How do you overcome your shyness — in your social life or at work? Are there some proven, effective strategies to deal with your social anxiety or social phobia, as shyness is called by scientists?
But first, what’s wrong being shy? Nothing, actually. About one-third of your shyness comes from your parents. So, if you find it hard to get over your shyness as adult, you were likely a shy child by birth.
As a matter of fact, shyness is as normal as any other human character. Most people feel shy occasionally. Roughly 40 per cent of people from USA, Canada, Germany, Mexico, and India, admit they experience shyness.
Shyness or social anxiety is a behavior style that makes a person feel awkward and anxious in presence of others. This becomes more terrible when the others are unfamiliar. Most people who feel shyness, do so in a moderate manner.
American Psychological Association (APA) points out the features of severe shyness:
Severely shy people may have physical symptoms like blushing, sweating, a pounding heart or upset stomach; negative feelings about themselves; worries about how others view them; and a tendency to withdraw from social interactions.
Shy people tend to keep themselves away from crowds and remain silent when it comes to airing their views. A shy person finds it difficult to make friends and talk to strangers.
A shy person fears judgment and rejection from others, and ends up avoiding them. But the strange thing is, even when a shy person hides from others, they often suffer from being lonely.
Shyness also comes with the burden of overpowering negative self-talk. The shy people often criticize and reject themselves away to more loneliness.
Shyness is not same as introversion. Introverts feel energized spending time alone, but shy people crave to connect with others. The problem is, they find it hard to tolerate the anxiety that comes with human interaction.
Thalia Eley, professor of developmental behavioral genetics at Kings College, London, says shyness is 30 per cent due to our genes, and 70 per cent due to our response to environment.
7 Strategies To Deal With Shyness
You can be shy, but it doesn’t mean you’re weak-minded. Your shyness doesn’t make you any less strong to overcome most of your fears.
For severe social anxiety disorder that hampers your normal life, you should engage the help of a psychological counselor. However, for most mild to moderate shyness, you can overcome it by taking yourself through these seven practical strategies.
1. Embrace Your Shyness
When you accept yourself, then others will too.
You are shy, and that’s who you are. So, first accept it as a part of your persona. Once you embrace your shyness, you become comfortable walking around with yourself.
No one’s life comes without difficulties or challenges. But what’s the first step? It is accepting what is. When you do that, your social anxiety is no more a bugbear you reluctantly piggyback around.
Also, don’t turn yourself into a victim of impostor syndrome — telling yourself you don’t deserve your success. You do.
Your shyness does not equal a lack of worth.
Don’t ever brand yourself less worthy of anything you achieved or planning to achieve. No matter what anyone says, even what your inner critic whispers into your head. Your shyness doesn’t mean you’re one bit less worthy than anyone around.
There’s no such thing as being wrong when it comes to being yourself, unless you’re a dangerous threat to society. So, don’t let anyone tell you you’re doing your social interactions the wrong way.
So, if you have social anxiety, this doesn’t make you a misfit. If you’re shy, then who the darn eff are others to tell you you’re doing it wrong? And even if they do, why would you give their opinions any undue value?
You are what you are, and that is so beautiful.
Be you. Let others see the real you. Once you unhide your vulnerability, your journey through your social circles starts becoming easier.
Life, with all its rough edges and sharp points, is most about change. We have the power to change everything we dislike about ourselves and our surroundings. But to make that change, we must first accept ourselves the way we are.
2. Prune Your Social Expectations
Do not try to become a raging bull of an outgoing version of yourself.
Each of us is one of a kind. We can be similar, and even almost similar as another person, but never the same. You’re unique, so your faults have to be unique. Cut down on your expectations from yourself in terms of sociability.
Your life may not be perfect — but you don’t need to build it to others’ norms of perfect. You don’t have to contend with what others hold up as perfect standards of normal.
But then, who doesn’t have imperfections? Perfection is not normal. If they ever found a “perfect person” on this earth, even she wouldn’t bat an eyelid to count them her flaws.
That holds good for your shyness too. You may be imperfect, but you’re not wrong being you.
Just because all of your colleagues or friends are highly outgoing types, you shouldn’t expect yourself to be a copy of them.
- Don’t compare yourself to others to setup impractical goals for yourself.
- Don’t create an image of yourself as a super-social dude, and keep trying to become that all your life.
- Don’t try to force yourself to become a person that’s so much someone else than you.
- Don’t ever criticize yourself just because you’re not like them.
Tone down your expectations from yourself to realistic levels.
Carry around your genuine self, and the people who matter in your life would take to liking the reserved and shy you just as much as you do.
3. Scale And Tackle Your Fears
Make a list of your social fears, arrange them on a scale, and tackle them.
Fear Scale. Make a list of things you have shied away from most of your life. It could be anything from going into a crowded mall to speaking before a hall full of people.
Ask yourself what exactly in each of these situations makes you uncomfortable. Then give each a number from 1 to 10. The scale goes up from 1 to 10, with 1 the least, and 10 the most. So, taking out your dog for a walk could be 1, going to a movie could be 4, and speaking up before an office audience could be 10.
Graded Exposure. Next you employ a method called graded exposure. In this, you expose yourself to your fears in an increasingly step-by-step manner.
The idea is to invest your energies into one fear at one time. While deciding on that one issue of fear to take up first, begin with the least dreadful thing.
Start by attacking those activities that give you the least fear, the ones you earlier marked as 1. For the first few days or weeks, tackle just one of those lowest ranked things.
If it’s dog walking you’d rather avoid, then go out twice or even thrice a day to walk your dog. If it’s your fear of walking away too far from your neighborhood and getting lost, then go out a few hundred meters away from your usual limit.
From there, move on up. Tackle higher ranked, more scary activities as you move down the year.
Remember, every small progress adds up to a big win in time.
With this strategy, dealing with your shyness and social anxiety would take some time, but it wouldn’t take forever. You can start seeing desired changes within a month or two. Within an year, you would be the better version of yourself you’d set out to become.
4. Name And Tame Your Thoughts
Call your fears by their names.
Building a sense of awareness helps you notice your anxious thoughts when they form, and accept them for what they are. You have to notice them arriving.
Don’t try to suppress your anxious, shyness-provoking thoughts. Don’t attempt to escape them. All you need to do first is notice them, name them. As, “I’m having anxious thoughts”, “I’m feeling afraid to speak out”.
In acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), you learn to be aware of your thoughts as thoughts. You don’t see your anxious thoughts as present or future truths. You distance yourself by naming your thoughts as,
My mind is chattering about things that might happen. That’s my mind doing it. It is not talking about a reality, but an imagined possibility.
If you’re feeling nervous to speak before a group, pay attention to your anxiety rising inside you. Then take an in-depth look. Give it a deeper thought. Find out why exactly are you anxious about it.
Do you think you’ll draw a blank? Do you feel you’ll forget your lines? Does it alarm you that you’ll say the wrong things, or stutter in your delivery?
Ask yourself what are you afraid of, and why? What are those underlying reasons holding you back?
The more you know about your anxiety triggers, the better armed you become to challenge it. Once you own all the answers about the problem, the clues to its solution automatically surface.
Once you pinpoint your feeling by name, you are half-way on to fixing it.
5. Learn To Focus Outward
Get the hang of checking out things outside yourself.
A shy person forges a deep relationship with their own thoughts and feelings. This trait in them is not narcissism; it’s self-absorption.
Shy people are self-involved and self-absorbed, and often keep busy thinking things like, “how do I look”, “how do I talk”, “how do people see me”. They stay tied up with this self talk in their heads.
There’s a way to stop that. Get the habit of directing your focus outward.
Start paying compassionate attention to people around you. Notice a few good things in some of those in your field of vision. This takes your attention away from over-analyzing yourself, and relaxes you.
Mindfulness meditation practice can enormously help you look outside yourself with awareness rather than with a fear of being judged.
The basic principles of mindfulness are non-judgment, attention to the present moment, and an attitude of open-heartedness. Being mindful to focus on things and people outside you will ease you out of your self-absorption.
6. Practice And Stay Prepared
Write a script for your interactions, and speak from it.
Create an inventory of what you could say on certain occasions. It’s like writing scripts for your commonly anxious encounters, and keeping the dialogues ready in your head. You may practice speaking them beforehand, imagining a stressful situation.
For better results, practice in front of your phone camera while recording it, so that you can play it later for reinforcing your script memory.
Now, when a stranger approaches you in a party, or when you see your boss walk towards you, or when you go out on a date, you already know what to say to them.
Another technique is to categorize your relationships according to the attachment theory —
Once you know how you behave with each category, you can change your behaviour around that relationship.
One more really effective strategy to practice is careful and attentive listening. When you listen actively, both the speaker and you feel engaged in the conversation.
Listen with an intent to listen. Listening lays out small bridges of social connection from you to others.
7. Stick To Your New Normal
Embrace your newness.
Be careful to not fall back to your familiar patterns, after learning new strategies to overcome your shyness.
Smartphones have made it incredibly effortless for shy people to stay self absorbed almost anywhere. All you got to do hunch down into your screen — and the outside world around evaporates.
If you always went to parties to find some corner to dissolve yourself, then that’s your comfort zone habit. Don’t do that anymore. The more you involve yourself in interactions, the more confident you become of your social skills.
It’s always easy to settle into your familiar old patterns. So, stay aware and keep in mind you now carry a new arsenal of strategies.
Tell yourself every now and then, you’ve learnt actually effective ways to tackle your social anxiety, and you’re going to make them your default mode behaviour. Doing this will steadily build up your defenses against your shyness.
Consciously stick to your new default behavior.
If you can’t quite love yourself, you can’t love others. Love begins with you.
That statement holds greater truth for the socially anxious or the shy people. Shy people need more of self-love, self-kindness, and self-compassion.
With time and practice, you can grow these qualities inside you. Once that happens, the lonely, abandoned alien inside your shy mind feels right at home.
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Author Bio: Sandip Roy is psychology writer, happiness researcher, and medical doctor. Founder of Happiness India Project, and chief editor of its blog. He writes popular-science articles on positive psychology and related topics.
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