If you’re here reading this page, then you’ve probably got a problem.
A pretty embarrassing problem. Something you try to hide from the world. Something you wish you could stop instantly.
I’m about to show you what to do if you sweat all the time because of social anxiety or nervousness. And here’s why I’m qualified to talk about this…
A few years ago, my armpits would be absolutely drenched in sweat in almost any public place. I would sweat inside class or walking around outside. Even standing in line at the grocery store made my shirt damp and sticky under the armpits because of nervousness. I would even sweat when the temperature was cold, which made my shirt both wet AND cold – talk about an uncomfortable sensation!
So I know this problem can be very frustrating. It’s something you want to get rid of quickly.
I remember buying stronger deodorants and changing my shirt in the middle of the day. I also remember using the hand dryers in the school bathrooms to dry my shirt armpits so I could feel a bit more comfortable and to get rid of the stains. (Hoping nobody walked in while I was doing it!)
Other common areas for nervous sweating are the palms, face, etc. Sweating on the palms/hands can cause big difficulties because it makes most regular jobs very difficult, even shaking someone’s hand.
First let’s get something straight:
Is Your Sweating Caused By Nervousness Or Hyperhidrosis?
What is hyperhydrosis? It’s when someone’s sweat glands are overactive — they produce too much sweat when a person doesn’t need it. Hyperhidrosis is a physical problem with someone’s body — and people often go to surgery to fix it.
However, if you’re reading this article, then there’s a good chance that you do not have hyperhidrosis. The question you need to ask yourself is: “When do I sweat?”
My answer to that would have been: “Only when I’m around people. Especially in more high pressure situations like talking in front of groups of people.” So my sweating was caused by my social anxiety or feeling nervous inside. When I was sitting at home alone I would not sweat, my armpits were usually dry as a bone. But stepping out of the house I would usually start to sweat.
So if you sweat a lot even when you’re alone and feeling relaxed, then you may have hyperhydrosis. A physical problem with how your sweat glands work. But if you basically only sweat when you’re feeling nervous or anxious, like inside or just before a social situation, then your sweating has a different mental cause.
Now let’s move on to what you really want to know — how to stop the sweating!
Are You Attacking The Symptoms Or The Cause?
Buying stronger deodorants, changing your shirt multiple times a day and keeping your arms tightly pressed to your sides. All these are ways of attacking the symptoms of sweating.
However, the real way to stop nervous sweating is by fixing the root cause of your sweating. Since your sweating is only triggered in some situations, the root cause is mental.
You’re not sweating because of the heat. You’re also not sweating because your sweat glands are broken. You’re sweating because the “fight or flight response” in your brain has been triggered. The fact is, whenever you feel anxious, nervous, stressed, etc… it means the “fight or flight” survival part of your brain has been triggered. This is the part of your brain that makes your heart beat faster or hands tremble when you’re nervous. And it’s also what causes nervous sweating.
What Triggers Your Fight Or Flight Response?
If you have social anxiety, then the simplest answer I can give you is: When you think you’re about to be rejected. Another way of looking at it: When you think something shameful about you is about to be exposed.
And this is why sweating is a vicious cycle for most people, including myself for many years.
You think if people notice you sweating, they would instantly look down on you. They would judge you to be not confident or weird or even gross. That’s why you desperately want the sweat to dry up and stop… and you desperately want to hide it from everyone.
You believe sweating is a shameful flaw that needs to be hidden. So what happens is that whenever you start sweating a little, you start to worry about it. This makes you feel more nervous, which makes you sweat more. So you get more nervous, sweat more. And on and on… a downward spiral.
Therefore I’m about to make a weird statement, which I feel is 100% true for people who have social anxiety:
Overcome Shame, And You Overcome Sweating
I remember listening to Dr. David D. Burns tell a story of how he treated a man who had a nervous sweating problem in just one evening. (In case you don’t know, Dr. Burns wrote what may be THE most popular book of all time about cognitive behavioural therapy.)
Here’s what happened…
The man came in to Dr. Burn’s therapy office, saying that he really hated how much he sweat from nervousness, especially when talking to attractive women.
And Dr. Burns told him: “I can promise you I can get rid of the problem permanently in just one evening. But it won’t be easy. If you promise to do exactly what I tell you, then I can fix this problem. But you have to follow my directions exactly.” (I’m paraphrasing what I remember here.)
The man agreed, because he wanted to get rid of his nervous sweating no matter what. So Dr. Burns told the man to come back to his office next Thursday so they could get to work.
Dr. David D. Burns Shows A Nervous Sweaty Man His “Shame Attacking” Exercise
When the man came back to the office next week, he found Dr. Burns dressed very casually in a t shirt and jeans. And he was holding a water bottle. To the man’s surprise, Dr. Burns told him that they would be going for a walk instead of sitting in the therapy office.
As they walked outside, Dr. Burns reminded the man how he had promised to do exactly what he said to cure the nervous sweating. The man agreed again.
Soon they came to a busy convenience store. Dr. Burns opened the water bottle and started splashing water onto his armpits.
“What are you doing!?!” the man exclaimed.
“Here, put some water on your armpits too,” said the therapist, acting like this was totally normal.
The man reluctantly did it too. Now they both looked like they had just been running in a marathon, all sweaty.
“Now I want you to go inside this convenience store, point at your armpits and loudly tell everyone how sweaty they are,” the doctor told him.
“I can’t do that!” the man cried. He was busy trying to HIDE his wet armpits from the people walking into the store.
“Okay, if I do it first, then will you promise to do it after me?” asked the doctor. The nervous man couldn’t believe his well educated therapist would do this, and he agreed.
Sure enough, Dr. Burns walked into the convenience store. He lifted up one of his arms to reveal a big wet stain, and loudly said “Hey look how much I’m sweating today! Wow it sure is hot outside!”
The man looked from the outside amazed. A couple minutes later, Dr. Burns walked back outside and the man knew it was his turn. He copied what he has saw the doctor doing, lifting his arm and pointing out how sweaty he was to everyone in the busy convenience store, including the attractive woman working behind the counter.
Most people ignored him. Two or three people looked up before going back to their shopping or conversations. And 2 minutes later the man walked back outside, feeling exhilarated from doing something so far outside his comfort zone.
Dr. Burns and the man went to a couple more stores, repeating this exercise. And when Dr. Burns followed up with the man a few weeks, then a few months later… the man told him that his sweating problem was fixed.
Why Did The Man’s Nervous Sweating Stop?
So why did that extreme exercise work for the man? Because it attacked the root cause of his sweating – shame. In fact, Dr. Burns even calls it a “shame attacking exercise.”
“If you put shame in a petri dish, it needs three ingredients to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence, and judgment. If you put the same amount of shame in the petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive.” – Brene Brown
By exposing the shameful thing for all to see instead of keeping it a secret, the shame fades away.
Of course, there are less extreme ways to get over shame about your nervous sweating. One of the approaches I personally teach to my students is unconditional self acceptance. It takes a bit more time to work than one evening, but I think it’s easier for most people with social anxiety than the very difficult exercise I told in this story.
Just remember that the more you feel ashamed of something and try to hide it, the more nervous it will make you. This is why nervous sweating turns into a vicious cycle for many people. In this article I’ve given you a BIG hint about how to fix the problem.
Overcome the shame, and you overcome the sweating. I still remember the first time I was listening to stand up comedian Louis CK talk about how sweaty he was on stage. I was amazed at how someone could sweat, but not be ashamed about it. That was my first hint, and now I very rarely sweat from nervousness.