Are You Too Shy? What is Shyness?
Did you hide behind your mother’s legs as a child? Are you usually leaning against the wall at parties, nursing a drink? Does the thought of speaking in front of a crowd make your stomach churn? The American Psychological Association describes shyness as “the tendency to feel awkward, worried or tense during social encounters, especially with unfamiliar people.”
Being shy is more common than you might think. David J. Biemer discusses how today’s experts view shyness as an epidemic in his article “Shyness Control: A Systematic Approach to Social Anxiety Management in Children.” To prove his point, he cited a survey done at Stanford in 1977. The survey reported that over 40% of individuals surveyed believed that shyness “was a personal problem for them.” Knowing that you’re not alone in your shyness can help ease some negative feelings that may develop, such as shame or loneliness.
Shyness stems from the worry that others are negatively accessing you. Although the source of shyness is in the mind, it can be felt in the body, as well. According to the Shyness Research Institute, some physical reactions caused by shyness include “muscle tension, increased heart rate, [and] upset stomach.” If a person develops shyness and social anxiety, individuals may experience hives, nausea, sweating, blushing, or shaking. The physical reactions only make social anxiety worse because other people can see that a person is nervous, which can be embarrassing.
Shyness Vs. Social Anxiety
There’s definitely some confusion out there on shyness and social anxiety. People tend to use the terms interchangeably, but social anxiety is not shyness. Further, not everyone with social anxiety is shy. The Social Anxiety Institute defines Social Anxiety Disorder “as a significant amount of fear, embarrassment or humiliation in social performance-based situations, to a point at which the affected person often avoids these situations entirely, or endures them with a high level of distress.”
One of the main differences between shyness and social anxiety is that shyness is not a diagnosis. Shyness is a personality trait, whereas social anxiety is a mental health condition in which a person has an intense fear of social situations.
This fear can interfere with a person’s career and personal relationships because a person may avoid social situations altogether. It can prevent a person from leaving the house and making friends, which can lead to isolation and even depression. It’s important to make this distinction between shyness and social anxiety because social anxiety may not be taken be seriously or properly treated if people think it is merely shyness.
Does speaking in front of a crowd make you nervous? Are you not the life of the party? By themselves, those traits are simply shyness. They don’t compare to the debilitating social anxiety that can interfere with daily life. Shyness and social anxiety surely have similar aspects, but social anxiety is a diagnosis, whereas shyness is a personality trait. Many people don’t even consider shyness a bad thing, and it doesn’t have to be.
Introverts Vs. Extroverts
A common misconception is that all shy people are introverted. However, that’s not true. According to Steve Bressert, Ph.D., shy people can be introverts or extroverts. More shy people are introverts, but not all of them. Shy individuals who are extroverted tend to get nervous only in certain social situations. For example, a shy extrovert may not feel nervous in an interview because they can expect to answer some questions and prepare answers beforehand. However, on a blind date, shy individuals may experience anxiety because the conversation is more open-ended.
In modern western society, extroverts are prized. Retail companies, especially, want extroverts who will be quick to chat up a customer and make a sale. Even though introverts tend to be overlooked, they have their own set of valuable assets. In the New York Times Bestseller, Quiet, Susan Cain discusses how society overlooks the important qualities introverts bring to the table. From engaging in meaningful conversation with customers to working diligently without supervision, introverts provide much-needed qualities that companies need to thrive.
In a world where extroverts are seen as the most successful, it’s important to remember that the person who is speaking the loudest isn’t always right. Extroverts aren’t the only ones who can make great leaders, either. In “The Introverted Leader: Examining The Role of Personality And Environment,” Candace Atamanik discusses how research has proven that great leaders can be extroverted or introverted even though many think that introversion can prevent someone from being a good leader.
Common Thoughts of People Who are Too Shy
Those of us who are shy tend to look inward and worry about what others are thinking. If you’re shy, below are some things you could be thinking:
“I won’t know what to say.”
If you’re not sure what to say, let the other person do the talking. Many people love to talk. Ask a person what they’re passionate about, and you’ll likely only need to ask a few questions here and there to keep them talking all night.
“They won’t like me.”
One of the hardest things we all have to learn is that not everyone will like us. No matter how hard you try, there will always be someone who thinks you’re living your life wrong. Would you rather hide who you are than risk being yourself and meeting someone who doesn’t like you? Being your authentic self is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself. Each of us has good qualities that add light to the world. Don’t be afraid to shine because some people may think your light is too bright.
“I feel uncomfortable around new people.”
Feeling uncomfortable around new people is an evolutionary response. We may avoid certain social situations because our brains can process them as a potential threat. Knowing that the uncomfortable feeling is a normal response that we’re programmed to have may make it easier to ignore the feeling.
You’re most likely not boring, but if you truly believe you are boring, talk about something other than yourself. What are your interests? What did you dream about last night? What’s your favorite book or movie? If you’re nervous about coming off as boring during a first date, write down a few conversation starters beforehand to keep your date talking.
How to Get Comfortable in Social Situations If You’re Too Shy
The good thing is that with time and practice, shyness can be overcome. Being comfortable and confident in social situations is a skill like learning to drive a car. At first, it may seem impossible to remember what every button and gear is for, but then driving becomes second-nature.
As you ease yourself into social situations, here are some tips to keep in mind:
1. Choose Settings and Atmospheres that Suit You
For many shy individuals, going to a concert or a club is not appealing. The loud music and bright lights can be overwhelming and make it hard to hear what others are saying. Choosing a calm bookstore or a quaint coffee shop is a much better place for shy individuals. Being able to drink a cup of coffee or browse books during a lull in the conversation can take the pressure off.
2. Look for People with Shared Interests
What are you so passionate about that you could push past your shyness to connect with others who share that passion? Going to a club meeting for the first time is hard. Who are these people? Will they like me? If your passion is bigger than your shyness, it motivates you to push through those nervous feelings.
Wouldn’t you rather feel uncomfortable the first couple of meetings than miss the opportunity to connect with like-minded people? If you’re having trouble finding groups to join, consider browsing Meetup.com. On Meetup, there are hundreds of different groups to join based on interest and location.
3. Make Sure You Feel Your Best
One of the easiest things to do to combat feeling self-conscious to is to look your best. Remember to shower regularly and wear clothes that make you feel good about yourself. Sure, your grandma meant well when she bought you that itchy turtleneck, and you feel bad that it sits in your closet, but wouldn’t your grandma want you to look and feel your best?
If you develop a routine before you go out, that can make you feel better, as well. Consider turning on your favorite music while putting on makeup or getting dressed. Tell yourself, “I’m awesome. I look great. I’m going to have a great time!”
4. Prepare Yourself for Small Talk
Small talk is unavoidable. No matter if you’re at work or enjoying a day out, you’re bound to encounter a situation where small talk is necessary.
5. Listen – Get Out of Your Head and Focus on the Other Person
One thing that shy people tend to do is be so focused on themselves and their uncomfortable emotions that they may not be paying attention to the other person. This behavior can come off as self-absorbed and even rude. As anxiety-inducing as it can be, try to take a deep breath and re-center yourself.
What is the other person saying to you? Does anything they’re saying interest you or make you stop and think for a second? Focusing on the other person and what they’re saying is not only polite but also helps you get out of your own head and stop worrying about what the other person thinks of you.
6. Be Genuinely Curious and Ask Open-Ended Questions (Not Yes or No Questions)
Sometimes making small talk can feel soul-crushing. Who cares about the weather or the latest news headline? If you’re someone who hates small talk, consider that you have the ability to control the conversation.
Small talk can become meaningful. If you ask the other person certain questions, it can open up the conversation. Simple questions like “why?” and “how?” can lead someone to expand on declarative statements. These questions can prevent a conversation from getting “stuck.”
7. Show Empathy
One of the first steps in developing empathy is to listen. Listen to what other people have to say and consider life through their eyes. Reading books can be one of the best ways to develop empathy for people different from yourself.
Everyone has fears and dreams and secrets. Everyone worries from time to time and wants to be accepted. When you remind yourself that humans are more alike than we are different, it’s easier to practice empathy for others.
8. Practice What to Say
If you’re nervous about a specific social situation, practicing what to say can help combat anxious feelings. Nervous about an interview? Pick out your outfit beforehand. Do a mock interview with a friend. Unsure if you’ll know what to say during a conference call? Write down some key points that you’d like to address. Jot down ways to politely wrap up the phone call, such as “Thank you so much for your time today. I look forward to working with you!”
9. Offer Feedback and Express Your Opinion the Right Way
The best way to offer feedback is to point out something done right first, and then suggest a change. Also, try not to make accusations, such as “you didn’t get the project done in time because you were slacking off.” Even if that’s what you’re thinking, you could say, “It seems like the project deadline was missed. Is there any way that I can help?”
Approaching situations the right way can minimize conflict and helps people not feel attacked. It’s always the right choice to be respectful and empathetic with how the other person feels.
Remember That You Have Your Own Unique Qualities to Offer
Everyone is different. That’s what makes the world such an interesting place. Some people are skilled at woodworking. Others crunch numbers in the concrete jungle. From painters to athletes to dentists, different people are good at different things. You wouldn’t want a baker performing dental surgery, would you?
Individuals who are shy offer unique qualities that keep the human population varied and thriving. From Rosa Parks to Bill Gates, there are many successful shy individuals who show us that being shy is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s all about owning who you are and loving yourself.