Dealing with Shyness

Holiday parties can be torture for the many of us that struggle with any amount of social anxiety or shyness. Here is some information for those of you struggling with how to handle holiday party anxiety.

You enter the party and look around at the people there. Immediately your heart starts to pound, your palms sweat, you can’t breathe and you are certain whatever you manage to say will sound ridiculous and everyone will think badly of you. Shyness, discomfort in any kind of situation where you are speaking to others, is far more common than you think. At least half of all Americans report being shy during some period of their lives. This is not the same as but is even worse in those with Social Phobia. Social phobia is the persistent and excessive fear of social performance which causes the physical symptoms described above plus blushing and tense muscles and results in either great distress or avoidance of the situation. It is the third most common mental health problem, effecting more than 10 million Americans. As you can imagine, both shyness and social phobia can be debilitating for both your job and for developing friendships or romantic involvements.

What causes shyness? Certainly some professionals believe that there is a genetic predisposition towards shyness. It is true that babies are born with temperaments and the more sensitive child may seem predisposed to shyness but there is no real data to show that these children are more likely to grow up shy. It does on the other hand seem to be true that life experience can affect a person’s degree of shyness. The reason for this is that most shy people have low self esteem. Shy people believe that what they think and have to say is not worth listening to, and they fear rejection by others. Most people think shy people are introverts but there are many extroverts who are shy. In fact many celebrities and politicians are shy. They are fine in a “role” that is scripted and under their control but once they are in a spontaneous social situation they feel shy.

There are some up sides to being shy. Shy people tend to be good listeners and tend to make close friends to whom they are very loyal. However, if shyness is getting in your way, there are some things you can do about it.


  1. Think about and make a list for yourself of the good attributes you have. What you have to offer others. This will help combat those debilitating insecurities.
  2. Think ahead of time of subjects you feel comfortable discussing. You can even write out a script of a conversation, which you review ahead of time so that you feel in more control of the social situation.
  3. Be sure to make eye contact with others, smile and give compliments. Engaging with others this way will make them receptive to you. Shy people are often mistakenly perceived as arrogant or rejecting others because their discomfort makes them withdraw. If you make yourself respond to others they will respond back giving you the positive feedback you need to overcome your fear.
  4. Medications. Paxil is effective for true social phobia. Certain other medications, like beta blockers can relieve the physical anxiety symptoms that appear during specific moments of anxiety, for instance while giving a speech.
  5. Therapy. If shyness is truly undoing you, consider psychotherapy because pinpointing why you feel unworthy or what experience in life started your shyness in the first place can help you control your anxiety and its symptoms.

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