What’s that sorry? Did you say something?
How often do you hear this when you’ve finally mustered the courage to drop a quick line amidst a group discussion? What comes next? A polite shake of the head, as you stare at the floor with instant regret about actually speaking. You feel all eyes on you, before vowing never to do anything so stupid again.
The severity of shyness is often overlooked when those who suffer from it won’t speak up about it, or about anything. According to Psych Central somewhere between 40 and 60 per cent of all adults report being shy or identify more as someone who is shy. It can be a component of being an introvert, however not all shy people are actually introverts.
Levels of shyness vary between mild, medium and intense. The personality trait remains unrecognisable in many cases because some people are only shy in certain situations such as dating, new sports teams or in a new workplace. Most of the time it’s going to be lack of confidence, past experiences or expectations which drive the behaviour. If you’ve never been on a date before, you’re going to be nervous which will generate shyness. If the last date you had went horribly wrong after you opened up about your childhood, you’ll enter the next one with an obligation to remain withdrawn from the conversation. And if you think this person could be the love of your life, you’ll scrutinise over every little thing you say so they stick around.
Shyness can also be seen as a minor issue because at times, it’s temporary. You are shy, until you get to know someone really well. It’s not easy to get to this stage of familiarity however, especially when communication is not consistent, and you remain withdrawn at every opportunity. When there’s more than one person and it’s a team you’re joining, it’s going to be even harder. Everyone wants to remain involved and has something to say with each person striving to reach set standards for fear of being left out.
So, what happens when you just get sick of waiting for the familiarity and comfort to set in? Or if the fear of riding out your shyness stops you from pursuing the opportunity or the relationship? Especially when there’s no guarantee anything will develop because sometimes it takes so long to overcome, you’ll miss the boat. What could have been a great new relationship can be crushed when a confident prospect enters the scene. What could have been a job promotion is quashed when an outgoing colleague speaks up before you do.
It takes a lot of effort to overcome shyness and the thought can be frightening, which is why many people don’t bother. After all, when the outcome is what you’re afraid of – speaking up – why would you?
Because, shyness can have extreme negative consequences that go beyond missing a job opportunity or getting a date. It can affect your mental health in a variety of ways on top of the social, personal and professional relationships you’re jeopardising. Your physical health can also take a hit as effects of anxiety and stress come into play on your body.
How do people become shy?
You may be reading this knowing you are shy. Others may be reading it wondering if they are shy. And some of you may just want to learn how to help others overcome the personality trait. Anyone can be shy though, even you. While you may not know it, shyness has many perceptions as it is rarely clinically diagnosed among adults.
Shyness is caused by both biological differences in the brain and social experiences. If you’re not shy now, doesn’t mean you’ll never be. All it takes is one highly critical work environment or public humiliation, for shyness to creep in and override several aspects of your life.
Key characteristics leading to the trait include self-consciousness, negative self-preoccupation, low self-esteem and fear of judgement and rejection. If you’re shy, you develop unrealistic expectations and impractical standards to live up to, often pitting yourself up against really vibrant people or really challenging tasks. Worrying about what others think will eventuate to shyness too, as you become too afraid to say anything, fearing the response it will generate.
What traits do shy people have?
We know shy people are shy, but there’s more to it then social isolation, looking at the floor and practising silence. Being shy is uncomfortable. You’ll feel like you just don’t want to be in the situation you’re in and start running “If only,” movies in your head. If only my partner was here. If only I knew these people. If only I was with my own family. These feelings are triggered by shyness which affects your willingness to accept the situation you are in as well as participate.
Shyness also triggers insecurity, with lack of confidence in your ability to perform to the capability you deem acceptable. The trait will make you self-conscious, worrying about how others perceive you all the time.
And there’s no getting around the anxiety shyness causes, which can often be perceived as a symptom of well, anxiety. Everyone’s anxiety has triggers, and if you want to get past it you need to target the source.
Why you should overcome shyness
If you think you’re tackling shyness just fine, by not going to anything and nervously hibernating anywhere you can, then think again. How about all the opportunities you’ve missed while keeping your mouth shut, watching others have all the fun and not chasing any sparks you might feel with a new person? If you continue to act this way, you’ll continue to miss these things.
The only reason you may be certain you’re not missing anything is because you’ve never experienced anything. You may enjoy being home alone on a Saturday night, but do you know what it’s like to go out for dinner in a nice restaurant with good company, a candlelit table and delicious menu?
Shy people miss out on learning a lot too, which nourishes the mind. It’s almost a catch-22 situation. Lifelong learning will help you adapt to unexpected changes and you’ll find it easier to step out of your comfort zone, of which you hide behind due to shyness. Learning new things will help shape your life in areas which aren’t yet complete. You might discover you’re great at something or develop a passion within an entirely new field you came across through discussion with a new colleague you may otherwise have never had. There’s only so much the internet can do, and it’s always going to be driven by you, meaning you won’t come across anything you’re not searching for which can be how we learn the most. Yoga at home might be comfortable and easy, but you’ll learn so much more at an actual class where the instructor can correct your technique.
On top of the experiences which could have major impacts on the rest of your life, there’s your mental health. Shyness causes stress and anxiety and on top of any social recluse you’re experiencing, that’s a lot to handle every day for the rest of your life. Stress and anxiety will also affect your sleep and your physical health, causing further decline in your mental health. It affects overall job performance, relationships with others, and in severe cases may lead to depression.
Ready to get creative?
We know we’ve convinced you to do something about your shyness. And here’s what we suggest. Try all or some of these, just don’t try none of them.
1. Use your strengths
You know what your good at, but does anyone else? Your strengths are there to serve you as best as they can. If you’re funny, make people laugh. Maybe you’re creative, so come up with original ideas others won’t have thought of, to tackle any issues you know others are experiencing. Or maybe you’re the only local person among a group and can recommend the best places to go for absolutely everything.
2. Choose relationships carefully
Shy people can get overwhelmed when there’s one loud mouth who just has to shout over everyone at every opportunity. And it’s generally unnecessary information about themselves. It can be enough of a reason not to go to an event or participate in a discussion because you’re never going to get a word in.
Instead of dealing with it, spot the people who are good listeners or that you have something in common with and initiate a discussion with them. Socialising with people who genuinely want to get to know you means you can open up with ease and reach that comfortable point of familiarity. Start by building one-on-one relationships and you’ll slowly be introduced to others with similar personalities. Once you’re comfortable around a select few, that loud person may not be so loud anymore and you become more willing to speak over them surrounded by people who you now know well.
3. Research your crowd
Sometimes shy people are nervous because they just don’t know what they can speak about to spark interest. You believe you can’t contribute to the conversation and are worried about what others will think. Enter the wonderful world of social media. When you know where you’re going and who is going to be there, do some investigating on the others and find the common interests. When you meet, you can go directly to the person who likes dogs, or the other marketing whiz, or the gym junkie, and have the best discussion about these things. Your confidence going into these conversations will shoot through the roof, you won’t know yourself!
4. Practice Mindfulness
It’s the word of the moment, literally. Mindfulness has become a massive hype across the globe with more benefits are being realised by the minute. And tackling shyness is one of them. Mindfulness in simple terms is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. Do you see it now?
Don’t stress over upcoming events or potential situations you might land yourself in if you go to that party. Just go with it. Why worry if you don’t even know if it’s going to be a true problem? When someone invites you to something, say yes. Life’s too short to sit and ponder about who’s going to be there, where you’ll hide if you’re uncomfortable, how others will perceive you and how you’re going to make an excuse to head home. Just. Go. Imagine you have the best time, meet great people and plan to do it again the following week! Even if you have a terrible time, you’ll be much prouder of yourself for going than for not going.
5. Engage where you can
You can talk to anyone, provided you feel it’s safe to do so. Get creative with your daily opportunities and start to gauge others who are likely to reciprocate. Barista’s, checkout operators, wait staff and receptionists are always willing to have a chat. Start to familiarise yourself with initiating conversation and you’ll only get better and more confident at communication and start to realise it’s not actually scary at all.
6. Use your body language and other gestures
Communication is more than words. If you must stay quiet, use your body language and other gestures to show you’re still interested or participating so you’ll remain included in a discussion or event. And no. We’re not talking about those shy body cues such as blushing, looking down or standing behind someone
You can maintain eye contact, sit up in your chair and nod your head in agreement when others are talking. Laughing is also a great tool which the talker will definitely notice, as is frowning if someone is raising an undesirable situation or sad memory. You want to show them you are active in the conversation which means you are listening and feeling the same emotions they are. When others are confident they’ve generated your interest, it’s likely they’ll direct questions at you, or stop to listen if you speak up.
You can also make sure you’re always in close proximity of where the actions going to be. When you get to a dinner, pull up a chair right in the middle of the table. It will be hard to be ignored this way, and even harder for you not to participate in any conversations.
7. Be curious
Ask as many questions as you can. You’re generally conditioned to suppress your curiosity as you get older, unless you become a journalist. Nurturing your curiosity is essential for overcoming shyness because it shows interest and creates engagement in any conversation or situation. Challenge yourself to find the unfamiliar in the familiar so that you actually want to know more about the person you are talking to or the activity you’re participating in or the thing you’re learning about. Curiosity incites questions, which will establish a deep rapport and lead to connections you’re likely to maintain in confidence.
Are you ready to overcome your shyness?
What’s that? Did you say yes? Can’t hear you. Speak up! Did you say YES?!
It’s time to use your strengths and conquer this thing once and for all! The benefits of overcoming shyness trump the fear you’re currently experiencing every time you’re being faced with uncertainty, and the fear of living with shyness for the rest of life.
Have you heard of FOMO? Fear of missing out. That’s how much missing out sucks, and you’d know if you’ve been shy your whole life. These creative ways are simple to start you off, one step at a time. Be patient and don’t try them all at once because the slightest sense of humiliation could throw you back into hibernation. If you’ve been shy your whole life it’s going to be a slow gradual process. But it’s not going to be impossible.
Focus on the reasons you want to overcome your shyness and remind yourself every day that you actually can. Be persistent, be consistent and above all, be confident.
It’s time to invest in the quality of the rest of your life!