Expert’s Tips on how to overcome shyness in times when the pandemic is making us more socially anxious and shy

As we plunged into yet another lockdown, our collective mood has taken a steep nosedive, along with our desire and ability to interact with other people! Masks, social distancing, isolation, fear, uncertainty and stress. We are more disconnected than ever before. It’s no wonder social anxiety and shyness is on the rise. I’ve asked expert Nadia Finer to provide top tips on how to overcome shyness.

“Recent research from Nick Jr. UK for Blue’s Clues & You! found

  • 20% of kids had become more shy since the pandemic
  • 35% of parents are worried their children won’t know how to interact with other children due to pandemic restrictions.
  • 60% of parents believe lack of playdates due to continued lockdown and tier regulations had affected their child’s confidence
  • 36% noticed their child had become clingier

Shy kids struggle to speak up in class, to get involved in activities, to make friends, to put themselves forward, to perform, to compete. The list goes on! They miss out on fun. They miss out on opportunities. They are overlooked, ignored and side-lined. It’s like they’re living their lives in the background .

And it’s not just children. Adults too are feeling the effects.

In the research I conducted into shyness and lockdown,

54% said that since the pandemic, being around lots of people and noise makes them feel overwhelmed

54% said they could feel themselves withdrawing socially

It’s a strange and scary time.

At first glance, you might think that being holed up at home is a shy person’s dream. Not socialising, all safe and snug.

But, the constant sense of uncertainty and the feeling out of control has had an impact on our mental health. We’re living in a heightened state of anxiety, with every news update adding to our jitters. It’s no wonder we are tempted to self soothe by eating and drinking our way through it.

The fact that there is so much scary stuff happening in the world that we have no control over, can make us feel overwhelmed and powerless. Being snuggled up at home in our little bubbles helps to make us feel safer. But, going back out into the world feels scarier than it did before.

Shy people have a tendency withdraw and hide. Lockdown has given us the perfect cover. We are actively discouraged from going out, from socialising in groups and from going to new places. What a great excuse! Being around people feels even stranger than it did before.

Spending so much time at home is isolating, and for many people colleagues are a lifeline and a big source of social interaction. When this is taken away, it can lead to feelings of isolation and depression.

I’ve had clients tell me that they feel like they’ve got so out of practice being sociable, it’s like they’ve forgotten how to be and act around others. And now, there’s a real possibility that getting close to other people could make you sick or even kill you! Shy people already found human interactions tricky, and now the added dimension of a pandemic, has made us even more anxious and fearful.  It’s no wonder shy people are withdrawing more and more.

The emphasis on zoom meetings has been easier in some ways for shy people, because interacting in groups online feels less intimidating than in real life. However, for many of my clients, it’s become even easier to hide away and avoid contributing to conversations, particularly for work.

Video calls can be harder to navigate in many ways than face to face interactions, because we are so focused on seeing our own face. When you talk to someone normally, you look at them, not at yourself! It can also feel rather overwhelming when everyone is talking at the same time. Instead of solely relying on Zoom, get back into the habit of speaking to people you care about on the phone. Voice only calls are in many ways more personal and intimate, and we are less likely to get distracted or feel self-conscious about the way we look.

Shy people often feel like they need to wear a metaphorical mask in order to cover up their shyness and also to help them play a role so that they are better able to succeed. Now, we are all actively encouraged to wear real masks, shy people are able to walk around hiding from plain view, and I think for many people wearing a mask gives them the chance to become invisible.

And for those of us who prefer to hide in the background, it’s easier than ever before. We have much less contact and conversation with teachers and managers. Online lessons and meetings are online making it possible for us to turn off our camera, and hide away.

And the more we hide, the less anyone notices we’re missing. Parents, teachers and managers are preoccupied and stressed, meaning they’re a lot less likely to notice what’s really going on.

“All the new social rules and possible shaming by others makes me feel more shy”

“Being around people just seems weird now!”

“Although I’m looking forward to seeing people I feel I can’t be myself due to social distancing.”

“Right now, it feels safer to be alone.”

“The fact I haven’t been out in so long is making me feel apprehensive”

“The signs of stress and fatigue are really starting to show. I can feel my stress in my lower arms. It’s like a mild irritation.”

“I reckon most people will be dealing with some level of PTSD after this is all over. It’s been very traumatic, either overtly or sublimely.”

More generally, shyness impacts our prospects and our happiness.

I surveyed 20,000 people and discovered that,

  • Shy people are half as likely to be happy than outgoing people. (4.9% vs 9.4%)
  • Outgoing people are more than twice as likely than shy people to have a household income of over £100K (1.4% vs 3.5.%)
  • Outgoing people are nearly 1.45 times (45%) more likely than shy people to work in a higher managerial role

I spoke to over 2000 shy adults and discovered that their shyness had caused them to

  • Avoid conflict and difficult conversations (56%)
  • Not stand up for themselves (47%)
  • Skip social events and seeing friends (46%)
  • Not share ideas and opinions (40%)
  • Hide away at home (34%)
  • Keep achievements to themselves (28%)
  • Miss out on dating opportunities (27%)
  • Avoid asking for a pay-rise (20%)
  • Miss out on promotions work (16%

 

TOP TIPS

TALK ABOUT SHYNESS

Shyness is not a shameful secret for people to mask and hide. Let’s start a conversation and make it easier for shy people to express how they’re feeling. If you get a sense that someone you’re close to is shy, start a conversation and invite them to share their experience and fears, so that you can better understand and support them.

TRY SOMETHING NEW

As our worlds contract, so does our comfort zone. Spending a lot of time in the same place, with the same people, doing the same stuff, can make it harder for us to venture out. Our comfort zone can shrink to the size of a hula hoop – the crisp, not the sporting kind. So, even when we are restricted in the things we can do, challenge yourself to do something new each week. What could you try? A new sport? Or activity? Walk an untrodden path? Learn a new craft? Wear something new? Trying new things, facing a little bit of fear, keeps you pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. It helps you to expand your life. You can come back to the sofa afterwards; you just don’t want to get stuck there forever!

CREATE THE CONDITIONS

Instead of feeling like a victim of circumstance, let’s take control of our lives and create conditions that work for us. For example, if you’re struggling with online lessons, suggest a one to one catch up over the phone with your teacher. If you find it hard to get a word in during remote meetings, suggest to your manager that you submit your ideas after each meeting. If you find endless zoom quizzes and socials draining and overwhelming, look for alternative things to do, for example a treasure hunts, or art class.  It feels good to be in control!

SHIFT THE FOCUS

All this stress and uncertainty is having an impact on our wellbeing.  Shifting the focus away from our own mood and situation and thinking about others can help to perk you up. Bake brownies for your elderly neighbours, offer to help with the shopping, or dog walking, or gardening. Our worst worries, fear, paralysis, behaviours and mindsets occur when we are focused inward—on ourselves. When we are thinking about helping others, there is less room for our own worries and anxieties to take over.

CHOOSE CONTROL

When it feels like everything is out of our control, seek comfort in the things you can control. We don’t know when schools are going back, or when we might be able to go out for dinner again, or when it will ever stop raining, when hairdressers will be able to open, or when this pesky virus will be gone for good. Instead of fixating on these things, focus instead on things within our control, like painting the bathroom, organizing your books alphabetically, starting  vegetable patch, watching every episode of Friends, painting your nails in intricate designs.  

FIND YOUR VOICE

Shyness makes us want to hide away. It can make it hard to speak up. So much goes unspoken. Look for different ways to express yourself, privately, without worrying about judgement or perfection. Write a journal, start a book of doodles, learn to crochet, sing in the shower – choose something that feels easy and fun for you.

WRAP UP AND GET OUT

We are allowed to meet up with one other person outside. (For now!) Admittedly, that does seem very limiting. But it’s better than nothing. Wrap up warm, take a brolly and challenge yourself to go and meet someone every day. Walking and talking is an easy way to keep your social skills working – there’s something about chatting without having to worry about eye contact that feels really comfortable.

COMFORT AND WARMTH

During stressful times, seek solace in things that are cosy and familiar. You might find yourself reconnecting with old friends, seeking out long lost toys, your old favourite clothes or re-watching programmes you’ve seen lots of times. Enjoy the feeling of safety these things bring you.

ONLINE CHAT

You might not like your kids relying on gaming or Instagram to chat to their friends. They may be shouting and screaming at their mates on Fortnite or communicating via GIFs, which may not be your cup of tea, but they are at least talking to people. Sure, you’d rather they were doing something more constructive. But for now, it’s giving them a line of communication and connection to friends. And these are unprecedented times!

FUN MOMENTS

It’s easy to slip into survival mode and start finding everyone and everything irritating and annoying. Try to find some common ground and something you can enjoy together e.g. doing PE with Joe Wicks each day, or walking the dog, or doing some gardening, or cooking dinner. Make a little routine. Something where you can take a few minutes to talk to each other, check in with each other and see how things are going.

 

WHAT I’D LIKE TO SEE GOING FORWARDS

SHYNESS IS MISUNDERSTOOD 

Shyness is not discussed in schools, or in the workplace, or anywhere really! It’s not surprising really, because our voice is missing from the conversation.

As a result, parents and teachers struggle to understand shyness. Neither the parents or the teachers are equipped properly with how to handle kids who refuse to take part or speak up. Shy kids are often seen as antisocial, aloof, or disengaged. It can be frustrating for parents and teachers, and of course for shy kids who are constantly being plonked in difficult situations or told in no uncertain terms, to “stop being shy!”

 

WHEN SHY PEOPLE ARE SILENT, WE ALL MISS OUT

In a culture where the loudest voices are dominant, quieter people stay quiet, and their brilliant ideas and thoughts are lost. Unless they feel safe and supported, shy people will continue to hide, and the silent potential in our society will stay silenced.

But, in order to solve the trickiest problems and generate the best ideas, we need a mixture of personalities and preferences- particularly in challenging times.  We need a range of voices… in team meetings, boardrooms, surgical theatres, plane cockpits, building sites.

That is why, I am calling on the government to add shyness to the PSHE curriculum – as a crucial part of the mental health and wellbeing module. I’d like to be able to train all teachers and managers in shyness.. So that they can better understand how to support shy people. I offer a range of coaching services for adults and kids who are struggling with shyness. Head over to www.shyandmighty.com to find out more, and to book in for a free consultation.”

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