adrenaline causes more local blood flow in your cheeks.

This sounds reasonable enough, but it's interesting to note that this is an unusual response from your veins. Other types of blood vessels are responsive to adrenaline, but veins generally aren't. In other regions of your body, veins don't do much when adrenaline is released; the hormone has little or no effect on them.

Hand in Hand – Blushing and Embarrassment

A person tends to be embarrassed for many reasons, often related to criticism, rejection, anticipation, social anxiety, low self-esteem and self-perceived inadequacy. The three main problem areas for people with fear of blushing are the blushing itself, avoidance of situations because of anticipated blushing, and negative beliefs about how their blushing is viewed by others. Feeling flushed is such a natural response to sudden self-consciousness that if it weren't part of an emotionally crippling experience, it could almost be overlooked. When asked, people say they are concerned about being judged negatively because of their blushing.

They believe that blushing is interpreted mostly as proof of weakness, dishonesty, immaturity, and so forth. Furthermore, they feel that due to the visibility of blushing, they are not able to present themselves socially in a positive way.

Theories of Blushing

If you examine the phenomenon of blushing objectively, it appears a bit strange. What possible purpose could there be for more blood to flow through your cheeks when you feel embarrassed? Blushing has been determined to be universal among, as well as exclusive to, humans. Why would we develop a specific process that physically displays our embarrassment? Where did blushing come from?

One theory proposes that blushing evolved as a means of enforcing the social codes to which we humans must adhere for our societies to function in a friendly manner. By blushing when we're embarrassed, we are showing others that we recognise we've just mis-stepped socially, and that we're paying the price for it. Others who see us blushing after an awkward situation understand from experience the unpleasant feelings we're undergoing at that moment, and blushing may serve as a non-verbal, physical apology for our mistake.

Blushing appears to develop in humans at an early age, around the time we enter school and we begin to engage in social situations with others. Blushing from embarrassment develops alongside our consciousness of others. This lends further support to the notion that blushing has a purely social basis. Blushing may have developed as a means for displaying genuine regret over an insult to someone else. Since insults can lead to violence, animals have developed ways of displaying apologetic signs to show others they're sorry for what they've done.

Think about your dog rolling over after being caught digging in the yard. Exposing his or her belly to you shows you the dog is not challenging your anger at the situation - it's a demonstration of contrition. For most people, it's pretty difficult to continue to feel anger toward the dog once he or she has rolled over. So blushing could be a way humans show their own contrition for bad social form.

Another interpretation suggests that blushing is the opposite of contrition; it's the appearance of rage. This explanation suggests that blushing is the result of one aspect of your personality coming under assault.  

Find out when you blush

This may sound a bit too simple, but if there are certain situations that trigger your reaction and turn your face red, work out what these are precisely. There’s a chance that you can avoid these situations but, even if that’s not possible, then how about working on your reaction to the situation instead? Blushing is only the outward sign - drill down to find out what is causing you to blush, work on that instead of the blushing and there’s a good chance that you will reduce the number of times your face warms up and gives away your feelings.

Relax out of it - blushing tends to get worse at first as people start to get embarrassed about their embarrassment, creating a sort of vicious circle. The more tense you get as you start to blush, the more the blood is forced to the face. One trick is, when you feel it coming on, to deliberately drop your shoulders, relax your body, and push your stomach out. This takes a bit of doing at first, so you might want to practice. 

Don't hide your emotions - blushing is often the way that we show our emotions visually. That’s fine. Unless you’re Dr Spock on Star Trek, you’re supposed to have emotions – it’s a perfectly normal part of being a human being. 

Accept It, Don't Fight It - you need to shift your relationship to the blushing. Rather than trying to hide it because you are embarrassed about it, work on relaxing about it. This will be helped by you accepting it as a current part of yourself. You can try saying to yourself "At the moment, I am a blusher". It sounds strange, but if you can bring yourself to like that part of you more, it is more likely to go away. 

Other Peoples' Opinions - part of the embarrassment about blushing is caused by the thought that others will see you as weak or silly. However, everyone has had the experience of being embarrassed, and it's not nice for anyone. Any decent person will be sympathetic about it. Anyone who thinks less of you for it is most probably not worth knowing anyway. 

Use Reverse Psychology - try blushing now. On command. Is it easy? Probably not. So when you find yourself starting to blush, tell yourself to blush even harder. Chances are you’ll just laugh about it and your blushes will dissolve away. It’s certainly worth trying.