Health and wellbeing expert Harriet Griffey answers your questions

Dying of embarassment

Dear Harriet,

I suffer with extreme social anxiety and panic attacks, and although I’ve tried Rescue Remedy and various other things nothing seems to work.

I blush, go blotchy, I shake and sweat prefusely. I’ve been under my doctor for years and whatever she prescribed increased my symptoms. She even referred me to the hospital and I was used liked a guinnea pig but still nothing has resolved the way that I am.

I know there is an operation (which I’ve mentioned to my doctor) about cutting the nerve endings. My doctor didn’t recommend this operation when I mentioned it a few years ago, but it looks like the operation has changed and been much more of a success. It’s very expensive and I’m not sure if it available on the NHS.

I know for a fact if I didn’t blush and go blotchy I would have much more confidence.

Can you help?

Harriet replies:

The physical effects of social anxiety – which you describe so well – can be very debilitating, and the fear of it happening creates a vicious circle, making life miserable for you.

It sounds as if your GP prescribed you with one of the SSRI group of drugs (Prozac, Seroxat, etc.), which work well for some people, but can initially exacerbate symptoms in others while they are adjusting to the first few weeks of taking it.

The best treatment for social anxiety is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), where you learn to undo the panicky thought processes that create your physical symptoms. Learning to manage and change these, which are powerful enough to cause a physical response like extreme blushing and profuse sweating, takes time but will have a better outcome in the long term than surgery, which only treats symptoms but not the reasons for them. Understanding that the way you feel affects the way your body reacts physically, which in your case has become an exaggeration of a normal physical response, is the first step in learning to self-manage and prevent symptoms.

Ask your GP to refer you for a course (six sessions) of CBT, which the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) fully endorses, and which should be available to you on the NHS.

In the meantime, contact for further information and support, and also learn breathing exercises and relaxation techniques to help you manage your physical symptoms.