Shyness affects many thousands of people, but usually those who suffer from shyness can still function relatively well in social situations. Social Anxiety, however, is another matter altogether. Here I will explain the differences between shyness vs social anxiety and try and give some useful information to help address the problems these afflictions can cause.
- Typical problems exhibited by people who are shy:
- Difficulty talking to people who they do not know
- Feelings of fear when faced with speaking to a group of people unless they are people they know very well
- A tendency to be quiet and not speak up when they should. This can lead to others with more dominant personality types trying to boss them around.
Although shyness can sometimes be frustrating, it does not generally prevent the sufferer from functioning adequately around other people, making a close circle of friends and pursuing an active social life. Social anxiety (or phobia) is altogether different.
Typical problems exhibited by people with social anxiety:
- Anxiety (fear) felt by the sufferer when faced with social situations is severe, and often causes panic attacks
- Even thinking about having to interact with other people causes anxiety
- Having to interact with anyone causes extreme anxiety, self-doubt and feelings of fear
- If while interacting with others any perceived mistakes are made, it can cause feelings of negativity, including shame and depression
- Causes the sufferer to avoid any form of social interaction at all costs. This can lead to them becoming housebound and alone
As you can see the symptoms of social anxiety are far more severe than that of someone who is shy, although both are very similar and only really differ in the degree to which the feelings are felt.
Someone with social anxiety will try to avoid social interaction with anyone at almost any cost. Someone who is shy may feel socially awkward and get embarrassed around other people, but they still manage to be socially active.
Shyness is often still a form of anxiety and if you are shy and would like to improve your feelings of confidence and self-esteem around others then there are practical steps you can take. The same is true if you have social anxiety, but the desire to improve your predicament is an essential first step to recovery.
People are naturally social creatures, as we are used to depending on others for our very survival, and this has been so since the early times of man. Perhaps this is why a social disability can be so difficult to endure, particularly if you want to make strong friendships, have a good career or find a partner.
Social Anxiety (Social Phobia)
The definition for this is “a long lasting and overwhelming fear of social situations.” Social anxiety often begins during the teen years and it can sometimes improve on its own as the person matures, but this is not always the case.
Social anxiety can affect almost every aspect of your life, just participating in daily activities can be difficult, causing feelings of self-doubt, fear, dread and embarrassment.
Physical symptoms can include:
- Racing heart
- Heart palpitations
- Feeling nauseous
- Feeling faint
Social anxiety is often associated with other disorders such as:
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Body dysmorphic disorder
If social anxiety is impacting your life, it is important to get help. The first thing to do is visit your doctor or find a therapist who specializes in anxiety disorders. This can be especially difficult for people suffering from social anxiety, but it is a very important first step. From this initial consultation, your doctor or therapist will be able to put you in contact with the right professionals to help you.
There are several treatment approaches to social anxiety. The most common is Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) with a specialist, and this can be extremely effective. CBT will help you to identify your negative patterns of thought and replace them with positive ones.
If your condition is also accompanied by depression, your medical practitioner may recommend trying antidepressant medications.
Self-help treatments are not usually sufficient on their own, but they may help and are worth trying:
- Techniques that can help you regain control when you are feeling overwhelmed and anxious, such as breathing control exercises, meditation and visualization can all be helpful.
- You can work your way through a CBT workbook. Learn to replace negative thoughts with positive ones and practice doing it all the time. Every time a negative thought appears, you change it for a positive one.
- Think about what triggers your anxiety and look deeply at yourself to see if you can identify any specific reasons your mind becomes so anxious in social situations. Why are you afraid?
- Try not to worry about how you think other people see you. Look at them more critically and try and understand that they may be feeling nervous or self-conscious too.
- Participate in activities you would normally avoid. Start small with something like ordering a coffee in a coffee shop and gradually build up your exposure. Give yourself a goal and work towards it.
- Keep a journal and award yourself points each day for how well you did.
- There are podcasts available on how to reduce anxiety from specialists in this field, try listening to some of them. There are also mental health apps and tools available to download, which you might finds beneficial.
One of the hardest things to achieve for people who are very shy or suffering with social anxiety is a deep, meaningful, long lasting relationship. It is generally one of the biggest regrets of someone with social anxiety that they find it almost impossible to find love.
Here are some strategies that may help with this, some of them will involve a great deal of courage, but if you want to find “the one,” then it will most definitely be worth it.
Believe it or not, exercise is a great anxiety buster, it produces endorphins in the brain that will help you to relax and improve your mood. It also makes you feel better about yourself and can improve confidence. Exercise classes, gyms, pools and sports clubs are all excellent places to meet new people.
Participate in Clubs and Groups
Avoid the usual pick up places like bars or clubs, instead, try joining a couple of local clubs for things you hold an interest in. Try to look for clubs with small groups and practice introducing yourself before you attend the first meeting.
Admit Your Fear
Don’t be afraid to tell people you are shy. This is a mistake, as when people know you are shy, they will understand that you find it difficult in social situations. They will often try to include you more, making it easier on you.
Don’t Look for Love
If you focus all your attention on looking for potential dates, the chances are that you will get yourself into a lot of hot water. Instead, focus on making friendships with everyone you meet and see if anything develops naturally from it.
Admit to yourself that you’re not going to die from talking to the people you meet. Practice, practice, practice, the more you make yourself talk, the better at it you will become, don’t forget that listening is also very valuable. Practice responding to what people tell you. By saying nothing, you will just make talking harder to do.
Learn Control Techniques
If you have panic attacks when in social situations, learn techniques that can quell them quickly. Counting, breathing, mind focus and so on. Once you have mastered the techniques at home, road test them in public.
Ask Friends or Family for Help
Going into a new social situation on your own can be hard on even the most confident of people, but if you suffer from social anxiety, it will probably just make it impossible for you to achieve any positive results. Ask a long-time friend or close family member if they will come with you. Practice talking with them when you are in the new social situation first and then try including others. This will boost your confidence.
Never Run Away
If you do experience a panic attack while at a social event, you naturally just want to run away and remove yourself from the situation. However, this will just instill this negative behavior still further. It is far better to sit quietly, practice your panic control techniques and allow the attack to pass, then continue in the social situation as if the panic attack had not occurred. This is hard to do, but ultimately the more you brave it, the better it will become and the fewer panic attacks you will have.
Don’t Over Analyze
Once you do successfully navigate a social event and perhaps even a date, don’t be tempted to analyses it. By breaking it down and blaming yourself for the things that may not have gone as well as you would have liked you are re-enforcing the negative thoughts. Instead think positively towards your next social engagement and plan how to make it fun. Talk to people you met on the phone, or on social media, keep any interactions going. Try to use humor and common ground to build relationships.
Do Exciting Activities You Enjoy
Try to get involved with activities you enjoy; the key here is the word activity. Go horseback riding, learn archery, hot air ballooning anything where adrenalin that is produced for the right reasons takes over any that is caused for the wrong reasons. Even things like fishing can help with this as the excitement of landing your catch can be a very positive adrenaline boost. When you are engaged in exciting activities you enjoy then your mind will be fully focused on them and not on your inner negative social dialogue.
As you can see being shy or socially anxious doesn’t have to stop you living your life. Help is available and making yourself be socially active, by starting small and gradually building yourself up to bigger things can give you a full and happy life. One thing is for certain, “The One” isn’t going to come knocking on your door. It is going to take effort from you to find them. Be kind to yourself and stop looking for love, focus on looking for friendships and love may well come along.