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Help! I'm shy and have social anxiety

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 I stay home because I am so nervous about talking to new people (Photo: iStock)

Hi Chris,

Why am I always so nervous around other people? I feel like everyone is watching me, and agonise over what they all think about me.

I am always sure I am messing up, and I hate meetings where I will have to speak, convinced I will make a fool of myself. I would love to go to parties and stuff, but instead, I stay home because I am so nervous about talking to new people.

The worst of all is meeting my boss. I am sure I am going to say the wrong thing or freeze up. Why am I like this? Is there anything I can do to stop all my anxieties?

So Shy

Chris says,

Hi, So Shy!

We all feel nervous sometimes, such as when we are going out to an event. But if that idea worries you so much that you just cannot attempt it, then you are probably more than just a little shy.

Most likely you have Social Anxiety Disorder and feel uneasy in every social situation. You are probably especially scared of things like making a speech. Worrying ahead of one for weeks, or crying off at the last minute.

You probably hate being introduced to other people, being the centre of attention, or making small talk. Probably you avoid social situations that make you anxious, to the extent that it limits your opportunities in life.

All anxieties are a fear reaction to something that is not dangerous, but your mind and body react as if it is. Your heart rate and breathing increase. You might blush or sweat. Probably your mind goes blank, your throat goes dry, and you might tremble or feel muscle twitches.

Social anxiety generally starts when you are young, and runs in families. It may start abruptly after a bad experience, or it may develop slowly without any obvious cause.

It is also very common, but because almost no one has ever heard of it, it can feel like you are strange and abnormal. You know that your fears are irrational and that people are not as critical of you as you feel they are. But knowing something is not the same as believing it.

Fortunately, social anxiety can be completely cured by cognitive-behavioural therapy. It challenges the negative beliefs that create your anxiety, such as the idea that people are continually judging you, or that you are incompetent in some way. It teaches you conversation skills, and how to control your response to anxiety. So social situations become enjoyable.

Getting over social anxiety disorder is not easy. If it was you would have fixed it already! You have to learn the new skills you need and practice them until they become completely automatic. But as they do, you will begin to gain confidence. Soon you will be looking forward to going out and having fun. And your life will no longer be controlled by your anxieties.

All the best,


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