Social Anxiety Day: The Emetophobia Story

Well, it seems having a M-F job doesn’t bode well for posting a blog every Friday. Who’d have guessed? I’ll work on it.

This week, we’re talking about Social Anxiety, and what it has to do with emetophobia and everything else.


It’s technically a phobia: A phobia of humiliation. According to Rob Kelly, creator of the Thrive programme for anxiety, social anxiety is one of the main factors that feeds emetophobia, and all other anxieties, and basically all of the unhealthy thoughts that we have on a day to day basis, so it’s definitely something worth ruminating about every now and then.

It isn’t hard, imagining having crippling anxiety in social situations – many of us experience it, at some point or another, in job interviews, first dates, what have you. It’s when lunch with a friend you’ve known forever feels like a job interview that it begins to become unhealthy. Social anxiety shows itself in many unhealthy habits – rehearsing conversations before they happen, dwelling on minor slip-ups for months (or years) afterwards, and experiencing physical symptoms of anxiety in social situations that many would consider not stressful – say, ordering a coffee at Tim Horton’s. Those symptoms could be a raised heart rate, blushing, trembling, etc. This is a huge oversimplification, and there are a number of different opinions on this (one of my favourite people, Susan Cain, describes it as “chronic shyness”). Basically, there’s a lot of literature out there available to anyone who is interested. Here’s a personal favourite:

Story of my life.

Story of my life.


I’ll talk about my own experience, rather than reiterating my research (according to Wikipedia, emetos are afraid of vomiting in public, leading to social phobia. I completely disagree – vomiting period is my worst-case scenario, no matter where it happens). For me, growing up, I was experiencing social anxiety, and I had no resources to deal with it. I didn’t even know what it was until I was 18. But as a kid, I would have anxiety attacks on a regular basis, and as neither of my parents have ever experienced one, they weren’t able to help me much. My anxiety attacks were almost all based on social anxiety – a few were more about hypochondria – but every time, I was unable to find a way to explain what I was upset about, because it was all too overwhelming. So I went with the fact that I felt nauseous.

I did feel nauseous. I get nausea from anxiety regularly. But my first experiences of emetophobia overlap with my first experiences of anxiety, and I think the two grew together. Since social anxiety is an extremely hard thing to explain aloud (“I’m panicking because three days ago I pronounced a word wrong and someone pointed it out”), it was easier to just say that I felt sick. It’s difficult to say whether or not I developed emetophobia on its own, or simply because I associated nausea with anxiety attacks. Maybe it was a combination of the two.

To take this another step further, it’s obvious that people who are prone to one type of anxiety will be prone to another. If you fear complete helplessness against your own body (i.e. vomiting, hypochondria), and you are desperate to find ways to control your own health, is it such a far leap to also desperately try to control social situations where you feel helpless against others’ actions and perceptions? The same unhealthy attitudes and thinking styles lead to all types of anxiety. The good news is, if you fight back against one anxiety, you are really fighting them all.


I started a new job last Monday. The early part of new work terms is always painful, especially with the burden of social anxiety. I’ve learned to accept the fact that I won’t get much sleep in the first week, and my thoughts will be constantly consumed with rehearsal and reliving the countless mistakes I must have made.

This time, it’s been a little different. While there has certainly been anxiety, nausea, Limited Symptom Attacks on the train, and whatever else I was expecting, there has also been evidence that my efforts have been working.

Let’s take a moment to discuss adult acne. I have adult acne, and have had it ever since I stopped being a teenager. Anyone who has ever had moderate or severe (or even mild) acne can tell you that only one thing is certain: there is no quick fix to acne. There is no way to heal your skin overnight, and anything you try will probably just anger it further. The only way is to take it one day at a time, so slowly that you can’t even see the changes as they come. It’s the same as weight loss (hello, crash dieting) and any other healthy change you might want to make: there is simply nothing healthy about quick fixes. They either don’t work, or don’t stick, or involve sacrifices so great that they consume your life.

I see my phobia, and other anxieties, as basically the same situation. I’m not going to crack this in one shot. And because I’ve had a lot of practice with quick fixes, I know that I don’t want to get anywhere near one this time. Slow and steady is the only way I’m ever going to make it to the finish line. So the fact that I’m starting to notice very slight changes is a really good thing – it means that I’ve taken a couple of steps towards where I want to be, and the steps are surefooted, so it’s not likely that I’m going to start backtracking.

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3 Responses to Social Anxiety Day: The Emetophobia Story

  1. tamsue says:

    This was very insightful. I really appreciate the way you brought me into your world. Thank you.

  2. Pingback: Learn About The Many Causes Of Social Phobia | iForeignAffairs


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