According to British singer-songwriter Morrissey, “shyness is nice”. When it leaves you feeling breathless, voiceless and even friendless, though, it can be anything but nice.
Shyness often manifests as social anxiety, and as Morrissey sings in his song Ask Me, it can stop you from doing the things you want to do in your life.
I discovered that shy people often felt anxious about social encounters because they feared other people’s judgment – specifically, their negative evaluation. We torment ourselves with self-critical thoughts such as “I look out of place”, “I sound stupid” and “I’m making a fool of myself”.
So how can we best deal with the downsides of shyness and take advantage of the upsides?
1) Use self-talk to reduce your discomfort. Remind yourself that 50% of the people around you are probably also feeling shy. You are not alone in dealing with these feelings. Try to separate your mind from your body’s symptoms.
2) Plan ahead. Use self-talk to remind yourself that you won’t be able to control all aspects of this social interaction. Be prepared to deal with a level of uncertainty.
3) Help others at social events. Try to spot some other shy people and help them out by approaching them. This takes the focus off your own discomfort .
4) Try exposure therapy. Give yourself regular small challenges in dealing with your shyness. Then reward yourself for being brave in the face of your anxiety.
5) Organise or join social activities in ways that suit you. It can help to arrange where you know who’ll be there, and there is an activity as the main focus of the event. This gives you something to talk about that you all have in common, as opposed to free-form socialising.
6) Confide your shyness to others rather than hide it. This can have a cathartic effect and reduce your sense of aloneness and/or shame.
7) Adopt a “persona”. In your professional capacity or your parenting capacity, for example, you can tell yourself that you are not being judged, because you represent something bigger and more important than you (your place of employment, your useful work role, or your role as a carer).
8) Keep a diary of your journey to manage your shyness/social anxiety. Note your progress and your challenges. Reflect on what you are going through.
9) Use social media to reach out, but be wary of the downsides. Monitor its effect on you and take breaks when you need to. Assess the positives and negatives .
10) Try other anxiety management strategies. Consider meditation, yoga, physical exercise, deep breathing and other forms of relaxation therapy.