How to Express Yourself & Overcome Shyness
Updated August 26, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Lynne Healey, LMHC, QS, CAP, MPS
Meeting new people can be intimidating. You want to make sure you make a good first impression. Plus, you don't want to say anything that may offend the other person, and you don't want to be 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, then it might be time to make a change. You deserve to feel comfortable and happy in life.
Social Anxiety Disorder
When your shy demeanor begins to impair your ability to interact with others, you may have what is known as a "social anxiety disorder." Typical symptoms of this disorder include feelings of extreme self-consciousness, 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 perhaps the thought of interacting with anyone makes you feel a bit nervous inside.
Unfortunately, many people struggle with this widespread issue; in fact, it's likely that you 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 a 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
To be clear, physical symptoms of anxiety include:
- Increased heart rate
- Excessive sweating
- Upset stomach
- Shortness of breath
- Heart palpitations
Learning More About How to Express Yourself
Why do you feel shy? Understanding the root of the problem is the first step to tackling it. While you may simply be introverted, there could be other factors at play.
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, start cultivating positive thoughts. Make a list of everything you like about yourself, no matter how small or insignificant each item may seem. Whenever you find yourself having a negative thought, try to balance it with a positive one. When someone pays you a compliment, accept it instead of trying to disagree with them.
The second step to overcoming your shyness is to simply accept that you may be shy. Try not to think of it as purely negative-plenty of people are shy, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Accept this part of yourself and understand that, while you may never completely overcome this feeling, you can find ways to alleviate it in most situations. To work toward that goal, try making a list of the social situations where you feel uncomfortable and ask yourself why they make you feel that way. For each situation on the list, visualize ways that you could feel more confident.
Becoming More Comfortable in Social Situations
Overcoming shyness won't happen overnight, but there are a handful of steps you can take to become more comfortable in social situations.
Fake It Until You Make It
If you spend your days trying to avoid social interaction, you'll find yourself stuck in a vicious cycle. It may be intimidating at first, but the first step to getting over a social phobia is putting yourself in a social situation. 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. You can also try giving a compliment to a stranger you pass-this is a small step, will likely make the person's day, and you will likely never see them again! Knowing that you might not see someone again can provide some relief to be yourself or practice being more confident.
It may also help to pretend you are an actor pretending to be someone else. Imagine playing the role of someone who's as outgoing as you want to be. Then, act how you imagine they would act. Perhaps they walk into a room and greet everyone warmly. Maybe they curiously ask others questions about themselves, or jump into a conversation to share a joke or idea.
These actions may feel daunting at first, but over time, you will get used to them, and by default become more comfortable and confident in your interactions with others. You may realize that the role of an outgoing person is no longer a role to play, but actually who you are inside.
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 project you're working on.
When you're talking to someone, speak with confidence. Hold yourself up straight, maintain eye contact, and make sure to enunciate properly. Fidgeting with your hands, avoiding eye contact, or mumbling will only increase your feelings of inferiority. The more you practice speaking with confidence, the easier it will become. In fact, acting like you're confident will help to trick your brain into believing you feel more confident.
Maintain a Positive Attitude
With social anxiety, there's often an underlying fear of being negatively judged by others; this can get worse if you imagine a large number of negative outcomes for any social situation. Try to acknowledge this pattern and begin to imagine positive outcomes. Visualize yourself having an easy, lighthearted conversation with someone. Think about how it would feel to laugh with them, to share 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
Practice conversations before you have them. For example, if you know you need to talk about an important matter with your boss, look at yourself in the mirror and say exactly what you need to say. 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 to every outcome. While you can't prepare yourself for every conversation, allowing yourself some practice time for the important ones will help to boost your confidence.
- Expressing 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 share with the other person. The more you know about the subject, the more comfortable you'll feel talking about it.
- Write It Down
Sometimes it's easier to get your thoughts out on paper. Write down what makes you happy, what your goals are, and what you believe in. Then take 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 better you understand yourself, the easier it will be to express your thoughts and beliefs to others.
- Read More
Reading will help you get a better idea of how people express themselves. 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 allows 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. That's okay! The beauty of conversation is allowing people to express different viewpoints while respecting the viewpoints of others. There are ways of disagreeing with people without belittling or offending them, and the more you discuss your thoughts with others, the more you will 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, will 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 gets you closer to feeling more confident and being more eloquent. Treat every situation as a learning experience. If a conversation doesn't go the way you want it to go, 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 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, 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 will become.
How BetterHelp Can Help
Recent research suggests that online therapy is an effective way of treating 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 accessibility of CBT for patients experiencing social anxiety disorder, particularly due to therapists’ ability to work with patients at any time and from any place.
If you’re already experiencing anxiety in social situations, you may not want to compound the issue by sitting in a waiting room or dealing with staff. Luckily, with online therapy you can privately speak 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. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors from people experiencing similar issues.
"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, 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!"
It's not always easy to get over shyness, but it's definitely possible. If you combine the tools in this article with the help of a therapist, you'll be on the road to having fulfilling relationships and genuine fun in social situations. Take the first step today.
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