Shyness can mean missing out on the good things in life, but there are techniques to help you overcome it
The Smiths once sang that shyness is nice. And indeed it is, but the band went on to deliver the killer blow. Shyness "can stop you from doing all the things in life you'd like to."
That's the problem with chronic shyness. It means you won't approach the girl in the bar, even though she might be your Miss Right. It means you'll find it hard to make new friends. It means you won't have the stellar career your talents deserve. But even a little shyness or under-confidence will have an impact on you and your life prospects.
In a word, shyness makes life more difficult than it needs to be, and experts reckon it can be worse for men than women. Here's the low-down on who shyness affects, and what you can do about it, whatever your level of shyness.
Shyness is considered an almost alluring quality in women, but when it affects men it's not so attractive. And the fact is, even though young men are supposed to be brash, outgoing and confident, many of them suffer from stultifying shyness.
"I have worked with a number of young men suffering from shyness and social anxiety," says therapist and wellbeing coach Dan Roberts. "I think men can actually be more vulnerable to anxiety in social situations, because women are usually more socially skilful and have close networks of friends, while men may struggle with small talk or adapting to new groups of people."
Shyness can easily morph into social anxiety, he says "when discomfort around other people, especially in groups or with new people, causes unpleasant symptoms such as sweating profusely, stammering, going blank or quiet, a racing heartbeat or strong feelings of anxiety."
Get over it
But surely shy blokes should just 'get over it'? It's only shyness, after all. It's not like they have a real problem, right? It's not quite that simple, says Roberts.
"Some men may feel shyness is a sign of weakness, or something they have to grit their teeth and 'get over it'. But, especially as shyness is often a sign of deeper-seated insecurities, this isn't easy it's like telling someone who is depressed to 'cheer up'. If they could, they would, but it often takes a combination of the right support and determination on their part to feel more confident or tackle the anxiety-provoking thoughts and beliefs that are the root cause of shyness."
Men are less likely to admit they have problems generally, and even more so with something as 'unmanly' as shyness. So many of them hide it away, muddle through the best they can, and whenever possible try to avoid the situations that make their shyness most obvious.
The problem with that is they can be the very situations that make a fundamental difference to your life, whether that means meeting new friends, meeting potential girlfriends or making a splash at work. Avoiding these situations, or going along and hiding in a corner, can mean missing out on some of the best things life has to offer.
If you have chronic shyness, and a social anxiety that makes you avoid social activity altogether, it might be worthwhile seeing a professional. Your GP would be a good first port of call.
If you're shy to the point of being tongue-tied with people, or anxious about going out (but you go anyway), or unwilling to get out of your comfort zone (by approaching the attractive brunette who has been glancing in your direction) it's possible to help yourself. Here are Dan Roberts' top tips for overcoming shyness.
1. The simplest technique for reducing anxiety is to use deep, slow breathing. When we get anxious we start 'chest breathing', which means taking fast, shallow breaths from our chest rather than our abdomen. So consciously slow your breathing down, taking long, deep breaths in through your nose to a count of four, then out through your mouth to a count of five. This will instantly make you feel calmer and more relaxed.
2. When you are overcome by shyness you are probably having all sorts of negative thoughts and perhaps seeing images of yourself saying something embarrassing, or perhaps the other person being critical or seeming bored by you and your conversation. In cognitive therapy, this is called 'catastrophising' and it's very unhelpful. Before a big meeting or first date, write down some of your worried or anxious thoughts and see if you can replace them with more realistic, helpful thoughts. For example, 'I'm bound to mess up this date' could be replaced by 'I'm a bit nervous about this date, but I'm going to try and have fun and enjoy it whatever happens.'
3. Shyness is closely linked with 'exposure anxiety', where we fear people seeing through our confident front to all the bad stuff we fear is lurking underneath. So instead of focusing on all the weaknesses you fear being exposed, concentrate on your many strengths. Before meeting a new work contact, make a list of all the skills and competencies you have that make you good at your job. If this is a struggle, ask a supportive friend or colleague to help with the list other people are often far more positive about us than we are about ourselves.
4. Use the 'best friend test'. When we are shy or socially anxious, we may use very harsh language about ourselves using works like 'idiot' or 'pathetic' if we make a minor mistake or faux pas. If you talk to yourself like this ask, 'Would I say that to my best friend who just made a similar mistake?' In 99 cases out of 100, we wouldn't dream of being so judgmental or undermining of a friend, so why is it OK to talk to yourself like that? It's absolutely not, so try to be kinder and more supportive of yourself, whatever happens.
Follow these tips and you might not become a super-confident person overnight, but you can mask your shyness and make sure it doesn't come between you and your goals in life. Because shyness IS nice in moderation.
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