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How to overcome shyness

by Justina Hurley

What is shyness?

Hidden behind paper bag

Shyness is such a common condition that it even has it’s own research institute!

The Shyness Research Institute  describes shyness as a syndrome of affective, cognitive, and behavioral components characterized by social anxiety and behavioral inhibition resulting from the feeling that others are evaluating you.

The affective component of shyness reflects the anxiety, muscle tension, increased heart rate, upset stomach, and an assortment of other psychophysiological reactions experienced by shy people.

The cognitive component of shyness reflects the excessive sense of self-consciousness (e.g., Everybody is staring at me.), negative self-appraisal (e.g., What I said was so stupid.), irrational belief system (e.g., Nobody at the party will find me interesting.) – characteristic of the way that shy people think about themselves.

The behavioral component of shyness is expressed by behavioral inhibition (e.g., not speaking to others at a party) and social avoidance (e.g., avoiding eye contact or standing in the corner during a group discussion).

Shyness is not just one or two symptoms but an all-encompassing collection of characteristics that manifests itself in the mind, body, and behavior of shy people. (source)

When shyness becomes a real problem

The institute identifies signs of shyness or social anxiety as a pattern where a person regularly shows the following behaviours:

  • Canceling social events at the last moment
  • Avoiding situations that provide positive social interaction
  • Few or no friends
  • Avoidance of activities that are otherwise pleasurable
  • Passivity, pessimism and low self-esteem
  • Friends, family members, teachers, or mentors are concerned
  • Excessive computer use that is not social in nature, and is without face to face contact with others

How to deal with shyness.

It’s not as simple as telling someone to just stop feeling shy! And it’s also important to note that a normal level of shyness is present in almost everyone and that feeling shy at times is quite different to the kind of shyness that turns into an anxiety disorder that begins to impact your daily life.

The Shyness Research Institute suggests many ways of dealing with shyness so that is a good resource to use. In my work I have coached and applied energy therapy techniques to people with shyness issues and have found that some or all of the following steps can help:

1.  Work on changing your mind – literally by using mindfulness meditation exercises and also by having any kind of energy therapy that helps the body to deeply relax.

These meditations, recommended by the institute, are taken from the work of experts in mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), compassion-focused therapy (CFT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), and mindful self-compassion (MSC).

 2.  Get socially fit by looking at the following questions:

  • How do I think?,
  • How do I act?
  • How do I stay calm?
  • What do I feel?
  • Whose responsibility is it?

If your shyness is severe then working with a counsellor to address these questions would be a good idea.

Learn to really question your thoughts, especially negative thoughts about your self and others, and develop constructive alternatives. I always ask clients to give me three reasons why any situation (no matter how bad) can also be a good thing, as often, once we can find some positive in a situation it helps to unhook the fear and negativity surrounding it. Also ask your self What is the worst that can happen? and sit with all your worst thoughts and see that in reality what you imagine about what is or could be happening is often what is causing the problem rather than what is actually happening.

3.  Don’t bottle up your emotions. If social situations are really causing anxiety, then choose one person to confide in and learn to communicate what you are feeling.

4. Role Play: If there are particular situations that trigger your shyness then ask someone you trust to role play the situation with you. Repetition is the key with this. Role play again and again and again until you can do it without feeling any emotional charge.

5. Set specific, manageable and attainable goals and work towards each one, one step at a time.

Robert Kelsey, international bestselling author of What’s Stopping You?: Why Smart People Don’t Always Reach Their Potential and How You Can was pushed to examine the whole are of shyness through his own personal experience of extreme shyness.

In this video Robert examines shyness — what causes it, why it can hold you back and how to combat it.

Robert’s new book What’s Stopping You Being More Confident? is out now.

The Shyness Research Institute also recommends the following books:

The Shyness Workbook: 30 Days To Dealing Effectively With Shyness

Shyness: A Bold New Approach : The Latest Scientific Findings, Plus Practical Steps for Finding Your Comfort Zone

Goodbye to Shy: 85 Shybusters That Work!

The Shyness Workbook For Teens



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