Note: This post is written by Dan Stelter
Terrified in social situations?
Feel everyone’s eyes on you? Like they can’t wait for you to screw up so they can criticize you?
You may feel it’s impossible to overcome your fear.
Will you be reserved to the corner of the room, or maybe your own home, for your entire life?
You can be confident and comfortable in social situations that have haunted you your entire life.
Well, you can if you follow these 90 strategies for overcoming shyness:
- Your anxious thoughts lie to you. They always tell you you’ll mess up and someone will reject you. A rare few people do. Most don’t.
- Open your mind to interpreting people’s actions differently. Usually, your anxiety looks for visual confirmation you “screwed up.” Your shyness aims to see this in someone’s face. Or words. Or actions. Assign new meanings to the way other people act. Perhaps, they’re equally afraid of you.
- Ask your friend for their understanding of the situation. People comfortable in social situations have a realistic or optimistic understanding of other’s behavior. Ask someone you trust what they thought of the other person’s actions. Work on accepting their insight as reality.
- Disrupt the ritual before you enter the anxiety-provoking situation. Your mind starts spinning anxious thoughts well before you enter the feared social situation. Disrupt that process by sharing your fears with someone you trust. Or journal them. Or sit down, relax, and let those thoughts pass by.
- Don’t fight your fears. When you fight your fears, you lose every time. I do. Everyone does. So, don’t try to hide them. See them. Acknowledge them. Let them pass through your mind. Just like you’re standing and watching traffic.
- Focus on what you can do for others. When you get anxious, you become gravely concerned everyone’s obsessed with criticizing you or perceiving you negatively. So, turn that process around by placing the focus on others. Ask them about their lives. Pull up a chair for them. Give them a compliment. It gets you out of yourself.
- Eat more probiotics. Commonly found in yogurt, tempeh, and other fermented foods, new research published by Psychology Today shows eating probiotics reduces social anxiety.
- Reduce your contact with negative people. Many people only make your shyness worse, and they don’t care about ways they can help you. Limit or eliminate your time with these people.
- Do something healthy for yourself. This activity can be whatever makes you feel good about you. Perhaps you like to work with your hands. Or, you want to read a book. Do something you love simply because you love it.
- Take care of your spiritual life. This fourth dimension of human nature, noted by Stephen Covey, often gets overlooked.
- Never stop learning and growing. Most people stop learning after high school or college. Settle in your ways and change becomes hard. Never stop. Your social anxiety will have a difficult time catching up.
- Share your anxious thoughts with someone you trust. Ideally, this would be another shy person. Try to meet someone online. Take the relationship offline. Discussing your anxious fears cuts them down to size.
- Laugh at your shyness. Usually, you’re more scared of your own anxiety than anything else, right? Laugh at it. A couple times, I asked two other people at stores for help. Turns out, they weren’t even employees. Whoops!
- Let go of outcomes. If you don’t hit it off with someone socially, remember you’re not responsible for that. The final outcome, whether things go your way or not, isn’t your responsibility.
- …But taking action is. Directly entering those situations which make you anxious takes their power away. Taking action is your responsibility. But anything beyond that isn’t.
- Let go of the pressure you put on yourself. As a shy person, you put intense pressure on yourself to not make perceived mistakes. You believe that you get more outcomes to go your way when you don’t. That only builds the pressure social anxiety puts on you. So let that thinking go too. It gives you more freedom to be yourself.
- It’s totally okay for you not to be perfect. Do you know a “perfect” person? If you do, you don’t truly know them. If someone has to be perfect, they’re really deeply insecure with who they are. Give yourself permission to make mistakes.
- Live your life one moment at a time. Shyness always pushes you waaaaaay into the future, or past. Instead, focus on this moment. Be here. Now. When your mind drifts, let the thinking go and refocus on now. Easy to say. Challenging to do.
- Admit you don’t know what will happen. How many times have you been extremely anxious…only to find out what you feared never happened? Keep admitting to yourself you don’t know what comes next.
- Watch less TV. Nielsen says the average 35-49 year old American watches nearly 34 hours of TV per week. TV itself doesn’t affect your social anxiety. But, it takes away time you could spend reducing your anxiety, like exercising, helping someone else, or spending time with friends.
- Try cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is currently the most effective therapy for social anxiety disorder. If you really want to find freedom from social anxiety, use CBT with guidance from a therapist.
- Change your job. You’ll spend 35-50 hours per week at work for 30-40 years. You spend more hours working than time with your family. Might as well work a job you enjoy, right? Keep changing until you find one you love.
- Take medication. I’m not a big fan of medication, but I do take it. It reduces your symptoms. That makes it easier for you to challenge your shyness and gain social skills.
- Cut yourself, and everyone else, a break. You’re not perfect. No one else is, either. Give everyone some slack.
- Let go of resentment. Social anxiety sometimes robs you of important life milestones (graduating school, dating, marriage, friends etc…). It’s easy to become consumed with resentment when life doesn’t go your way. Let go of it. It only separates you from others even more.
- Let go of judging others. Your shyness criticizes you intensely. You often treat others the way you treat yourself. So, it’s easy to criticize and judge others. Whenever you want to do it, pray for the other person or wish them well.
- Watch out for other personal struggles. Shy/socially anxious people often turn to addictions like alcohol and drugs for relief. Others develop depression. ADHD and bipolar also co-occur with shyness. Watch for these and work on them too. Left unchecked, they skyrocket your shyness.
- Get enough sleep. Test what amount of sleep leads to you feeling rested. Get that every night. When you’re tired, anxiety grows.
- …But don’t drink energy drinks. Most contain large amounts of caffeine. Not only does that disrupt your sleep, but it naturally agitates your social anxiety too.
- Count your blessings. Sometimes, your shyness makes you feel like life has robbed or cheated you. Let go of the negative. Focus on the good things about your life and watch your anxiety melt away.
- Get a pet. Pets require you to get outside of your mind. They require a fair amount of care. Plus, they love you. A nice little boost to your life.
- List your strengths. Everyone has strengths. Including you. Make a list of what you do well. Spend more time doing that. Don’t think you have strengths? Time to get out there and try new things.
- Spend time with people who appreciate you for who you are. Some people think you have something wrong with you. Others think you’re great. Spend more time with those who like you because you’re…you! If you don’t know people like this, keep joining groups and trying new stuff until you find your fit. Everyone fits somewhere.
- Listen to others. What do most people love to talk about? Themselves! So, focus your conversation on them. Ask them questions about their life. Most never run out of things to say.
- Go totally crazy. This one’s not for everyone. But, you could do goofy things in public, like asking every woman you see for her phone number. Burp obnoxiously while standing in line at your grocery store. It’s a crazy way to do CBT. For some, it works.
- Stand up for yourself. Other people will sometimes try to run over you and have their way. So, stop them. Tell them, ”No.” You can be diplomatic, and tell them “no” in a longer way like, ”Sorry. I’m busy this weekend.” Scary at first. But you’ll feel great afterwards.
- Stand up for someone else. See someone getting bullied? Is someone going out of their way to be a jerk? Stand up for the person they’re attacking. That person will be thankful for you. And you’ll again feel great about your growing confidence.
- Admit everyone has a role in the world. The world wasn’t made just for gregarious extroverts. Socially anxious people have skills too. You may make a good listener, project manager, mentor, entrepreneur, friend, or even customer service rep. You have a spot. Find where you belong.
- Let go of your need for affirmation. Everyone likes to have people admire them. But that’s dangerous. Because, then you continue to behave in ways to get it. Instead, let that thinking go. Realize you know people who love you. Trust them over strangers you just met.
- Eat foods rich in vitamin B. Vitamins B1 and B12 have a lot to do with your mood. Consume them as supplements or get plenty of beef, pork, chicken, leafy greens, fruits, rice, nuts, and eggs in your diet.
- Avoid sugar. Yeah, candy tastes great. But, sugar only creates a quick surge of energy. Then, you crash and feel tired and anxious again. Stay away from sugar where possible.
- Take a hot bath or shower. Ever notice how cold and tight your body feels from anxiety? Relax your muscles (and mind) with hot water.
- Burn pleasing aromas. Lavender, rose geranium, chamomile, clary sage, bergamot, jasmine, sandalwood, sweet marjoram, and ylang-ylang all relax your nerves.
- Watch your favorite comedy. The Cancer Treatment Centers of America uses laughter to help treat cancer. No joke! You may also live longer if you laugh more. If you’re the shy/anxious type, you just can’t get enough of it.
- Emotional freedom technique (EFT). Warning: this one sounds stupid at first. All you do is tap different “meridian points” around your body, while saying,”Even though I feel anxious, I deeply love and accept myself.” Theoretically, this releases energy blockages in your body. Works for some people.
- Practice social skills. Sometimes, you don’t know what to say because you haven’t practiced your social skills enough. So, before a social engagement, strategize three ways you can start conversations. Compliment someone on what they’re wearing. Ask adults about their kids or pets. Discuss current events everyone knows about.
- Find a therapist you feel comfortable with. Anxious people mistakenly believe simply finding a professional will cure them. Nope. You must feel comfortable with them. It’s totally possible to get a therapist that doesn’t work out. Change therapists if you need to.
- Make getting out of your head a moment-by-moment practice. You can’t control what thoughts enter your head. But you can control what you do with them. The moment your mind spins anxious thoughts, stand up and do something for someone else. Take care of the dishes. Go on a walk. Train your brain to focus on anything but anxious thoughts.
- Remember, your head is a dangerous place to go on your own. Actually, everyone’s head creates some kind of self-destructive thinking. So, you don’t need to feel ashamed about your head creating anxious thoughts. Don’t allow yourself to isolate. Check your thoughts with someone you love and who understands you. Don’t have someone? Seek relationships out online. The more, the better.
- Let go of judging your feelings. Being shy in social situations doesn’t make you “bad.” It just makes you…shy in social situations. Nothing wrong with it. Accept it. Embrace it. Realize you have strengths others don’t because of your anxious personality (stronger emotional perception, for example). And, some caution can be good.
- Listen to soothing music. Much of my life consisted of listening to loud and angry heavy metal music. That didn’t do anything to reduce my anxiety! Find calm, peaceful, and soothing music that makes you feel at home. That’s why I love Spotify. I like to listen to “Discover Weekly.” Spotify chooses songs just for you based on what you’ve listened to. And they update it every Monday. Then, I create the perfect playlists that help me relax and enjoy the day.
- Remember famous anxious people turned out okay. Gandhi was so extremely anxious he initially failed as a lawyer. Richard Branson hid behind his mother as a child. Johnny Depp has said he can’t stand being famous. Actor Will Farrell was extremely shy during his college years. You may not end up famous. But, you can certainly do well in life.
- Accept a life with no limits. Your mind caps where you can or can’t go in life. If you don’t think you can, you certainly won’t. Let go of that barrier. Accept you can be as relaxed and comfortable as you want in social situations.
- Take breaks. Working on a personal challenge like shyness takes extensive energy. You’ll feel worn out at times. Take a break. You need it and deserve it just as much as anyone else.
- Your social anxiety exists as a part of your life…or not. Avoid action, and you’ll feel shy/anxious. Take action, and your anxiety increases briefly. But, it calms down in the long-run.
- You are your own worst enemy. Other people may not make being shy easy. But your feelings aren’t their fault. Only you can do something about your shyness. When tempted to blame others, let go of that thinking and don’t trust it. It only keeps you stuck in your fear.
- Everyone’s anxious. In most social situations, nearly everyone has some anxiety. Take comfort in that. Everyone’s a little unsure. They’re slightly afraid. Worried what others might think. You can relate.
- You’re not “terminally unique.” When your shyness gets bad, you start to believe you’re the only one with the problem. Untrue. It really means your anxiety is high and you’d benefit from taking action.
- Learn to love yourself. At its core, shyness means you feel ashamed of who you are. Healthy self-love does not include shame. Let go of that feeling every time it comes up. Instead, accept yourself. Take an accurate inventory of your strengths and weaknesses.
- Forgive others. No one else will treat you perfectly. Everyone makes mistakes. Forgive others when they harm you, whether they’re aware or not. For some people who’ve caused you greater harms, this can take months or years.
- …But don’t take their abuse. If someone repeatedly harms you despite knowing the harm they cause, you can set further boundaries. That may include telling the other person you won’t speak to them.
- Forgive yourself. You make mistakes. Sometimes big ones. But everyone does! Social anxiety wants you to ruminate on your mistakes forever. It’s a horrible form of self-torture. Forgive yourself, regardless of the size of the mistake you make.
- Let go of your expectations. Your shyness often pushes your expectations sky-high, setting you up for perceived failure. For example, it expects everyone to think you’re awesome, a real superstar. Or, you should be this way…or that way. Whatever it is, you’re not good enough. Don’t dwell on those. Let them go as soon as they enter your mind.
- Yoga and Tai Chi particularly help with anxiety and shyness. I prefer intense aerobic exercise – running or basketball. Get it at least three times during the week. Ideally, you’ll get 30 minutes per day.
- Find other people standing alone. Someone’s always standing by themselves at social gatherings. Their fear may even be more intense than yours. Start a conversation with them.
- Identify and relate. One of the best ways to have productive conversations is to simply meet the other person where they’re at (but only if you honestly can). For example, they share a personal story about being in a bike accident. Say,”Yep. I’ve been there too…” and then share your own story.
- Join an anxiety treatment group. They cost less than individual treatment. And, sharing your experiences with other social anxiety sufferers is powerful.
- Take a deep breath using the 4/2/6 method. Social anxiety causes you to tense up. When you notice yourself doing that, take deep breaths instead. Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose for 4 seconds. Hold your breath for 2 seconds. Exhale slowly out your mouth for 6 seconds, and push out as much air as you can.
- Understand social anxiety’s tricks. With social anxiety, you get what you oppose. Social anxiety says,”No. It’s happening again. Your hands are sweating. Everyone will see!” And that leads to your hands sweating. Let your anxiety pass, rather than trying to oppose it. Feel the feelings. Let them be. And move on to the next right action.
- Consume a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids. According to Joseph R. Hibbeln of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, omega-3 affects your serotonin levels. Serotonin plays a large role in depression and anxiety. Salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, seaweed, flaxseed, walnuts, or natural supplements are abundant in omega-3.
- Quit smoking. Nicotine only temporarily relieves your anxiety. Smoking actually leads to higher levels of anxiety.
- Rely less on technology for your social life. Technology works awesomely well for starting a relationship that would otherwise never happen. As much as possible, take your online relationships offline. If that only means you can chat with your friend via phone, that’s more effective than merely talking online.
- Don’t keep any secrets. Social phobia constantly wants you to hide from others. You do have to exercise good judgment in what you say to whom. But you should have at least one person who knows everything about you – good and bad.
- Accept the flaws in others. Most people return to you exactly what you give them. If you accept their flaws, they’ll accept yours. So, do your best to accept the other person exactly as they are. Sometimes, it’s a challenge. But that’s okay. No one’s perfect.
- Read personal stories of hope. Social anxiety constantly focuses you on the negative. Seemingly, things will never get better. To pull your mind out of that negative loop, read stories where people share how they’ve let go of their social anxiety.
- Focus on the small, positive progress you make. Rarely does anyone get cured from social anxiety in an “overnight” experience. Some have claimed it. But I’m skeptical about their claim. To grow and let go of shyness, you must focus on each positive step you make. At first, they’re small. For example, you simply go to a social function and say nothing (rather than avoiding it entirely). But each seemingly small victory is actually an enormous one. Focus on each win to the best of your ability.
- Do progressive muscle relaxation (PGR). When anxious, you notice how tense your muscles get. PGR helps you relieve that tension. Here’s a guide for doing it.
- Get a biofeedback device. Biofeedback devices connect electrical sensors to your body. They connect to software, which gives you exercises showing you how to relax. Biofeedback can be quite useful in helping you regulate your body to reduce your anxiety.
- Use your empathy to help others. Research proves that people with high social anxiety “…demonstrate a unique social-cognitive abilities profile with elevated cognitive empathy tendencies and high accuracy in affective mental state attributions.” Read the full study.
- Question your own thoughts. Send anxiety running the other way with these three questions: 1) “Am I 100% sure __________ will happen?” 2) “Am I responsible for the entire conversation?” 3) “What would I say to my best friend if they had this thought?”
- Practice by role-playing. What better way to learn skills for overcoming your social anxiety than by practicing them with another person? You may need to join a treatment group for this. But, you could also do it with a trusted friend or family member.
- Consciously focus on positive social emotions. It’s so easy to consume yourself with the one scowl you see at a social gathering. Your socially anxious mind instinctually searches for negative feedback so it can drive you back into anxiety. Let go of that. Look for positive feedback. And focus on that instead.
- Let go of defining yourself as “socially awkward.” When you say,”I’m just an awkward person. I don’t belong. I’m too different,” you define yourself for the rest of your life. Change becomes nearly impossible. Everyone with social anxiety can change. You can too… no matter how much it affects your life. Change is one of the defining characteristics of being human.
- Moderate social anxiety helps you. Your social anxiety may help you prepare for a challenging situation. For example, you decide to confront a family member on their behavior. Social anxiety helps you because you’re bracing to deal with a situation where the other person might not like what you say. Or, you may practice a speech several times so you perform well.
- Find a workplace culture that fits your personality. Workplaces vary in what they value. Find employers who let you work independently and value individual contributions.
- Initiate conversations with your employer to reduce your stress. You may need more frequent breaks to keep your stress levels low. Talk with your supervisor about modifying your employment, and keep the focus on how these changes will help you provide the company with more benefits (like increased productivity).
- Arrive at social functions early. When you show up late, a crowd’s gathered and everyone’s engaged in conversation. If you go early, you have a high chance of meeting people one-on-one, which will be easier on your nerves.
- Other people don’t pick up on your social anxiety as much as you think. Yes, your social anxiety tells you everyone has their eyes on you. But even if you are speaking in public, others likely don’t have the ability to pick up on your shyness like you do. A study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology proves this.
- This one might irk your social anxiety. But, you’ll find people actually support and encourage you, while also drawing inspiration from you. An occasionally insane and rude person may leave a nasty comment. But that’s rare. Brittany at The Shyness Project publicly stated her goals, trials, and what she learned. And she got an outpouring of support.
- Take responsibility for your anxiety. It’s easy to blame other people or situations for your social anxiety. I’ve done it. A lot. But it only keeps you stuck in your social anxiety. You can’t do anything about other people. You can only take action on your own social anxiety.
Yep. So that’s what I came up with. How about you? What do you do to let go of your shyness?
Bio: Love this? You’ll also enjoy this free 11-part email series (with strategies not found in this post) that helps you overcome your shyness and boost your confidence, happiness, serenity, and connection: 11 Breakthrough (And Proven) Strategies to Keep You Forever Free from Social Anxiety