Most people experience shyness (or timidness) in social settings, but for some people the anxiety of being around people can be extreme and prevent you from attending events, dating, or just being as comfortable and happy as you want to be. Fortunately, feelings of shyness don’t have to last forever. Like any skill, overcoming shyness is about practice and accepting feelings of discomfort as normal and temporary as you progress. Here are some methods for overcoming shyness, try them out and find what works for you.
Remember that everyone gets nervous sometimes. It’s totally normal to feel awkward at a social event where you don’t know many people. You are not weird or especially socially inept for feeling uncomfortable, this is something almost everyone experiences.
Rip the bandaid off — and embrace the difficult social setting. The hardest part of overcoming shyness is showing up to an event where you know you will feel uncomfortable. Like any skill, the more you practice, the better you will get. Try to talk to people and avoid the urge to skip out early or play on your phone the whole time. Being uncomfortable in a social situation will make you feel more at ease the next time you are in the same situation. Try to look at it as an opportunity to build up your resistance to feelings of awkwardness or anxiety.
Ask for help. Because most people have been in a situation where they felt shy or uncomfortable, they will be happy to help you feel more comfortable. You can introduce yourself to someone and tell them you don’t know many people at the event, or even admit that you are feeling nervous. Most people will be happy to talk to you and introduce you to their friends. Once icebreaker that almost always leads to a conversation, is to ask people how they know the host of the event.
Plan ahead. You can eliminate any additional stress you may feel in a situation by handling the factors you control in advance. Make sure you have directions, leave in plenty of time, wear clothes you feel comfortable and confident in. Put yourself in the best situation possible to relax and enjoy yourself.
If you know you are going to feel uncomfortable at an event, volunteer to help the host with the event. If you have a job to be doing, you’ll be able to distract yourself from feelings of shyness and focus on something concrete. It will also give you an excuse to make conversation with people, since you can relate it to the job you’re doing. Ask the event’s host if there’s something they need help with.
Remember that in almost every situation the worst case scenario isn’t that bad: you can just leave. If you truly feel uncomfortable or struggle to make conversation, you can just excuse yourself and go home. You won’t know what an event is going to be like until you’re there and knowing it’s easy to decide to go home may be beneficial because it makes going to the event in the first place seem easier.
Resist the urge to mind-read. “Mind reading” is a cognitive distortion where you assume you know what other people are thinking and feeling about you. When you catch yourself thinking things like “Everyone thinks I look out of place” or “If I talk to that person they’ll think I’m dumb” recognize it as mind-reading and dismiss it. Remember that most people are focused on themselves and generally don’t spend a lot of energy thinking about others.
A good thing to remember is that generally, people love to talk about themselves. You can make conversation with anyone (and one they’ll remember and enjoy) if you ask them questions that they love to answer. Read up on some good icebreakers in advance and know that when you make people feel good (by being curious about them) they’ll have fun talking to you. This is an easier method to employ, as it puts the focus off of you, and you’ll feel less pressured in the conversation.
Be gentle with yourself. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Being social comes naturally to some people, but you probably don’t see that they have other situations in which they struggle just as much (or more!) than you do with shyness. Try to avoid overwhelming yourself with negative thoughts and keep a larger perspective of your shyness as one of many characteristics you possess. How boring would life be if you were already good at everything you tried! Some things just take work before you feel comfortable doing them.
Remember that overcoming shyness is a process, testing one of these methods out isn’t hit or miss, but a way of learning what works for you and getting closer to feeling comfort and ease in social situations. Expecting drastic changes to happen immediately will set you up for frustration. The goal is to feel more comfortable each time you put yourself in a situation where you would usually feel anxious. Each time you sense an improvement, you’ve won.
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