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Overcoming Shyness and Social Anxiety
By David Z. Pfeffer, LCSW EMDR / January 1, 2013

When I was younger, I was very shy and apprehensive of new social situations. Having spent my freshman year of college away from home, I had to learn to quickly overcome it, unless I intended to spend the next four years in social isolation.

Many experience social anxiety or shyness at some point in their lives. Over the years, by utilizing some basic strategies, my anxiety diminished and my self-confidence increased. These strategies can also work for you.

As humans, everyone craves social interaction on some level. Shyness and social anxiety, however, may cause an individual to withdraw from situations in which they are around strangers.

Everyone, from children entering their first day of pre-school to senior citizens joining a new social group, has to determine how to deal with the stress of these situations. With each new situation, people create ideas in their mind of how interactions will be played out.
When someone experiences feelings of being shy, it is one's own internal defense mechanism to resist interacting with others out of fear of being judged. This results in becoming overly aware of every action, creating an unwillingness to allow others in even for a small amount of time out of fear of criticism. I overcame these feelings by taking a genuine interest in those around me, shifting my attention away from my own feelings of insecurity.

If this does not work for you, exercises that help you to stand back, observe your environment for a few minutes, and get a feeling for the tone of the situation may be beneficial. Observe others you know in social situations and utilize the techniques they employ which work with your personality. Don't read too deeply into people's body language. Higher anxiety levels can equate to simple gestures being easily misunderstood. Take what people are saying at face value, especially if it is the first time meeting them.

It is especially important to work with children in overcoming social anxiety. Before experiencing an unfamiliar new situation, parents need to create a welcoming environment for their children. Children are more affected by their home environment than adults, and look for cues from their parents on how to act; even when parents don't think they are watching. Modeling confident behaviors will be with them even when their parents are not around.

When preparing a child for a new situation, be sure to let them know what a positive experience they will have, and be open to answer their questions in a positive way. Children, just as adults, have a preconceived notion of what their social situations will be. It becomes an opportunity to help them formulate a positive outlook before they get where they are going.

It is important to have a person in your life you can trust to talk to about your feelings. Often, a licensed mental health professional can assist you in overcoming anxiety and shyness, so it will no longer affect your interpersonal, social, and academic well-being.

David Z. Pfeffer, LCSW EMDR Therapist, is an individual Family therapist in Margate and Boca Raton Florida, with specialties in Senior, Child, and Trauma Counseling




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