Statistics show that people who live solitary lives don’t live as long as those who enjoy deep and meaningful connections with family and friends. Each step you take to vanquish the fear that is holding you back will add more years to your life, and perhaps, more life to your years.
Give yourself the gift of human interaction. It is necessary for a full life and second only to food, safety, and shelter when it comes to our most basic human needs.
Shyness Reduction Techniques
When your shyness feels like it’s having its way with you, there are a number of things you can do to decrease the tension and get back to life as you know it. You have more power over your fear and anxiety than you may think.
The following exercises will help you feel better about yourself when you’re feeling really stuck. The first one involves getting your shyness out on the table. If you are in a relationship, you can do this exercise with your partner. You also can do it with anyone in your life who is a good listener.
Step 1: Look at and talk about the worst-case scenario. Get all your feelings and fears out so you know what you’re dealing with. Be sure to discuss what you’d do in the worst-case scenario and how serious the consequences would be.
Step 2: Talk about the best-case scenario and revel in all that it brings you. Take a moment to really soak in all of the positive changes that could result.
Step 3: Look at what’s most likely to happen. While you can’t be certain, it’s reasonable to expect that most of these scenarios will fall somewhere in the middle of the worst- and best-case scenarios. Remember that the results are also largely dependent on your response to whatever happens.
Going through this process will decrease anxiety and help you embrace the positives in your life. Taking this tried-and-true action will yield positive results.
Being Proactive About Your Shyness
Be proactive about your shyness. Some people take supplements (a popular one is fish oil) or drink chamomile tea to help them relax. Daily exercise is also a great way to help you overcome the anxiety. So is meditation.
Avoid the news and watch a comedy instead. Events you see on TV or read in the papers may trigger your shyness about going out into the world. I’m not suggesting you live in a cave, but if you are having an anxiety-ridden day, it might be best to do something more pleasant than getting sucked into the latest bad news. Once you learn what brings on feelings that make you want to hide, it will help you avoid triggers in the future.
Revisit places that make you feel peaceful inside. Being by water or in nature is very calming for many people. Sometimes reading a book by the pool can be as good as reading one in the mountains. The trick is to find and then remember the places that make you feel most peaceful, and the next time you are feeling shy, go to a quiet spot and just imagine yourself back in your peaceful place. I know it sounds too simple, but it works very well.
Start your day on the right foot. When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is a brief meditation. Simply visualizing a peaceful day ahead and reminding myself that I am safe are helpful little tools that can make the difference between a nervous day and one of tranquility. I use this meditation technique throughout the day whenever necessary.
Participation in Social Groups
If you are shy, there is still hope for you to reduce your fear of rejection by peers. Participation in group activities, whether they involve business, sports, hobbies, or the arts, has positive long-term effects.
Whether or not someone can take advantage of such activities probably stems from experiences during adolescence. If adolescents are not exposed often enough to social groups to learn the importance of friendships, they are likely to continue having difficulty maintaining social connections into their adulthood. It’s not too late, though: we can make interacting with other people much less stressful just by participating in more social activities right now.
More time spent with friends can benefit us because it helps us be impervious to social exclusion. If you spend more time with friends and stay engaged in social activities, you will be less sensitive and less stressed out when you do perceive a social threat or rejection.
Building Resilience: Being Rejected Happens to Everyone
If you opt out of events every time you feel shy, remind yourself that the more friends you have, the more friends you will make. As well, having and making friends will help you build resilience to rejection and reduce the stress you feel when you are rejected (it happens to everyone, after all). Simply put, the more friends you have, the more likely it is that you will have someone you can really count on.
You should look for inexpensive ways to strengthen your neural response to rejection and increase your resilience. Do this by going on group hiking trips, joining a book club, or taking a class. If you take a class and you feel uncomfortable and shy, don’t leave. Instead, stick around after class until you make a new friend, and exchange your contact information so that you can help each other with assignments.
If you are able to engage in social activities every week, it can be a great exercise to help you identify the emotions you feel when you are rejected. Keep a journal, and write down an entry every time you feel sensitive to a social rejection. Identify and describe your feelings. Then describe positive new ways in which you could have responded. Use this approach to be more open to rejection and even criticism.
Have compassion on yourself and accept what applies and leave the rest. You cannot change a lonely, painful past, but you can make the future so much better when you are part of a community.
Social Networking for the Shy
Using social networks is a great way to break out of your shyness. You can test the waters of various kinds of social situations by joining social network groups that interest you, such as ones for knitters, hikers, skiers, and gardeners. They even have ones expressly for shy people! If you attend a meet-up, you’ll probably encounter someone else who is there for the first time, too. One of the best ways to blend into an event is to show up early and befriend other new people, because you are all in the same boat.
Befriending an existing member of a group is a great way to get introduced to other people in your new network of friends. Recent studies have shown that shy people tend to spend more time on online social networks, especially Facebook. However, more socially confidant people tend to spend less time on social networking websites because they are already busy enjoying the activities they love with friends.
After joining a network group and meeting up with potential new friends, you will start to learn about new activities, events, and other upcoming meet-ups. This is your opportunity to shine by venturing out of your comfort zone. Try saying yes to every event that you can realistically attend. If you follow through, you will increase your feeling of satisfaction with your life.
Conversely, the more you decline invitations, the less likely it is you will be invited in the future. Although you may be truly busy, others might see your refusal as evidence of disinterest. To avoid this, try not to turn down every invitation you’re offered.
Negative Thoughts Getting in the Way of Self-Confidence?
One client that I (Marlena) worked with who was struggling with shyness found herself having more fears about socializing after graduating from college and relocating to a new town. She would get excited when she would learn of upcoming events like dances or festivals. She would sign up enthusiastically and plan for the events weeks in advance, but when the time came to attend one of these events, she would automatically think of an excuse not to follow through with her plan.
Negative thoughts were getting in the way of her self-confidence, thoughts such as I will be the only person attending this event alone and I am going to look like a loser if I go alone. Therefore, she opted out of going to any events for several months.
This changed one day when a mutual friend invited her to a pool party through Facebook. Although she didn’t know if her friend would show up, she decided she would go to the party no matter what. When her friend backed out of going, my client was devastated and wanted to go home. However, she told herself how silly it would be to leave after the long drive. Now that I’m here, I should at least check it out, she thought.
She was so proud of herself as she walked past the entrance gates to the pool, that she immediately began to realize the benefits of attending an event alone. She was happy that she didn’t need to tag along with friends and that she could leave whenever she wanted to without anyone becoming upset.
To her surprise, she ran into an old friend at the party and was introduced to two new friends. My client was able to see her social network group growing right in front of her eyes—all because she was willing to take that once chance.
Always Be Your True Self
No matter what group you find yourself a part of, always be your true self. Don’t be afraid to be the first one to speak up in a new setting. Sometimes asking a simple question can spark a lively conversation. Additionally, try to eliminate negative thoughts—you know, the inner critic that tells you lies such as I look like an idiot and Nobody here likes me. These thoughts will increase your avoidant behavior and your fears. If you find yourself thinking negative thoughts, try repeating a few positive statements to yourself instead.
Remember that you have the power to eliminate shyness from your life, or at least make it a non-issue. Look for groups that can help you with your shyness and help you build your confidence. Who knows? Maybe one day you’ll be organizing your own group, and you’ll find a new, shy friend who needs help getting past her own shyness.
©2015 by Barton Goldsmith and Marlena Hunter. All rights reserved.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher, The Career Press.
1-800-CAREER-1 or (201) 848-0310. www.careerpress.com.
100 Ways to Overcome Shyness: Go From Self-Conscious to Self-Confident
by Barton Goldsmith PhD and Marlena Hunter MA.
About the Authors
Dr. Barton Goldsmith is a multi-award-winning psychotherapist, syndicated columnist, author, and former NPR radio host, a keynote speaker and a top blogger for Psychology Today. He was named by Cosmopolitan as one of America's top therapists.
Marlena Hunter, MA, is a University of California graduate with a degree in psychology and several years of experience in clinical settings as a marriage and family therapist. She studied psychoanalysis at Sigmund Freud University in Vienna and received European credits. She has also written for psychologytoday.com.