What is typical shyness?
Being shy is not by any means a problem. In addition to those characteristics in temperament, many of us at many ages experience shyness to some degree at one point or another. But those who are shy in a typical level gradually warm up to new situations over time. We may be shy when meeting new classmates and teachers for the first time or even when having to talk to a clerk in a store. While shyness may hold us back from doing something at first, it will not significantly impact us from engaging in everyday activities at school and outside school. It is expected that, even if we are a little shy, we are able to overcome our shyness to some level of social interaction at family events, at school, and around our friends.
When should I pay special attention to shyness?
If feeling shy prevents us from interacting with others or engaging in enjoyable activities, we should pay special attention to it. Excessive shyness is when we seem unable to warm up and we remain quiet or disengaged. Feeling this way can limit our social and learning experiences.
For example, when we go to a new school, it is quite normal for us to feel shy and not interact with others at first. It is expected, though, that we warm up to the new environment within a few days to a month. If we are unable to warm up, there is the possibility that we are experiencing excessive shyness.
Excessive shyness occurs when we fear all sorts of social situations and feel terrified of how others perceive us. It is usually difficult to overcome fears of speaking in public or in a classroom, meeting new people, speaking on the phone, reading or eating in front of others, and talking with someone we don't know. It is also common to experience physical discomforts such as headaches and stomachaches.
What can I do if I struggle with excessive shyness?
It can be hard and frustrating to deal with excessive shyness because a lot of times we want to interact with others and just feel like we can't. If you understand that you struggle with it, there are a few things you may try:
- Give yourself time so you can warm up to situations that provoke shyness. When you are in a new challenging social situation, give yourself some time to observe the setting and don't try to do too much at first. Instead of expecting to quickly establish relationships with people, try having as your first goal to greet people and make eye contact. Or even to have a five-minute chat with one person you don't know very well.
- Make opportunities for positive interactions. You can arrange to be around or do activities with a person or a small group of people with whom you feel comfortable. Shy people need to experience positive interactions that will put them at ease.
- Role play interactions with someone you trust. You can role play new or uncomfortable situations to practice social greetings, making eye contact, speaking with a brave voice, smiling, and understanding others' perspectives.
- Acknowledge and recognize the progress. When you make progress, it is important to acknowledge it. Compliment yourself for every effort you make overcoming your excessive shyness.
- Try not to avoid social interactions or situations that make you feel uncomfortable. Avoiding social situations can worsen excessive or persistent shyness because it reinforces the idea that social interactions are scary. Avoiding may also lead to generalizations–“spreading” shyness reactions to previously unaffected situations.
- Remember the good things about you. When we feel shy, it is common to also feel down and not so great about ourselves. So, try to remember the nice things about you, your strengths, and also what makes you interesting. Everyone is unique in some sort of way.
- Remember that not everyone is looking at you. When we feel shy, we can easily fall into the trap of thinking that people around us are all looking at us and judging us. The truth is that they are probably not thinking about us at all!
- Remember it is almost impossible to avoid judgements. Unfortunately, judging is part of human nature. We cannot avoid people from having opinions or judgements about us. But most of the time, we don't know what people are thinking about or the judgments that they have about us, so they do not interfere in our lives at all.
- Shift your focus. If you find yourself stressing about what other people might be thinking about you, try shifting your focus to some other thing.
If you have already tried some or most of these suggestions and the problems you are facing persist, it may be time to ask a trusted adult to seek out professional support.
Shyness that is excessive in a way that negatively interferes with our lives may indicate the possibility of Social Anxiety Disorder.
What kind of professional support can be sought out?
It is not unusual for us to feel embarrassed, inadequate, or guilty if we are struggling with excessive shyness. But, if you think you are facing this difficulty, support and guidance are available now.
Pediatricians or family physicians can help to address initial concerns and refer to specialized professionals. Also, whenever possible, a consultation with a mental health professional may be helpful.
The public system provides services through the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and Centers of Multidisciplinary Assessment, Counseling, and Support (KEDASY).
Where to find more information
Specific, detailed, and clinical information on Social Anxiety Disorder can be found at [clinical short guide at the program website].
If you want to know more about the closest available services for educational and public health systems for children and adolescent assistance across the country, go to our Services Mapping webpage here.
You can also find more information by pointing your phone camera at the QR code below or by clicking here.