How to Express Yourself & Overcome Shyness

Updated January 24, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Meeting new people can be intimidating. You may be concerned about making a good first impression and don’t want to say anything that may offend the other person. You might be especially worried about getting stuck in the awkward situation of staring at each other without knowing what to say. It's normal to feel shy on occasion, but sometimes this feeling can impair your ability to function normally in social situations. If you are bothered by your shyness, there are steps you can take to overcome it. You deserve to feel comfortable, happy, and healthy in each of your relationships.  

Shyness Doesn’t Have To Hold You Back From Forming Connections

Social Anxiety Disorder

When your shy demeanor begins to impair your ability to interact with others, you may have what is known as "social anxiety disorder." Typical symptoms of this disorder include feelings of extreme self-consciousness, difficulty knowing how to express yourself, the belief that everyone is negatively judging you, and avoidance of social situations. Those with social anxiety typically feel inadequate when interacting with others, which may lead to feelings of depression and humiliation.

Social anxiety comes in a variety of forms. It can be situation-specific, such as feeling an extreme level of discomfort when speaking in front of a large group, or it can be a more general sense of discomfort in all social situations. Perhaps it's only with small or large groups of people, or maybe the thought of interacting with anyone makes you feel a bit nervous inside.

Many people struggle with social anxiety; in fact, you likely know several people who have this problem. The good news is that you can gain freedom from your anxiety if you're willing to try some new things and possibly get help from a mental health professional.

Do You Feel Uncomfortable In These Situations?

If you find yourself feeling discomfort or high levels of anxiety in any of the following situations, you may have social anxiety disorder:

  • Having to interact with many people at a party

  • Meeting someone new for the first time

  • Having someone watch you while you're doing something

  • Being asked a question on the spot, without time to prepare an answer

  • Allowing yourself to be vulnerable with another person, whether they're a friend, lover, or acquaintance

  • Having to speak on the phone or over video chat, where you may not be able to read the other person's body language well

Physical symptoms of anxiety can include:

  • Increased heart rate

  • Excessive sweating

  • Upset stomach

  • Shortness of breath

  • Trembling

  • Heart palpitations

Learning How To Express Yourself

Understanding the root of your shyness can be one of the first steps to tackling it. Do you have problems with your self-image? Is your inner voice typically negative? Spend an afternoon focusing on the thoughts you have about yourself. If you find they're mostly negative, beginning to cultivate positive thoughts may help you develop a healthier self-image. While some people are able to do this alone, others need the assistance of a professional. 

Another step that may help you overcome your shyness is to accept that being shy may just be part of who you are. There’s nothing wrong with being shy, and it’s a common trait to have. While you may not completely overcome your shyness, you can find ways to alleviate it in many situations. 

Fake It Until You Make It

If you spend your days trying to avoid social interaction, you may find yourself stuck in a vicious cycle. Knowing how to express yourself may be intimidating at first but moving past a social phobia may involve putting yourself in a social situation. Even little steps can be beneficial. You could introduce yourself to one new person a day, call a friend you haven't spoken with for years, or make small talk with the cashier at the local supermarket.

It may also help to play the part of an actor and pretend to be someone else. You might think of an outgoing individual and then act in the ways you imagine they would. Perhaps they walk into a room and greet everyone warmly. Maybe they curiously ask other people questions about themselves or jump into a conversation to tell a joke or idea. 

These actions may feel daunting at first, but over time, you may get used to them, and by default become more comfortable and confident in your interactions with others. You may realize that an outgoing person is no longer a role to play, but rather a new aspect of who you are. 

Other Solutions

Other solutions that may help you overcome your shyness could include the following. 

  • Pick up a new hobby: Have you ever wanted to take up knitting or join a sports team? Are you interested in trying your hand at painting? Take a class or join a club based on something that interests you. This way, the hobby itself opens up an easy door for communication. Instead of racking your brain about what to say, you can discuss the sport you're playing or the project you're working on with those who have the same interests.

  • Practice confidence: When you're talking to someone, try to speak with confidence. Practice holding yourself up straight, maintaining eye contact, and making sure to enunciate properly. Fidgeting with your hands, avoiding eye contact, or mumbling may only increase the feelings of inferiority you’re experiencing. The more you practice speaking with confidence, the easier it might become. Acting like you're already confident can help trick your brain into believing you feel more confident.

  • Maintain a positive attitude: With social anxiety, there can often be an underlying fear of being negatively judged by others; this can get worse if you imagine a large number of negative outcomes during any social situation. Try to acknowledge this pattern of negative thinking and begin to imagine positive outcomes instead. Visualize yourself having an easy, lighthearted conversation with someone. Think about how it would feel to laugh with them, to tell your thoughts, and to have that person understand and appreciate your feelings. Every time you find yourself thinking about what could go wrong, try to turn that thought around by visualizing the ways it could go right.

  • Have conversations with yourself: You can also practice conversations before you have them. For example, if you know you need to talk about an important matter with your boss, looking at yourself in the mirror and saying exactly what you need to say can help you feel prepared. You can even write it down first and read it out loud until you feel confident enough to speak to that person directly. Try to visualize ways how they'll respond and come up with proper responses for each potential outcome. While you can't prepare yourself for every conversation, allowing yourself some practice time for the important ones can help to boost your confidence.

  • Express yourself: You may find yourself slowly becoming more comfortable in social situations, but you may still have trouble properly expressing yourself. Talking about the weather and current events is one thing, but talking about your fears, desires, and beliefs can be more intimidating. How can you bridge the gap between small talk and true, deep conversations? Try talking about something you feel passionate about, or an interest you impart with the other person. The more you know about the subject, the more comfortable you might feel talking about it.

  • Write it down: Sometimes it's easier to get your thoughts out on paper. You can write down what makes you happy, what your goals are, and what you believe in. Then, consider taking it a step further-- write down why those things make you happy, why you have those goals, and why you believe in those things. The more you understand yourself, the easier it might be to know how to express yourself to others.

  • Read more: Reading can help you get a clearer idea of how to express yourself. Many situations and conversations in popular novels and nonfiction books are similar to ones you might experience in everyday life. Reading also helps to expand your vocabulary, which may allow you to be more concise and eloquent when explaining your point of view.

  • Accept that everyone is different: Not everyone will agree with everything you say and that’s okay. The beauty of conversation can be allowing people to express different viewpoints while respecting the viewpoints of others. There are ways you can disagree with people without belittling or offending them. The more you discuss your thoughts with others, the more you can open your mind to new ideas and ways of viewing the world. If you practice empathy and allow yourself to see a situation from another's point of view, they, too, can feel more accepted and confident about expressing their own beliefs and ideas.

One Step At A Time

Gaining more confidence in social situations takes time. Some days it may feel like you aren't making any progress, but every little step you take can move you closer to feeling more confident. Treat every situation as a learning experience. If a conversation doesn't go the way you want it to, consider how you could improve in the future.

Along the way, remember that you don't need to please everyone. Only half of every conversation is under your control. When someone else is involved, it's impossible to determine exactly how they may respond. If someone disagrees with you or criticizes the way you choose how to express yourself, remember that there's nothing inherently wrong with you. Some people's personalities simply don't mesh, so try not to take everything personally, and know that it's okay to disagree.

If you want to overcome your shyness, try to start small and gradually introduce yourself to more and more social situations that previously made you feel uncomfortable or anxious. The more you practice, the easier it might become with time.

Shyness Doesn’t Have To Hold You Back From Forming Connections

Online Counseling With BetterHelp

Different forms of anxiety can be overcome through lifestyle changes, new habits, and resources like counseling. Suppose you’re already experiencing anxiety in social situations. In that case, you may not want to compound the issue by sitting in a waiting room or talking to the staff when trying to find support. With online therapy, you can discreetly with a qualified mental health professional who can help you figure out what’s causing your shyness. 

Through BetterHelp’s online mental health platform you can also message your therapist outside of sessions so that you have an opportunity to describe your encounters and feelings as they happen. You won’t have to worry about running into people you know, sitting in a waiting room, or meeting a stranger face-to-face. Online therapy may remove the barriers that have been holding you back from therapeutic care and allow you to experience healing from the comfort of your home. 

The Efficacy Of Online Counseling 

Recent research suggests that online therapy effectively treats social anxiety disorder, an issue underlying many behaviors and emotions related to shyness. One study, published in PLOS One—a peer-reviewed scientific journal—found that 64% of participants with social anxiety disorder experienced significant improvement after receiving treatment via online therapy. 

The study specifically examined the effects of internet-based cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps those dealing with negative thoughts surrounding social situations to make more positive associations. In the report, researchers cite online therapy platforms as the most promising way to increase the availability of CBT for patients experiencing a social anxiety disorder, particularly due to therapists’ ability to work with patients at any time and from any place. 

Counselor Reviews

"Lori is so friendly and kind. She puts me at ease quickly and I feel comfortable talking to her. I would recommend her to anyone who is a bit shy or nervous and needs a gentle touch."

"I was in a very bad place when I started counseling with Vanessa. I was drowning in my negative thoughts, especially about moving into a new place. Vanessa helped me face these thoughts, and counter them. It isn't easy, but I am training myself and getting better at it. She helps boost my confidence in all aspects. In Vanessa, I found guidance, empathy, open-mindedness, and a good listener. Vanessa will never fail you!"

The Takeaway

It's not always easy to get over shyness and know how to express yourself, but it's possible. If you combine the tools in this article with the help of a therapist, you may be on the road to having fulfilling relationships and genuine fun in social settings. Every situation is different, and you’ll likely have unique needs and struggles to overcome on your healing journey. Working with an online therapist may allow you to feel less alone as you tackle these challenges and experience growth in your life.

For additional help & support with your concerns

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet Started