Imagine you’re at a professional conference. When the seminar ends, attendees are encouraged to enjoy the refreshments and mingle. It's a business event and a great opportunity to network. Would you head into the group and strike up a conversation, or stick to yourself?
If you’d prefer to grab a bite and enjoy it alone, it could be the result of shyness. Other telltale signs include family members suggesting you “come out of your shell” and friends nudging you to attend social events outside of your comfort zone.
First things first: there’s nothing wrong with being shy. Not everyone thrives in large groups, and that’s okay. But if you’re ready to try something new and build up your confidence, we can help. Read on to learn all about social apprehension and how to not be shy.
What is shyness?
Shyness causes people to avoid others, especially in social situations.
Shy individuals may feel self-conscious or insecure when out and about, worried that the people around them are judging them. These feelings are particularly intense in settings where they’re expected to converse with strangers.
Humans are social creatures, but shyness can affect one’s social life and make it difficult to meet new friends or engage in group activities. In extreme cases, it makes them feel cut off from the rest of the world. This can impact personal and workplace relationships, confidence, self-esteem, and mental health.
What causes shyness?
Shyness is a common trait. Anyone might keep to themselves as children or develop a discomfort with social situations in adulthood — there’s no recipe for becoming a shy person.
However, research suggests certain people are more likely to be shy than others. Here are a few known causes of shyness:
- Genetic factors: Believe it or not, shyness could be an inherited trait. Some genetic factors contribute to shyness. However, this attribute isn’t necessarily permanent and may lessen over time.
- Trauma: Traumatizing childhood events can lead to shyness. For example, growing up in an abusive environment or being bullied by peers might create a lasting aversion to social situations. It could also stem from a major life event, like a divorce or the death of a loved one.
- Environmental influences: Your upbringing and surroundings significantly shape your personality traits and behavior. For example, growing up with strict parents who discouraged socializing could lead to shyness in adulthood.
Shyness, social anxiety, and introversion
People substitute the terms “shyness,” “social anxiety,” and “introversion” for one another in everyday conversation — but did you know these words aren’t synonyms? While they’re certainly similar, each has a unique meaning, and distinguishing between them will help you pinpoint the source of your discomfort.
Shyness refers to uneasiness and apprehension in social settings. These negative feelings often cause shy people to avoid situations where they must interact with others.
Shy people may feel comfortable with family members, friends, and romantic partners — people they know and trust. However, low self-esteem may make it difficult to initiate conversations, causing them to steer clear of unfamiliar people or groups.
Unlike shyness, social anxiety is one of five psychological anxiety disorders. People diagnosed with social anxiety experience an acute and persistent fear of being observed and judged by others.
Sometimes, social anxiety becomes overwhelming and beyond control, directly affecting one’s well-being. People with social anxiety may experience excessive sweating, stomach aches, heart palpitations, and other physical symptoms when under stress.
While shyness is a sensation of discomfort and social anxiety is a psychological disorder, introversion has to do with one’s personality. Introverts inherently seek less stimulation and prefer smaller groups to large gatherings.
They often recharge by spending quality time alone and don't necessarily feel the apprehension or extreme fear that those with shyness or social anxiety do. Instead, they simply prefer an independent and reserved lifestyle or feel drained by social events.
How to overcome shyness
There’s nothing wrong with being shy — plenty of people struggle to feel confident when surrounded by others.
If your shyness is holding you back from opportunities you want to pursue, it may be a sign that it’s time to work on overcoming it. Fortunately, with time and effort, you can reduce social discomfort. Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Remember it’s not a big deal: Most people don’t notice when you act shy, and those who don’t mind. Save yourself the stress of wondering, and rest assured those you’re interacting with don’t think it’s a big deal.
- Don’t box yourself in: Shyness is a single character trait, and it’s one you can overcome. Don’t let it define your personality — remember you’re a wonderful and interesting person with a lot to offer, shy or not.
- Build on your strengths: When navigating a stressful social situation, remember your best qualities. You can also ask friends and family to do the same. Focusing on your strengths helps prevent self-deprecating thoughts, encourages positive self-talk, and reminds you how much others value you.
- Choose your friends wisely: Surround yourself with people who love and support you. Try new activities with them — like public speaking — and let them help you step out of your comfort zone.
- Seek professional guidance: Shyness can lead to low self-esteem and a lack of self-confidence. If you relate to these symptoms, consider seeking professional guidance from a confidence coach.
Gain confidence with Practice
The journey from shyness to self-assurance is gradual, but it’s worth it. Fortunately, Practice can help you along the way.