How To Express Yourself & Overcome Shyness: A Guide

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated May 1, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Meeting new people can be intimidating. You may be concerned about making a good first impression, or you may feel overwhelmed by the thought of excessive small talk.

While it can be normal to feel shy on occasion, the feeling can sometimes 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. After all—you deserve to feel comfortable, happy and healthy in each of your relationships.  

Read on to learn more top tips and strategies to help you overcome shyness and experience a higher quality of life.

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How does social anxiety disorder contribute to these feelings? 

When your shy demeanor begins to impair your ability to interact with others, you may be experiencing what is known as "social anxiety disorder." Typical symptoms of this disorder can 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.

With this being said, we do want to note that social anxiety disorder can come 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.

Online therapy can be a helpful tool that you can use to limit the effects of social anxiety in your daily experiences.

Do you feel uncomfortable in these situations?

If you find yourself feeling discomfort or high levels of nervousness in any of the following situations, you may want to speak with your healthcare practitioner about the possible diagnosis of 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 social anxiety disorder 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. You may ask yourself: Do you have problems with your self-image? Is your inner voice typically negative? While some people are able to self-evaluate and do this diagnostic step alone, others might need the assistance of a professional. Either experience can be equally valid. 

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 generally nothing wrong with being shy, and it can be a common trait to encounter in one’s social sphere. 

While you may not completely overcome your shyness, you can find ways to alleviate it in many situations. An online therapist can work with you to identify supportive strategies that suit your needs. 

Fake it until you make it

Even little steps in your progress 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.

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Other solutions and supportive strategies to help those living with social anxiety disorder 

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

  • Trying 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? If so, you might choose to take a class or join a club based on something that interests you. A hobby itself can open up an easy door for communication. Instead of racking your brain about what to say in conversation, you can discuss the sport you're playing or the project you're working on with those who might have the same interests.
  • Practicing confidence: When you're talking to someone, you may try to speak with confidence. This can look different for everyone, and can include elements like your posture, your eye contact and your enunciation. The more you practice speaking with confidence, the easier it might become. Plus, acting like you're already confident can help trick your brain into believing you feel more confident.
  • Maintaining a positive attitude: Social anxiety disorder can be preceded by an underlying fear of being negatively judged by others. It can be helpful to try to acknowledge this pattern of negative thinking and begin to imagine positive outcomes instead. You may visualize yourself having an easy, lighthearted conversation with someone. You might also think about how it would feel to laugh with them, to convey your thoughts and to have that person understand and appreciate your feelings. In short, every time you find yourself thinking about what could go wrong, you may try to turn that thought around by visualizing the ways it could go right.
  • Having conversations with yourself: If you’re feeling insecure or overwhelmed, you can also practice conversations before you have them. As you do this, you can try to visualize ways how the other party might 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.
  • Expressing yourself: You may find yourself slowly becoming more comfortable in social situations, but you may still have difficulties properly expressing yourself. How can you bridge the gap between small talk and true, deep conversations? While the answer can vary for many, you can try talking about something you feel passionate about, or a common interest you have with the other person. The more you know about the subject, the more comfortable you might feel talking about it.
  • Writing it down: Sometimes you may feel as if you need 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, you can consider taking it a step further— writing 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.
  • Reading more: Reading can help you get a clearer idea of how to express yourself. Many situations and conversations in popular novels and nonfiction books can be similar to ones you might experience in everyday life. Reading can also help to expand your vocabulary, which may allow you to be more concise and eloquent when explaining your point of view.
  • Accepting that everyone is different: Not everyone will agree with everything you say—and that can be okay. The beauty of conversation can be allowing people to express different viewpoints while respecting the viewpoints of others. There are many 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 can take time. It can be helpful to remember that every little step you take can move you closer to feeling more confident. You might consider treating every situation as a learning experience. If a conversation doesn't go the way you want it to, you might consider how you could improve in the future.

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Online counseling with BetterHelp

Different forms of anxiety disorders can be addressed with lifestyle changes, new habits and resources like counseling. If you’re already experiencing nervousness, however, you may not want to compound the issue by sitting in a waiting room or talking to the staff when you’re trying to find support. With online therapy, you can conveniently speak with a qualified mental health professional who can help you figure out what’s causing your shyness. 

Online therapy may remove any barriers that might have been holding you back from therapeutic care and can allow you to experience healing from the comfort of your home. 

Is online counseling effective? 

Recent research suggests that online therapy can be an effective way of treating social anxiety disorder. One study, published in PLOS One—a peer-reviewed scientific journal—found details that suggest that 64% of participants living 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 can help those living with negative thoughts surrounding social situations to make more positive associations.

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!"

Takeaway

It's not always easy to get over shyness and learn how to express yourself, but it can be possible. If you combine the tools in this article with the help of a therapist, you can begin on the road to having fulfilling relationships and genuine fun in social settings. Every situation can be different, however, and you may identify new and different needs to address 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. BetterHelp can connect you with an online therapist in your area of need.
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