Shy or socially anxious?

Many people are shy. In contemporary American culture, shyness has become somewhat of a detriment, as we are encouraged to speak up, network, and put ourselves out there. Shyness and social anxiety are on a continuum of human experiences and it may be difficult to draw the line. A shy person may feel nervous before going to a dinner party but she will give herself a little nudge, do it anyway, and be able to enjoy herself and others.

However, a person with a social anxiety disorder will worry a lot before going to a party, will experience a sense of terrible fear and physical symptoms like lightheadedness, sweating, nausea, stomachache, will draw a blank when talking to another person, and will try to avoid going to similar events. Usually people with this disorder are afraid of being humiliated, worry about others’ perceptions of themselves, and are very sensitive to criticism. They may wonder: “What if I say something stupid? I hope no one notices that I’m tense. I hope I’m not over/under-dressed,” etc. Those who experience this degree of discomfort in social settings may end up dropping out of school, passing up on job promotions, or severely limiting their social interactions.

Therapy and sometimes medication can be incredibly helpful if you feel this way. If you are not ready to come in for therapy, here are several ideas which may help you cope with your anxiety on your own: 1) Prepare to relax – do a deep-breathing exercise for 15 minutes before leaving your house; 2) Seek out social situations – to relearn and to practice simply being around other people; 3) Focus your attention outward not inward – for example pay attention to the way the place is decorated; 4) Prepare and ask people questions which require more than a yes or no answer; 5) Remind yourself that socially confident people also make lame jokes and embarrass themselves at times, it is how fast you can recover and enjoy that part of you that’s important.

More of these ideas are listed on this easy-to-read and humorous website:

Interesting new findings about stress

From my experience and Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne’s article Six Best-Kept Secrets About Stress”, here are several points you may find helpful in understanding and coping with stress.

1. Stress is in the mind of the beholder – Stress means different things for different people. Even joyous events such as a vacation or a wedding may be extremely stressful for many. An event which may be very stressful for me, for example, taking SAT, may not be for you, as you may strive on taking exams.

2. Stress creates more stress – we can create or make our stressful situations worse by the way we handle everyday life situations.

3. A bad mood in the morning really can ruin your day – A study of customer service representatives showed that those employees who started their day in a bad mood actually rated their customers more negatively, and after talking to a customer who displayed negative mood the employees were less productive.

4. You sleep more poorly when you are stressed – a study of teachers found that on days when they felt highly stressed, they had poor sleep quality, felt more tired, had more trouble waking up in the morning, and performed worse on tests of cognitive functioning.

5. People whose jobs require them to be “nice” regardless how they feel experience more stress – receptionists, greeters, waitpersons may feel burdened by having to put on a false front day after day. Researchers suggest that learning how to feel more compassionate may change your point of view and feel less aggravated by customers.

6. Bullying does not concern only children – bullying at workplace is a major source of stress for adults. Social isolation, direct harassment, intimidating behavior, work-related criticism, and physical violence are all very stressful.