Shyness is an emotional state made up of mild fear and interest that scientists call social phobia or social anxiety.
You can deal with it as you would any other fear. You can be shy and still face people with boldness.
There’s nothing wrong with being shy. One-third of a person’s shyness comes from their parents. Many children, especially those in their teens, are shy.
Thalia Eley, Professor of developmental-behavioral genetics at King’s College, London, says shyness is 30% due to our genes, and 70% due to our response to the environment.
However, as an adult, if you feel your shyness is limiting your progress in life or career, you can learn to overcome it.
How To Overcome Shyness At Work: 7 Practical Ways
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), 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.
Shy adults are lonely and self-critical. They feel awkward and anxious around other people, which hinders their progress.
If you’re shy at work, you can overcome your mild to moderate shyness by changing how you assess and approach social situations.
Here are 7 strategies to overcome shyness at work:
1. 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 being 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.
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2. Keep Your Expectations Realistic.
Keep your expectations of yourself down to realistic levels.
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 of 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 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.
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. 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, and 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 the 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?
- Ask yourself what are you afraid of, and why?
- What are those underlying reasons holding you back?
- Does it alarm you that you will say the wrong things or stutter in your delivery?
The more you know about your anxiety triggers, the better-armed you become to challenge them. Once you own all the answers to the problem, the clues to its solution automatically surface.
Once you pinpoint your feeling by name, you are halfway to fixing it.
4. 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,” and “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 the 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.
5. 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 toward 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.
6. Embrace Your Shyness As A Part of Yourself.
When you accept yourself, then others will too.
Denying your shyness as a part of who you are will just add to your stress. It would exhaust you to always try to act in ways that would make you appear less shy.
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.
Accept your shyness. 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 as 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.
7. Stick To Your Changed, New Normal.
Embrace your newness.
Be careful not to fall back on 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 at 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 in 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.
What is Shyness: Meaning and Definition
Shyness is an unpleasant emotion that makes a person feel self-conscious, apprehensive, and awkward, especially in new situations or while interacting with strangers. The shy person fears being judged negatively by others. Its symptoms are similar to mild anxiety. The majority of shy people are merely moderately shy.
Shyness is also a behavior style that makes a person feel uneasy and anxious in the presence of others, familiar or unfamiliar, but more severe when they interact with unfamiliar persons.
As a matter of fact, shyness is as normal as any other human character or emotion. Most people feel can shy on certain occasions. Roughly 40 percent of people from the USA, Canada, Germany, Mexico, and India, admit they experience shyness.
American Psychological Association (APA) also points out the features of severe shyness: 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.
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 shy people hide from others, strangely, they often suffer from being lonely.
- Shyness also comes with the burden of overpowering negative self-talk. Shy people often criticize and reject themselves away in 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 that they can’t seem to tolerate the anxiety that comes with human interaction.
Is introversion the same as shyness?
Introversion is not the same thing as being shy. Introversion is a personality trait, while shyness is a social anxiety disorder.
Introverts and shy people are frequently mistaken, but they are not the same: introverts are drained by the outside world and recharged by the inner world, whereas shy people feel uneasy and self-conscious in social situations.
Introverts can be great leaders. They mostly prefer solitary activities to social ones, and largely like to be alone, because their brains are more sensitive to dopamine—the neurotransmitter that handles pleasure and excitement.
What is chronic shyness and how to treat it?
Chronic shyness is defined as persistent emotions of uneasiness and discomfort around other people. Such people avoid meeting and engaging with both known and unknown people, and they are less likely to accept jobs that require human interaction. Adults require expert intervention from mental health professionals to treat it.
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.
For severe social anxiety disorder that hampers your normal life, you should engage the help of a psychological counselor.
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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy—a medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder and Chief Editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes on mental health, happiness, positive psychology, and philosophy (especially Stoicism).
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