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 with 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 an 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 percent of people from the USA, Canada, Germany, Mexico, and India, admit they experience shyness.
Shyness: Meaning and Definition
Shyness or social anxiety is a behavior style that makes a person feel awkward and anxious in presence of others, familiar or unfamiliar.
However, this becomes more severe when the shy person is interacting with unfamiliar persons. Most people who feel shyness, do so only to a moderate degree.
According to American Psychological Association, shyness can be defined as the presence of anxious reactions and excessive self-consciousness, and negative self-evaluation in response to real or imagined social interactions.
American Psychological Association (APA) also 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.
Thalia Eley, Professor of developmental-behavioral genetics at Kings College, London, says shyness is 30 percent due to our genes, and 70 percent due to our response to the environment.
How To Overcome Shyness: 7 Clear Strategies
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 discussed in this post.
Here are six strategies to overcome shyness:
Strategy #1. Embrace Your Shyness
When you accept yourself, then others will too.
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 that you reluctantly piggyback around.
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.
Also, don’t turn yourself into a victim of impostor syndrome — telling yourself you don’t deserve your success. You deserve your achievements. Your shyness does not equal a lack of worth.
Never brand yourself less worthy of anything you achieved or plan 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 for 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 mostly 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.
Strategy #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 do not need to build it to others’ norms of perfection. You do not have to contend with what others hold up as the best 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 are not wrong about being you. Just because all of your colleagues or friends are highly outgoing types, you should not expect or push yourself to be like them.
- Don’t compare yourself to others to set up 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 who’s so much someone else than you.
- Don’t ever criticize yourself just because you’re not like them.
Keep your expectations of yourself down at 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.
Strategy #3. Scale And Tackle Your Fears
List your social fears, arrange them on a scale, and then tackle them.
• Fear Scale
Make a list of things you have shied away from most of your life. They could include 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 taking 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 a year, you would be the better version of yourself you’d set out to become.
Strategy #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. Notice them arriving.
Don’t try to suppress your anxious, shyness-provoking thoughts. Don’t attempt to escape from them. All you need to do first is notice them, name them. As “I think I’m having anxious thoughts”, “I think 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 the 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 you will 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 them. 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 halfway on to fixing it.
Strategy #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 into 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. It takes your attention away from over-analyzing yourself and relaxes you.
Mindfulness 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, curiosity, and an attitude of letting go. Being mindful to focus on things and people outside you will ease you out of your self-absorption.
Strategy #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 is like writing scripts for your most common anxious encounters and keeping the dialogues ready in your head. You may practice speaking them beforehand, imagining the stressful situation.
For better results, practice in front of your phone camera while recording it so that you can play it later to reinforce your script memory.
Later, when a stranger approaches you at 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 behavior around that relationship.
One more 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.
Strategy #7. Stick To Your New Normal
Embrace your newness.
Be careful not to 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 need to do is 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 ready, now that you now carry a new arsenal of strategies.
Remind yourself often that you have learned some highly effective ways to tackle your social anxiety, and you’re going to make them your default mode behavior. Doing this will steadily build up your defenses against your shyness.
Consciously stick to your new default behavior.
Six Facts About Shyness And Shy People
- Shy people tend to keep themselves away from crowds and remain silent when 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.
- Even when a shy person hides from others, strangely, 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 the same as introversion. Introverts do not fear social interactions but prefer doing things and spending time alone. In comparison, shy people crave to connect with others but get blocked by their negative self-evaluation. The actual problem is, they can’t seem to tolerate the anxiety that comes with human interaction.
If you can’t love yourself, you can’t quite love others. Love begins with you.
That statement holds greater truth for the socially anxious or the shy people. Shy people need more 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: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy – a medical doctor, psychology writer, happiness researcher. Founder of Happiness India Project, and chief editor of its blog. He writes popular-science articles on positive psychology and related medical topics.
• Our story: Happiness Project
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