People who have never suffered from shyness might not realize the costs.

A shy person might look fine on the outside.  Sometimes, shy people may even appear aloof or seem unfriendly.  But on the inside, there’s a good chance they are dealing with very frustrating emotions. Oftentimes, being shy is a response to generalized fear and shy people experience many of the same symptoms as people with anxiety.

The worst of it is that being shy can hold you back from a lot of experiences in life. We live in a society that rewards social behavior. Therefore, shy people tend to miss out.

Fortunately, if you are a socially reluctant person, you can understand and overcome your own shyness.

Symptoms of Shyness

There are similarities between being an introvert, being shy, and having social anxiety. Here are some symptoms of shyness:

  • A desire to socialize with others but find it too uncomfortable
  • Preoccupation with what others think of you; trying to manage your image
  • Rapid heart rate and/or sweating when communicating with others
  • Freezing up in conversation; unable to think clearly; can’t make eye contact
  • Acute self-consciousness; don’t want others to focus on you
  • Beating yourself up after every conversation or interaction

While an introvert may experience some of the symptoms above, an introvert prefers a calm environment with minimal stimulation. They feel drained after socializing and prefer to spend time alone – they don’t generally crave being comfortable in a crowd or being able to contribute more to conversations.  They tend to enjoy time alone and are reenergized by solitude. Generally, they don’t have the same discomfort and challenges seen in shyness. They don’t suffer from fear of missing out, self attack or loneliness as a shy person does.  

In contrast, social anxiety is more like an extreme form of shyness in many ways. Additionally, social anxiety may be complicated by panic responses, past trauma, or extreme physical and emotional responses as well as avoidance.  Some shy people develop social anxiety, but many do not.

The Costs of Shyness

Western society, in particular, tends to reward gregarious, outgoing people who show no fear. As a result, shy people tend to get overlooked. This can result in a number of serious costs to them personally, professionally and relationally.  For example, if you are not speaking up in meetings or making sure your accomplishments are known, then you will tend to be overlooked for promotions.

If you are shy, you’re probably setting up your own limitations. You find yourself avoiding small talk, confrontation, and the general stress of being around others. And in doing so, the experiential cost is quite high. Some things you might miss out on are:

  • Parties, reunions, and events that could be fun
  • Activities you would enjoy doing
  • The opportunity to try new things
  • Dates that could lead to joyful, healthy relationships
  • Professional networking events that might connect you to exciting career opportunities

Finally, one of the most consequential costs of being shy? Feeling like you don’t have a voice.

When you aren’t able to speak up, it feels like you aren’t really seen. You may feel invisible or forgotten. Feeling ignored is lonely, and it can impact self-esteem. Furthermore, people without a strong support system are more vulnerable to certain risks, including depression, peer pressure, unhealthy or abusive relationships or substance misuse or abuse. Therefore, the mental health costs of shyness can be significant.

Ways to Overcome Shyness

Some people may be more prone to shyness than others. However, you can overcome it. Here are some things to try:

  • Practice mindfulness and learning to be in the moment
  • Choose relationships carefully; shy people do best investing time in a few great people
  • Avoid bringing attention to your shyness; for example, if you stammer, just keep talking through it
  • Practice talking every day; say hi to the cashier or the bus driver or the people at the gym
  • Know your strengths and focus on what is great about you
  • Act “as if”; pretend that you feel more confident than you do

Most importantly, find ways to build up your tolerance to social situations. You might not run out to the biggest street festival in New York City. However, you could take a baby step by attending an author reading at a local bookstore.

Build upon your successes. That way, you can start regaining some of the qualities that shyness forced to the background.

Are you struggling socially or to reclaim your voice? Therapy can help you overcome shyness and find fulfillment. Learn more here.

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