Many people with nervous sweating remember the first time they got attention for sweating, and that unpleasant memory stays with them the same way the memory of a first panic attack stays with people. They think of sweating as their flaw, maybe even their fault. They feel shame and embarrassment, and dread each future drop of perspiration.
Step Two: Anticipation
The second step is anticipation. Once a person identifies sweating as a problem, it doesn’t take long before they start anticipating it. “What if sweat stands out on my forehead when I present at the staff meeting?” “What if my hands are all clammy when it’s time to shake hands?”
This anticipatory anxiety suggests that you should be thinking something and doing something now to prevent future episodes of sweating. And so you try.
This is a problem, because the harder you try, the worse it gets.
Step Three: People try to control and hide their sweating
The third step in the development of this problem is that people resort to “safety behaviors” in the hopes of preventing and/or hiding their sweat. For instance, you might keep a supply of napkins in your pocket to dry off before shaking hands, or to blot up the sweat on your forehead when no one is looking.
You might keep a glass of ice water handy, for drinking and also for touching to your face when no one can notice. You might select your clothes with an eye toward hiding sweat. Whenever possible, you position yourself in a room near a fan or air conditioner.
Other safety behaviors include: taking a cold shower just before an event; excessive use of antiperspirants, deodorants, perfumes, and talcum powder; finding ways to avoid handshakes; sticking your head out the window on a cold day just before a meeting; using anti-anxiety medications, and so on.
Will these solve the problem? Probably not. In fact, the more you worry about, and try to hide or suppress this sweating, the more it tends to happen. As with yawning, we don’t consciously control the process, but we can increase it by trying to suppress it.
The more you oppose sweating, and try to keep it your secret, the bigger a problem it becomes, because this resistance and secrecy persuade you that you really do have something shameful and deviant to hide.
And it diverts your attention and energy from what’s actually important in your life to this basic, involuntary physiological response, and gives it exaggerated importance.
Overcoming Nervous Sweating
There is no direct, foolproof way to abolish nervous sweating or to limit your sweating to the amount you think appropriate.
But this doesn’t have to be a terrible problem for you. As a first step, evaluate what I’m saying here. Is this true for you, that your efforts to hide and stop the sweating have converted this nuisance into a significant problem? If so, then perhaps a different approach will produce better results for you.
I refer to nervous sweating here as a nuisance. If you have a fear of sweating, that probably sounds like a huge understatement. But the truth is, perspiration volume is neither an important nor common sign of character. If you’re running for President, breaking into a sweat during a televised debate might sink your campaign. But the rest of us have a big say in how large or small this problem is.
We make it bigger by fighting and hiding the sweating. We can make it smaller by becoming more open and accepting of it. You don’t get to choose how much sweating you do, so why should you treat it like a mark of dishonor?
What makes the problem worse is the dreading, the hiding, and the secrecy. As you gradually undo those steps, the problem will become less and less.