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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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One Reply

  1. Loved this Sandy. You are definitely not alone. This is something I have been working on for a long time. I’m introverted & deal with social anxiety. Tribe Conference next week is my first writer’s conference & I’m nervous as well as excited. Helpful tip? Be prepared or be involved in some way. One way I’ve been preparing for Tribe Conference next week is I started reading this book: Croissants vs. Bagels: Strategic, Effective, and Inclusive Networking at Conferences.

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