There’s nothing wrong with being shy.
But if your shyness is ruining your life, you may have a disorder called social anxiety. And if so, take heart: it’s often reversible.
“Anxiety is a normal experience and some social anxiety is normal,” says Dr. John Walker (PhD), a clinical psychologist at the University of Manitoba. “You start to call it a disorder when it is interfering in your life and causing a lot of distress.”
When does shyness cross the line into social anxiety?
“It often interferes with relationships, social life and careers,” says Walker, who wrote Triumph Over Shyness: Conquering Shyness & Social Anxiety.
Social anxiety is more common than you think. About 7 per cent of people have it.
“It is one of the most common emotional health issues in the community,” he says.
There are two ages of peak onset. One is by age three — these are kids who have struggled with shyness their whole life.
The other is after puberty when kids are developing social awareness and interest in romantic partners.
No need to fear your problem
The good news about social anxiety, says Walker, is that a lot of research has been done in the last 15 years into understanding, diagnosing and treating social anxiety disorder.
A good start is reading about the problem; there are self-help books available. You can go to anxietycanada.ca to learn about the disorder and order books that have been screened by experts.
If necessary, find a good counselor. You can look under psychology in your phone book, or ask your family doctor for a referral. Therapists use cognitive behavioral therapy to treat social anxiety disorder. Though each case is different,
“We’ve seen dramatic changes in six-eight sessions,” says Walker. Medication is also available, but he warns most people don’t stay on it, as it causes side effects.
Signs you have social anxiety
- You want to take more education, but you have to choose all your courses based on not giving presentations.
- Someone asks you over and you say no.
- You are invited to a party but don’t go.
- It is difficult to form new friendships.
- You have trouble dating.
- You always have to have a few drinks before going out.
How to cope with social anxiety
Four steps to help understand and deal with a social anxiety disorder:
- Understand your anxiety pattern: Become aware of the things you do
(avoid making presentations, saying no to friends) that are
- Thoughts: Change how you handle your thoughts in anxiety-provoking
situations. Instead of wondering what others think of you, tell
yourself to be a good listener.
- Behaviour: Take small steps toward changing your behavior. Meet
someone for lunch, even if it makes you anxious. Decide to be friendly
and interested in people.
- Accept it: Accept anxious feelings as you move toward your goals.