By- Dr. David Prescott
Holidays like July 4th is often a time to get together with family, friends, or larger crowds of people. However, for some people social situations like this invoke intense anxiety, worry, and a strong desire to avoid people. Shyness and social anxiety often differ for adults and children, but the underlying fears and causes are basically the same.
What Causes Shyness?
Shyness is considered a personality trait, and like most traits it seems to develop due to biological, psychological, and social factors. Extreme shyness tends to run in families, and seems related to a person’s temperament. There is some thinking that shy people naturally prefer to remain withdrawn from others, or that they are very emotionally reactive to upsetting social interactions.
Interactions in a person’s home environment, such as frequently being shamed or criticized, can also play a role in causing a person to be shy and withdrawn. Or, significant life changes such as moving, changing schools, changing jobs, or changes in family can sometimes be associated with an increase in shyness.
When Does Shyness Become Social Phobia?
A phobia is a specific fear of a person, thing, or situation. In social phobia, a shy person becomes overwhelmed by the thought of interacting with other people to the point where their fears and avoidance begin to significantly disrupt their life. Symptoms of social phobia include:
• Extreme anxiety about being with other people and having a hard time talking to them, even though they wish they could
• Be very self-conscious in front of other people and feel embarrassed
• Be very afraid that other people will judge them
• Worry for days or weeks before an event where other people will be
• Stay away from places where there are other people
• Blush, sweat, tremble, or feel nauseous around other people
What is Unhelpful to People with Shyness or Social Phobia?
It is generally not helpful to people who are shy or have social phobia to pressure them about interacting with others. Criticizing or dismissing their fears often makes things worse. Helping the person set small goals, or simply listening to some of their worries is often a good place to start.
Should a Person Get Help for Shyness or Social Phobia?
Counseling can be very helpful in teaching people who are very shy or who have social phobia how to keep their fears in check so they can do things with others that they truly enjoy. Experts in the area of extreme shyness often use the idea of “social fitness” to help explain how people can reduce their worries about interacting with others.
Staying Socially Fit: Just as our bodies and minds can quickly get out of shape if we don’t exercise them, experts believe that our social skills quickly diminish if we don’t use them. Thus, treatment models for shyness or social phobia usually involve structured practice being around others.
Treatment can help people change negative automatic thoughts about social interactions (for example, “I know if I talk to someone I will say something dumb”). People can also learn relaxation skills to reduce racing heartbeats or rapid breathing. Sometimes, assertiveness skills allow shy people to better stand up for themselves, which makes social interactions less stressful.
For more information:
American Psychological Association:
National Institute of Mental Health: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/social-phobia-social-anxiety-disorder-always-embarrassed
The Shyness Institute:
TV5 Forecast Center
Healthy Living: Shyness and Social Anxiety
By- Dr. David Prescott
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