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Overcome Social Anxiety and Shyness

Updated on May 7, 2015
Geoffrey Otieno profile image

Geoffrey is a 42 year old actor, director, playwrite, novel author and online freelance writer; he is a graduate of Literature and Sociology

Painfully Shy
Painfully Shy


Social anxiety and shyness are closely interrelated concepts. Social anxiety means being nervous in the presence of others especially strangers. Shyness on the other hand has to do with difficulty in expressing oneself in such a social setting. Both are related to the amygdala, a part of the brain that is stimulated by the surroundings. When the amygdala is highly sensitive in a person, then they are typically shy and anxious when with others. There are two known causes of this condition, genetics and nurture. People who are shy may either inherit the condition or be brought up in a manner that makes them find it hard to express themselves. For instance having dominant siblings may mean one is left as an onlooker in family interaction, especially when authorities such as parents pay more attention to the siblings than that individual.

Steps to Overcoming Shyness

The best way recommended by psychologists to overcome shyness, is the use of certain exercises. Exercise can relieve stress and negative self talk, can help decrease social anxiety and shyness, if handled well. Remember, the exercises will not completely get rid of nervousness in the presence of others overnight. So they must be carried out continuously for the effect to become permanent. It calls for patience and consistency.

Better Body Posture

Other people will enforce an individual’s timidity, if their first impression of him is that he is timid. Such an impression is created by body language. Confident people tend to make themselves big while timid ones make themselves as small as possible. Walking and sitting upright, talking with wide hand gestures, putting hands akimbo on the waistline and stretching hands away from the body; all mean that a person is confident. Talking with palms together in front of the body, stooping or sitting with the hands hidden between the knees, all signal that a person is timid.

It is important to start carrying out exercises on walking, standing and sitting in a confident manner and with time, the brain will respond positively by underpinning the confident feeling. Other people too will begin treating one with respect, further invigorating that feeling. Gradually, the individual will find himself doing these things without thinking about them, which will result in inbuilt confidence.

Taking Pauses to Improve Confidence

Shy people are afraid to talk and they know it. So in the presences of others, this fear will drive words to tumble awkwardly out of their mouths whenever confronted with a question. In simple terms, shy persons are afraid of stretches of silence between question and response, fearing that this will expose their shyness. On the contrary, quick answers only expose nervousness and shyness. It takes practice to learn to pause before answering a question. Such pauses help the person to think and thus answer appropriately. Pausing gives one power over the person asking the questions. Most people require an immediate response and so they are a bit taken aback by a pause. Moreover, answering quickly gives the other person room to intimidate one with more rapid questions. This happens regularly during job interviews.

Avoiding Avoidance

Another behavioral trait that enhances shyness and social anxiety is avoidance. Shy people tend to avoid interacting with other people as much as possible. When in the presence of others they also avoid eye contact, or talking, as much as they can. The overriding fear is that they are likely to make a mistake in such social situations. Concentrating on their shortcomings all the time results in negative self-talk within themselves. They tend to blame themselves for their perceived goofs and believe that other people are better than them. All these further buttress their feelings of inadequacy thus resulting in the avoidance.

Ironically, it is by meeting and interacting with people that the individual will overcome shyness and social anxiety. It is therefore important to practice not to avoid social occasions, and to keep eye contact while talking to people. In this way the shy person soon learns that other people are not as confident as one thought, which reduces personal anxiety.

Boosting Personality through Physical Activities

Physical activities carried out together with others such as dancing, racing, jogging and singing, tend to take away anxiety and shyness. This happens because the activities take away focus of attention from the self, to the activity. The biggest problem for shy people is that they tend to focus on themselves too much. This focus is on their weaknesses rather than their strengths. The exercises reveal elements of their personality they haven’t had time to think about. Doing such exercises regularly and commenting on the experience leads to less awkward conversation and more relaxation.


Shyness and social anxiety mainly result from negative reinforcement in the mind, of one’s inabilities and inadequacies. It is a result of the wrong perception that other people are much better than the self. This makes it difficult to socialize freely and thus achieve one’s full potential. With the exercises above carried out regularly, such feelings can be overcome.


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