A closer look at what shyness is, why it happens, and how to conquer life without letting shyness get in the way
What is shyness?
Shyness is usually associated with being quiet, insecure, and/or socially anxious. Being shy is not necessarily bad. We can all feel shy from time to time, so it’s alright to feel a little uncomfortable in new situations and with new people.
There are ways to overcome these challenges, so you can still be shy and achieve your goals.
What causes shyness?
Some people are born more shy than others. Sometimes you can grow out of shyness and sometimes it can stay with you. Shyness is generally associated with new situations and can often pass; it can also attribute to the people you hang out with. Examples of times when you might feel shy are on your first day of school or starting a new job where you don’t know anyone. Over time you might start to make friends and your shyness may start to go away as you become more comfortable and confident in your new situation or with new people.
Here are some situations where you might find yourself being more shy than others:
Public speaking, e.g. class presentations
Speaking to someone you think is attractive
Meeting new people
Going to a new place
Eating and drinking in public
Talking to someone important, e.g. your boss or principal
Symptoms of shyness
How you might behave:
Quietly and passively
Avoiding eye contact
Avoiding social situations
Nervous behaviors, such as touching your hair or face a lot
What you might feel physically:
Fast heart beat
Feeling faint or dizzy
Butterflies in your stomach or feeling sick
Feeling like the situation is unreal or you are removed
Fear of losing control, going crazy, or having a heart attack
What you might think:
Negative thoughts about yourself, the situation, and others
Wanting to be perfect to avoid judgment
Blaming and beating yourself up, particularly after a social situation
Believing yourself to be weaker than others
Thinking “I don’t fit in” or “I’m unattractive”
What you might be feeling:
Blushing and sweating
When you’re feeling shy or embarrassed in a social situation or in any of the situations mentioned above, you might find yourself blushing or sweating more than usual. It’s also possible to blush for no apparent reason. In embarrassing or stressful situations, the body’s fight or flight response is activated. This releases extra adrenaline into the bloodstream causing more blood to rush to your face, neck and ears. Anxiety and nervousness can make you sweat more on you face or under your arms.
These physical displays of embarrassment, shyness and/or nervousness are often more noticeable to you than to others. You may also think that people are going to judge you or think that you are weak or dishonest by blushing or sweating. However, others often just see you as being shy or nervous.
Sometimes breathing can help to reduce the symptoms of blushing. See the fact sheet on Relaxation for information on breathing techniques.
What can you do if you are feeling shy?
It can be really useful to talk to someone if you feel that your shyness is keeping you from doing things that you want to do. You may want to consider talking to your family, friends or counselor about it. Here are some tips that can help you start overcoming your shyness:
Prepare a topic for conversation. Thinking about what you might talk about with new people can really help the conversation and any awkward feelings. It helps to pick a topic that you know a lot about and feel confident about.
Smile and be friendly. You are more likely to be friendly to someone who smiles at you, so try it yourself. Opening yourself up to people can make them feel more comfortable and more likely to be friendly in response.
Practice social skills. Start practicing your social skills one at a time. Try smiling at someone or saying ‘hi’, and keep practicing at home until you feel confident to try it out in a social situation. Once you feel comfortable with that, you can move onto something else—like trying to hold eye contact during a conversation.
Worse case scenarios. It may help to run through some of the worst things that could happen, so you can learn how to handle stumbling over your words when giving a class presentation or dropping your drink at a party. Thinking about some of the worst scenarios that you could come across may help you realize that they might not be as bad as you initially thought and would also prepare you for these situations if they were to happen. In case something embarrassing does happen, humor is a great way to release the awkward energy. Instead of taking something seriously, allow it to happen and laugh about it.
“I’m shy”. Letting other people know that you are shy can sometimes make the situation more comfortable. People are generally understanding, caring and patient, so they will help support you.
Reward yourself. It’s extremely helpful to tell yourself that you did really well after you’ve been in an uncomfortable situation. It is also important to remember that sometimes things can go wrong and that you should look at the things that did go well, like the fact that you tried.
Is shyness affecting my social life?
Sometimes being shy can impact on your life. You might find that you avoid social situations or new people because you are too shy and sometimes you may feel afraid to do simple things like asking someone a question or avoiding taking the bus because you don’t like everyone looking at you. If you feel that your shyness is impacting on your life, have a look at the Social Anxiety article.
Self-esteem and confidence
Building your self-esteem and confidence can often help reduce shyness in some situations. Low self-esteem can influence the way you behave. Sometimes shyness can hold you back from new experiences because you become overly concerned with the possibility of failure or looking stupid.
There are ways of building your self-esteem like becoming friends with yourself and challenging your self-talk. Focusing on your good qualities helps to build your confidence and self-esteem, learning not to compare yourself to others and realizing that no one is perfect.
How can you help a friend who is shy?
If you know someone who’s shy, try to help the person feel less nervous. Think about how it feels for you when you are feeling shy. You can even try telling them about a time that you felt shy. It might help them to understand that everyone feels that way sometimes, and they’re not alone.
Acknowledgements: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com