Modern*Simplicity

Creating a Life Free From Chaos

How to Overcome Shyness and Social Anxiety in 5 Easy Steps

It’s a week before Tribe Conference, one of my favorite events of the year, and I’m already feeling anxious. Why? Because I’m an introvert, and Tribe will involve days of me being “in public” with people. Who may want to talk to me.

Feeling shy or awkward in certain situations is understandable. Don’t we all have a little nervousness before talking to a stranger at a party, or get sweaty palms before giving a speech? (Really hope it’s not just me!) For some people, shyness and social anxiety may not be circumstantial, but constant. This can be nerve-wracking, but there are some things you can do to help overcome your shyness and approach people in social situations. Here’s my quick version of “how to overcome shyness in 5 easy steps.”

1. Learn to Laugh

There’s something about laughter that makes everyone feel more comfortable. This is why “ice breaker” activities at parties are often designed to get the participants laughing, even though we all secretly hate hearing that we’re going to do an icebreaker activity (or is that just me?) So don’t be afraid to laugh at someone’s jokes, or learn a few funny lines yourself (not canned “pick-up” lines, but clever observations or comments).

2. Force Yourself to Stay

Sometimes, shy people feel so uncomfortable in a social situation that they just want it to end; they just want to get away. I remember my first Tribe Conference when, during one of the socializing breaks, I actually ran outside and cried because I was so anxious. Try to consciously resist this impulse! Yes, easier said than done, but tell yourself to stand your ground, stay put, and interact. Remember, the other person is not going to breathe fire; he or she just wants to have a conversation and get to know you!

3. Learn to be Comfortable with Silence

Social situations can feel especially awkward if you are uncomfortable with mutual silence. This may trigger shy people to “babble” to fill the silence, which then makes them feel even more awkward because they feel like what they’re saying is silly. I fully admit to being a babbler. But babbling can be unlearned! Be cool – some silence between people is okay. In fact, it helps give the other person a chance to think before he or she speaks. The person you’re speaking with will appreciate this!

4. Stretch

Just like physical stretching, socially and psychologically stretching can be somewhat uncomfortable, even painful. But also like physical stretching, it’s necessary. If your first instinct is to say “No” when someone asks you to do something, stop and think first. Tell the person you will get back to him or her if you aren’t sure. This will give you some time to pluck up your courage and say “Yes.” It took me a long time to get comfortable in social situations. I still have social anxiety when it comes to unfamiliar events, but stretching myself helps me become more comfortable and able to socialize more.

5. Take a Deep Breath

Before you turn tail and run — I know, I’ve done it, I admitted it in Step 2 — take a deep breath and remind yourself that these are just people, just like you. They’re probably anxious too. I try to remember that the person I want to talk to may be nervous as well, so I try to approach them as I’d want to be approached. Take a deep breath, round up your courage, smile, and say hi.

Know When to Seek a Professional

There is a point when simple shyness and social awkwardness may be an actual disorder. Social anxiety disorder and social phobia are real disorders that may need the help of a professional. The difference between shyness and these disorders is how much it affects your life. If you are so shy and embarrassed by just the thought of having to introduce yourself to others or attend a party that you go to great lengths to avoid the situation, it might be a social disorder. You may want to see a professional who can help you develop coping strategies that can get you back into the world.

Do you have any tips or strategies for dealing with shyness or social anxiety? I’d love to hear them!

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No Shame: God, Decluttering, and Letting Go

This is a guest post by Melissa Joan Walker.

Last week, I spent three hours decluttering my bookshelves. I culled four grocery bags of books to sell or donate. Many of the books were arty, french novels or experimental novels from my time in grad school.

It was hard to let go of the arty french novels and keep the more banal novels that I have actually loved. It was hard to let go of something that used to be important to me, but that I never really loved.

When we let go of our old stuff, what are we really letting go of?

The backstory: On our first date, when I told my husband that my dad worked in a factory, he assumed that I meant my dad MANAGED a factory. He thought I was pretty and well-spoken. After all, I had made the financially unsound decision to go to grad school for art, when only a rich person would make such a foolish decision. Only a person with a trust fund, he thought, would go to art school.

But my dad worked on the factory floor. He wore steel toed, non-skid shoes and a hairnet to work. He worked second shift every day, 3 pm – 11 pm on a dangerous line where one wrong move could cost someone a couple fingers.

We only saw him on the weekends. Often after work, he’d buy us McDonald’s or biscuits from KFC or a loaf of Hawaiian bread from the grocery store, and we’d wake up to a note on an index card on the kitchen counter, that said, “Kids – Please share. I love you. Xoxo, Dad.”

My mom worked in a hardware store, and then a Walgreens, and she wanted me to work in an office, I think. I imagined my life stretching out before me like this: Working as a secretary, married to a boy from down the street and then sitting at the dining room table drinking Miller Lite complaining about my husband for the rest of my life. Kill me now, I thought.

I was afraid that if I learned to type, I’d get a job at the local college and be NEAR college students and never BE ONE of them.

But I worked and got loans and when I moved across the country to go to a liberal arts college on scholarships and financial aid, I LIVED A DIFFERENT LIFE. I did a lot of independent study with my professors. I studied experimental documentary and literature and art.

I read and I read and I read, and I kept a video diary and I wore costumes almost every day. I dated an arty boy who wore horn-rimmed glasses and dressed like he was from the 1950s and took amazing photographs.

At least once a day someone stopped me on the street to tell me that I was beautiful. I was terrified, but, hey, I looked decent and I was living the life of my dreams.

I had created this life out of thin air.

After I graduated, I was working in a coffee shop again – just like I had been before I left to go to college. So I decided to apply to grad school. I’d never shown anyone my writing before – not really – but I applied to a great writing program and I got in. I showed up in fancy stockings, with a fancy hair do, ready to BECOME AN ARTIST.

So, these french novels I let go of this week were hard-won. And it’s hard to let go of an old self, of paths I didn’t take.

Why is it so hard to let go of the past?

Now: As I drop these french novels into grocery bags, I find that I have been living my life like it’s a choose-your-own-adventure novel, like the other routes are potential paths from my past and that some of my energy is still tied up there.

The hard thing about letting go of those french novels is part of me pipes up and says, Oh, you mean I’m NOT going to move to New York when I’m 21 and be an artist?

News flash: I’m 43.

To that part of myself, I say, as gently as possible: Honey, no. You’re not going to move to New York when you’re 21.

I can let go of these old paths.

Maybe next lifetime. Maybe reincarnation will turn out to be a real thing. Who knows.

But the thing is, I haven’t read those novels in a long time.

I’m afraid to tell you this. I’m afraid you’ll think it means I’m not arty anymore, or I’m not creative, or I’m just not SMART ENOUGH to like those experimental novels. You may be right.

But my real problem is not that I’m afraid of what you’ll think – no, I’m afraid of what I’ll think. I’m afraid of disappointing myself. It’s that old devil – shame.

Shame is the idea that whatever I am is worse than whatever I COULD HAVE BEEN.

It’s shame when I am married more to my past-potential-self than my REAL LIFE, TODAY self. When I prefer some old idea of a self that I never quite was to the real, today self who I actually AM.

I thought it’d be so hard to let go of those novels. And it was hard to get them out of the house, but now that they’re gone, I find there’s more room here. There’s more air, and more energy for my goals TODAY.

And look at me: I’m not a secretary, but I’m typing for a living. Still. So maybe some destinies are inescapable. When he was four years old, my son would try to convince me to do things by saying, “It’s your destiny.” Maybe he was right.

God has made me into the person I am.

Not a smarter, artier girl. Not a girl who wakes up with makeup perfectly done and who miraculously avoids the inevitability of aging. God made ME with all my likes and dislikes, my preferences and my goals.

When I reject this self, my actual self, I am rejecting God, and then I am truly lost.

What’s ONE THING you need to let go of from your past in order to be more who you are TODAY?

Let me know in the comments.

Let’s start letting go.

Melissa Joan Walker’s writing has appeared in several outlets, including the Denver Quarterly; Sentence; Banshee; theNewerYork; After Hours; Orion Headless; Parable Press; Ignavia; Wunderkammer Poetry; Disembodied Text; Yes, Poetry; Split Rock Review; Tablet and on the Manifest-Station. She holds an MFA in Writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and lives in Portland, OR, with her family. Melissa blogs about spirituality at https://www.melissajoanwalker.com/blog