I have always been quite shy, and I guess I suffer a little from social anxiety too. It is not extreme, I don’t hide away completely, but there are times when I do turn down invitations that if I put myself out of my comfort zone I would actually enjoy.
I am never the loud, gregarious one, unless I am with my close circle of friends (and maybe only when alcohol is present too). And if I am in a situation where I meet new people, I won’t be the one dominating the conversation.
I can see this in my children too, with my youngest being painfully shy. So much so that her teacher put her in some clubs at school to help bring her out of herself. And she has – I knew it would be a matter of time – but it will be a work in progress for many years.
I don’t necessarily see it as a bad thing, but as one of my colleagues said recently, you get nothing in life if you don’t put yourself out there. I’m not sure that’s 100% true, but I do see his point. I want more for my children than I have had, so I see it as my job to nurture and slowly get them out, without it frightening them half to death.
So I thought it best to look at shyness and social anxiety, as I am sure there are many others like me who want to learn how to overcome their shyness.
What Causes Shyness?
Shy people are often seen as misfits or outcasts by people who are not socially inept. You hear comments about such shy, insecure people as the following:
“Why is she so strange? She never talks to anyone.”
“He never talks to anyone. Does he think he is better than everyone else?”
“I think he is crazy/has a mental disorder.”
“I wouldn’t want to hang around with her, she is weird.”
“She is such a loner, no wonder she doesn’t have any friends.”
In many cases, it is exactly this type of ostracizing which causes some people to be shy. Fear of reprimand or failure can also lead to an individual withdrawing from society. They know that if they make a mistake or fail in some way, they will feel less about themselves, and they believe others will too.
Growing up in an environment of fear can cause children to wind up as shy, insecure adults. Either one or both parents or the premier caregiver is overly hard on the child. Without a loving environment that supports learning from failure, and growing up in one that constantly browbeats and belittles a child, a person can wind up with an extreme level of shyness, and even self-hatred.
Shyness May Be a Chemical Thing
The awkward, apprehensive feelings which are hallmarks of shyness can also arise from chemical imbalances. Premature childbirth, improper prenatal development, low birth weight, mercury poisoning and hereditary influences can all predispose a person to be shy and withdrawn from the minute they are born.
If a child moves frequently during the social developmental stages of youth, this can lead to low self-esteem. They find it hard to develop lasting friendships, and give up on social interaction altogether. Another frequent cause of shyness results from a condition known as post-traumatic stress disorder.
Usually referred to as PTSD, this mental disorder develops after a traumatic event. Some people simply can’t “move on” and heal after severe trauma. A single such occurrence in a person’s life may have such a powerfully negative mental and emotional effect that the person prefers loneliness to what are perceived as dangers in building relationships and interacting with others.
It is important to remember that in most cases, there are strong underlying reasons for a person being shy and insecure. Counseling is a first line of defense, as is creating a loving environment of support filled with positive reinforcement and encouragement.
Common Worries of Shy or Insecure People
The benefits of socializing are significant. Social engagement has been proven to strengthen the human immune system. This means that your natural ability to fight infection and disease is strengthened when you spend time with other people. Those that socialize frequently enjoy better mental health and less incidence rates of cancer, diabetes and other problematic health conditions.
Those are a few very good reasons it is so important to fight through feelings of shyness or insecurity.
Insecure individuals are often concerned about what other people think. They don’t realize that in most situations, most of the time, their behavior and actions are not even recognized. They are worried about looking foolish or thought of as a failure, when no one else is really paying that much attention.
Even when others do see you fail, you should not feel insecure. Surround yourself with those supportive individuals and loved ones that care about you. This can keep you from the frequent worry and insecurity that shy people are known for.
Other common worries of shy people are simply not correct. Sometimes an introverted, insecure person suffers from a cognitive distortion. Their view of reality is incorrect, based on a neurological disorder. Other shy people worry that they were born unlikable or exceptionally flawed.
Some are so concerned about their social interactions that they become “mind readers”. They believe they can read the minds of the people they are interacting with, seeing themselves as unapproachable, unlikable and awkward through the eyes of others.
Some are simply so concerned with rejection or lack of approval that they prefer to spend their time on their own. The fear of being ostracized or rejected is so strong that a shy person prefers the sadness of loneliness.
Insecure individuals may also believe that any social mistake will have incredibly negative and harmful consequences. It is important to seek help if you have these feelings. They are usually far from correct, and they can damage your self-esteem. You begin to feel responsible for outcomes that you have no control over, and you miss out on the incredible physical and mental rewards of socializing.
Counseling can help. Simply talking about your problem to friends and family members you trust and respect can also help you overcome shyness. If your insecurity and shy nature are inherited, which is sometimes the case, medications can help you become a more social individual.
Why Avoiding Social Situations is not the Cure to Social Anxiety
The most mentioned fear of the average person is public speaking. In countless studies this is shown as being a scarier situation than even death! The fear of not being accepted dates back to the earliest man, who was fearful of being ostracized. If he was kicked out of the tribe, and had to survive harsh and dangerous prehistoric conditions on his own, survival was almost impossible.
This is just one way that human beings express anxiety over social situations. This is a normal concern, but many people avoid any type of social interaction because they have some higher than average level of social anxiety.
The fear of embarrassment is so high that an individual would rather totally detach his or herself from society than run the risk of being laughed at, or perceived as a failure. Unfortunately, withdrawing from social situations only reinforces social anxiety and other social phobias.
Ignoring a problem never resolves it, or makes it go away.
For some people, simply making small talk or eating in front of others, using public restrooms or being in a crowd is incredibly stressful. These individuals often employ what psychologists call “covert avoidance” to handle this condition. When they are forced to socialize (as in family and career commitments), they will avoid eye contact, make excuses for their withdrawn behaviour or find a quiet, lonely place to spend their time.
Anxiety can even come from the mere anticipation of a social situation or event, long before it is experienced. Psychiatrists and social behaviourists have agreed that avoidance is the wrong way to deal with the situation. Socializing delivers clear and identifiable physical, emotional and mental benefits. Your immune system is boosted, which means you have a lower rate of contracting any disease, health condition or infection, even serious conditions like cancer, diabetes or obesity.
Social anxiety also creates high levels of stress. Since a person never gives him or herself a chance to succeed in social relationships, that individual is constantly anxious and stressed out about such situations.
The key lies in talking about the problem with counselors and loved ones. Self-help manuals and books, online courses and programs also help reduce social awkwardness and shyness. Deep breathing exercises, meditation, and regular exercise or physical activity can also make someone feel more comfortable in social situations. Ignoring that social anxiety is an issue only makes the problem worse, and harder to deal with when you eventually and inevitably have to.
How to Deal with Social Situations That Tire You Out
Have you ever been in a social situation that sapped your physical strength? Even though the socializing you experienced required no physical exercise or exertion, when it was over, you felt beat up and worn down physically. It was as if you were lifting heavy weights for hours, or ran the Boston Marathon!
Many times after these types of situations, an individual will question whether they got enough sleep the night before, or if they are eating properly. Other times the physically worn down, tired feeling you get after certain social situations has to do with how you are emotionally and mentally hardwired. Either through the environment you grew up in, or through genetics, you are predisposed to handle social situations a certain way.
Extroverts vs Introverts
Extroverts are individuals that absolutely thrive in social settings. They can operate with high levels of natural energy after socializing for several hours, and even days and weeks in a row. Being around others, especially large groups where there is a lot of back-and-forth communication, fires up their energy stores and they operate optimally both mentally and physically.
Introverts, on the other hand, may feel “tired” or “drained” after even a short period of time in a social setting. Sometimes this is not true of all social commitments. They may look forward to particular social engagements, like meeting a friend for dinner or drinks after work.
However, in some social settings, that same introvert will lose focus in a short period of time, and actually feel their energy levels drop rapidly. This does not mean that an extrovert or introvert is the “right or wrong” personality type. It simply means that some settings are more conducive to your natural emotional and mental makeup than others.
Even introverts can quickly become tired and worn out when their skill level is surpassed or challenged. Everything is more mentally draining when it is harder for you, rather than if you can perform that task easily and with little effort. When your social skill and experience in some area is tested, this can create a worn down, tired physical feeling, and a lack of mental focus as well.
Asperger’s Syndrome and High Functioning Autism (HFA) are two clinically diagnosed conditions that can leave you feeling run down in social situations. It was discovered in the latter half of the 20th century that shyness and insecurity can also be hereditary. This means that if you feel easily tired both physically and mentally from a social situation, it could be due to your genetic makeup.
How to Fight That Tired, Drained, Worn Out Feeling
In almost all cases, drinking some beverage with caffeine can boost your energy levels. Try to avoid adding refined sugar, as an impending energy crash awaits just around the corner. If you haven’t eaten in a while, enjoy a snack with protein and healthy fats. Skip the carbs, or you could make the situation worse.
If you can, steer the conversation or interaction to an area where you are very comfortable. Introverts and extroverts both enjoy high levels of energy when they are operating in their comfort zones. Use these tips the next time you feel tired and physically beat from a social situation, and you may be able to revitalize and energize yourself effortlessly.
How to Improve Your Social Life
Improving your social life means thinking short term. Start with baby steps. If socializing scares you, fills you with anxiety and dread, or otherwise gives you cold feet, don’t expect to change the problem overnight. Research shows that shy, introverted people often possess these qualities due to genetic and hereditary reasons, so don’t give yourself a hard time if you are naturally shy and withdrawn.
Others opt out of social situations because they were raised in an environment that discouraged socializing. For whatever the reason, if you are not inclined to socializing but you understand the rewards of doing so, you can change the situation if you want to. Studies show that people who socialize frequently enjoy strong immune systems. That makes them less inclined to become sick, or contract any disease or illness.
There are obvious career and personal relationship rewards that come from socialization. So if you want to become more of the social animal, begin close to home. Why not take a minute to talk to your postman or the person who serves your morning coffee? You are physically somewhere you feel comfortable, so that should make it easier.
That means you will experience less discomfort in trying to socialize with people that you see on a regular basis, but may not have much interaction with.
At work, volunteer to teach a class or lead some training in an area where you feel extremely comfortable. This way you are interacting with people that are not entirely strangers, and you are involved with processes and behaviours where you are capable and self-assured.
Think about exactly what you want from social interaction. This allows you to guide your efforts in the right direction. Make yourself approachable. Use open, inviting body language. Invite your closest and dearest friends, who you are comfortable with, over to your house. Ask each of them to bring a friend of theirs that you don’t know that well.
Always remember that your unrealized fear of the consequences of failure are in almost every situation blown out of proportion. Spending time imagining nightmare scenarios is a horrible waste of your mental and emotional energy.
Things never end up as bad as we imagine they will, so be yourself. It is easier to feel like socializing when you are comfortable in your own skin, and trying to be something or someone else adds unneeded pressure to your social commitments.
I hope these tips and suggestions help you. Let me know in the comments below what steps you take and how they go, did you gain a new found sense of confidence? Are you looking forward to your next social occasion?
If you want to explore more in depth then I highly recommend Sean Cooper’s in depth course overcoming shyness and curing social anxiety. You can find out all about that by heading over to his site here.