How to Overcome Shyness and Anxiety

Shyness is common – some people seem to be permanently shy, others switch in and out of their shyness according to the situation.

Either way, it is possible to overcome shyness and the anxiety that often comes with that.

A lot of the suggestions I go into here apply regardless of the situation but there are also specific circumstances where I’ve gone into more detail relating to those areas.

General help to overcome shyness

There’s a lot to be said for a “fake it until you make it” attitude.

People react to how they perceive us – fortunately other people can’t see those anxious thoughts swirling around your head unless you vocalize them. That’s how a lot of entertainers work – inside, most of them will admit to being nervous before they step out on stage but once they’re out there, their public persona takes over and they exude confidence, at least to the outside world watching them.

If you can pull off that trick, you’re well on your way to being less shy and more outward going.

Mental rehearsal

One way to get better at appearing confident is called mental rehearsal. It’s what most top people in all sorts of fields do whether they tell you about it or not.

Mental rehearsal is similar to any other sort of rehearsal that you’re used to – learning your lines for a play, practicing a tune, even just revising for an exam – but you act out the whole scenario in your head.

You decide how you’re going to play your part in the scene (which will actually be real life) and think about how the other people you’re going to interact with are likely to react.

You can make your part in this as perfect as you’re able to. And you can run through different reactions and different scenarios to figure out how you’d react and answer. That way you’ve rehearsed (or revised) as many different possible outcomes as you can conceive.

And, of course, you can visualize yourself coming through the different options with your head held high.

Athletes regularly do this – they visualize hitting or catching the ball, running or whatever other thing their sport entails. They rehearse over and over again.

One of the best ways of doing this kind of rehearsal is before you go to sleep at night. That way your mind can play with the ideas and come up with even better ones whilst you’re sleeping.

Practice your small talk

Small talk greases most conversations in real life. The Brits notoriously make small talk about the weather and other countries have their own conventions for the “correct” topics to make small talk about.

In theory, small talk is mindless chatter. But it can actually make all the difference between a lively encounter and one where you’re working out the least controversial way to make a quick exit.

And actually there’s a lot to be said for being an active listener when you’re engaged in small talk. Active listening means just that: consciously listen to what the other person is saying, even to the extent of repeating back their words in your head. Rather than doing what most of us do which is concentrate on what we’re going to say next.

If you can be a good listener and have enough open questions rehearsed to re-start a conversation then people will seek you out and your shyness will gradually become a thing of the past. Open questions are just that – you ask something and the answer is wide open. They’re the kind of question you’ve likely been asked in a job interview where the interviewer wants to make sure that it’s near enough impossible to answer with a straightforward yes, no or maybe.

Of course, you don’t want to come across as being pushy or bossy so it’s unlikely you’d use interview type questions as conversation re-starters but you can find less controversial ones. That’s probably why the British like talking about the weather so much – everyone’s got an opinion on how wet or windy or sunny or chilly it’s been for the time of year. Of course, it helps that weather in the UK often changes at the drop of a hat and does things that aren’t “normal”. But there are similar topics that you’ll have more than a passing interest in that you can use to kindle small talk.

Another thing you can do is practice your small talk with strangers – cashiers are good for this because the time at the till is limited and there’s a definite start and end point already defined. Engaging random strangers in conversation is less socially acceptable but you could always play along with the charity muggers on the street so long as your wallet is firmly locked away.

Think about your body language

Body language can be quite subtle.

It could be the way you’re sitting or standing (crossed legs or arms can send off signals that you don’t want anyone to get too close).

It could be that you don’t easily make eye contact with the other person. You don’t need to be gazing into their eyes all the time (that can be disconcerting as well) but if you never make eye contact then that can come across as being shifty.

You also need to observe the other person’s personal space. If you get closer than they like and they seem to almost recoil when that happens, keep a larger distance between you.

This can vary from person to person, between different cultures and even depending on the event you’re at. So you have to learn to play this by ear.

If it’s customary to shake someone’s hand, make sure that you have a firm enough grip. If your handshake is a bit like gripping a lettuce leaf then that’s almost certainly going to be seen as a sign of weakness as well as shyness. At the opposite end of the spectrum it’s probably not a good idea to use a vice like grip.

And shaking hands isn’t an endurance sport unless you’re making odd television shows:


Be present and mindful

This can take a bit of practice but being present is a good place to be.

What that means is that you should place your full attention on what’s happening now rather than letting your mind drift.

If you’ve ever been on a journey where you’re not quite sure what happened between leaving and arriving, your mind was drifting. Which can be a good thing on something like a long flight or a boring car journey where you’re just the passenger. But it’s rarely a good thing when you need to mix with other people.

Being present or mindful can help you when you’re in a situation where you’d normally feel shy or awkward.

Your full attention is on what’s happening right now and that almost automatically means that you’ll react better to other people, even if that’s not your normal state.

Coupled with active listening, this can boost your confidence and help you deal with situations where you’d normally exhibit your shyness and be constantly on the lookout for the first kind-of acceptable way to get as close as possible to vanishing into thin air.

How to overcome shyness at work

Work conversations can be awkward at the best of times.

You don’t necessarily choose your work colleagues and there’s nothing to say that you should have anything in common with them or get on with them.

Which means that it’s not unusual for people to literally shy away from workplace interactions as much as possible. Email has made that a lot easier to do but that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.

Have a few ice breakers up your sleeve

If lots of your colleagues are interested in sport, set up an alert so you get notified when things happen so that you can casually ask about things or commiserate if a result hasn’t gone the right way for them. You can be a self-professed ignorer of sports and still get away with this. Or you can make your ignorance public knowledge – I tend to answer along the lines of “I know football exists…”

It’s reasonably easy to stay up to date on current affairs or local happenings. But it’s probably best to steer clear of politics or religion unless you know people really well.

Don’t judge

If you’re shy, it’s easy to come across as though you’re being aloof or above situation. In turn, that can mean that people think you’re judging them.

Keep any criticisms in your head or maybe for the work review that so many places put you through.

You can sit on the fence with your answers and comments. Some people will spot that and will accuse you of never having an opinion but that’s probably better most of the time than expressing an opinion that’s too radical.

At meetings, contribute early

People tend to remember the earlier contributions more than later ones – partly because our attention span drifts. If you speak up early, other people get a chance to add to your comments. And if the person who’s running the meeting keeps “score” in any way, you’re less likely to get picked on later in the meeting with a “what do you think” kind of question which can sometimes put even the most confident person into a deer in headlights mode.

The easiest way to do this is to check the agenda of the meeting beforehand. Most workplace meetings have some kind of agenda, whether it’s published or not. You can then contribute something that’s relevant and on-topic. If you’ve had chance to check one or two relevant facts and figures as well, so much the better as your colleagues will start to view you as being informed.

Don’t wait until you’re perfect

Perfectionism is an enemy in a lot of things in life.

Partly because no-one is perfect, no matter how much they try to tell you otherwise.

Most of the time – and especially when you’re feeling shy about interacting with other people at work – being perfect isn’t needed. Sure, there are times when you need to check calculations but they’re usually a special case.

For most things that involve talking with other people, good enough is most definitely good enough.

Apart from anything else, most other people at work won’t be dissecting what you say to the Nth degree. Unless you’re really putting your foot in it, being close enough to perfect is fine.

How to overcome shyness at the gym

It’s easy to be shy when you visit the gym, especially if you’ve not been working out for long.

You look around and it seems as though everyone else is fitter and buffer than you.

In your mind, everyone is bulging muscles and sporting six packs.

Remember the gym staff are there to help

Gym staff are naturally concerned that you’re using the equipment correctly so if it looks as though you’re struggling or putting yourself under undue pressure, don’t be surprised if they approach you to help you get a better result.

And equally don’t be shy about asking them for help. Unless it’s their first day at the job, you’re not the first person they’ve encountered who’s shy. Whether that’s because their flabbiness is more than expected, they get out of breath fast or the controls on a machine are different from the ones you’re used to.

So asking a member of the gym staff – and listening to their answers – is a good idea no matter what your level of experience.

Remember most people aren’t watching you

Most people who go to a gym either go their to work out or some of them go for the social experience with some friends.

Either way, unless you’re wearing some really inappropriate gym kit – for instance, I wouldn’t advise wearing something like this – then they’ll probably vaguely notice you, maybe nod in your direction and that’s about it.

You may get a bit more interaction if there’s a jacuzzi – that’s the time to practice your small talk again – or when you’re rinsing the sweat off in the shower after your session. But it’s highly unlikely you’ll be the center of attention.

It’s not like the memories you may have from school where the unpopular kids were picked on and that seemed to be especially the case when physical activity was involved. Most gyms charge a fee which weeds out the type of person who bullies or intimidates and if that hasn’t stopped anything from happening and you get some unwanted attention, have a word with the staff and they’ll be able to smooth things over.

Make sure you have a plan ahead of time

You should know your fitness aim before you set out for the gym. In turn, that should tell you which workouts you’re going to do and the approximate order you’re going to do them in.

Your plan will affect which pieces of equipment you use and quite often the programs or intervals you select as well.

If you’ve gone to the gym at a busy time, having a plan will allow you to skip one machine until there’s a slot available rather than standing there, looking self conscious.

And don’t be afraid to check with the gym staff or even your fellow gym users. You can pick up lots of small but useful tips just for breaking out of your shell for long enough to say “hi” and ask a simple question or two.

Most people at a gym are there for the same reason as you are – to get fitter and live a longer, healthier life.

How to overcome shyness at parties

Parties are supposed to be fun.

That’s the message all the movies send us.

So how come you’re always the one who’s in the kitchen at parties?


Most of these tips also apply to other ad-hoc events such as business networking meetings (which are actually quite similar to parties in a lot of ways).

Get to the party early

Whilst your instinct may be to arrive as late as is socially acceptable, the opposite is almost always a better option.

If there are only a handful of guests at the party when you arrive, you’re almost automatically one of the people that new arrivals will at least say “hello” to and you can strike up a conversation or at the very least introduce them to the other people there. Of course, that second option means that you’ll need to remember people’s names but that’s a lot easier when there aren’t many names to remember.

Find groups with uneven numbers

This almost always works.

“Two’s company, three’s a crowd” is true in a lot of situations and you can usually bank on one person being side-lined if there’s a group of three people chatting whether it’s at a party or any similar gathering.

Join the bunch of people with an odd number and there’s a good chance that you’ll hit it off with whoever is quietest in the group you’ve just joined. Because they’re probably shy as well.

Smile more often

Smiling makes you seem more approachable.

It really is that simple.

If you’re not convinced, try it. You can practice on random strangers before you smile at people you maybe know at parties.

You can also smile when you’re offering to top someone’s drink up (almost always a good ice breaker) or accompany them to the snacks area so neither of you feel out of place. There’s safety in numbers.

How to overcome shyness in college

When you first start college, it seems like almost everyone is a stranger.

That can lead to you engaging self protection mode and letting shyness be the excuse for not interacting with other people.

Take it in small steps

Chances are that you’re sitting next to people in class unless you’ve deliberately sought out the most distant place in the room (and if that’s the case, realize that it was a conscious decision to do that, get out of your comfort zone and choose somewhere else to sit next time).

Chat with the people sitting close to you – even if it’s just “hi” to start with.

And modify the age-old trick of knocking on a neighbor’s door to borrow a cup of sugar – borrow a different color pen (if you’re taking notes by hand) or in a natural break in class casually ask about something that you missed or didn’t quite catch or that isn’t totally clear to you.

Or ask for help in the library from one of your fellow students – you might end up with a study partner and could gradually get introduced to other people they know.

Talk to other people

Most colleges have experienced staff on hand to help you.

That could be an informal set-up, a chat with one of your tutors or an academic advisor or a fellow student. Most colleges have students who volunteer to help first year students adjust to college life.

Remember that you’re in an unfamiliar environment but that you’ll gradually get used to it in the same way you did when you went to junior or high school.

Casually approaching other loners – without seeming overbearing – can be another way to slowly overcome your shyness.

You can guarantee that you’re not the only shy student on campus. Seeking out another shy student and slowly overcoming your shyness – maybe even as a gentle competition – can be a great way to reduce the anxiety you’re feeling.

Join a club or society

There are clubs and societies for almost every hobby and fascination.

And they’re not all full of jocks and other permanently confident people.

By definition, you’ve got a common interest with the other people in the club. That gives you an automatic ice breaker to start up some form of conversation.

And there’s nothing wrong with admitting that you’re shy and introverted either – most people have been at that stage some time in their life and will recognize what it’s like. And most people will go out of their way to be helpful – sometimes the helpfulness can be a bit over-bearing but if that’s the case, don’t be afraid to speak up and ask them to tone things down a bit.

Of course, if you’re feeling really adventurous, you could choose to join a society that really pushes your comfort zone. But I’ll leave you do decide whether or not you’re comfortable doing that.

Overcoming shyness with strangers

Shyness with strangers is almost built in to us from an early age – we’re warned not to talk to strangers, not to accept candy from them and definitely not to accept a lift from them. It makes a lot of sense for children to be wary of strangers.

But it’s really no wonder that as we get older those instructions stay with us, even if they can mean that we’re shy when we meet people we don’t know.

If possible, prepare for the encounter

A lot of the time we know in advance that we’ll be meeting a stranger.

It could be in a job interview. although the dynamic for that can be a bit different there’s still the potential for shyness to kick in and the words to stubbornly refuse to come out of your mouth.

But it’s more likely some other kind of meeting.

Most people find that formal, relatively structured, meetings are easier to cope with because of the infrastructure and the expectations involved.

So do your homework – find out a bit about the stranger you’re meeting. There’s a lot of ways you can silently stalk people on the web – Twitter and Facebook spring to mind, LinkedIn can leave a trail but if it’s a business meeting you’ve got the perfect excuse that you were doing your homework.

Obviously you’ll need to be a bit careful what you talk about in case the other person thinks you’ve been prying but you could casually ask if they’re interested in a particular sport or whatever. If their interests are reasonably common you may even share one or two, if they’re less common keep your questions more generic unless you want to give away that you’ve been researching them.

Give a compliment

Unless your meeting is with someone who looks like they’ve just been dragged through a hedge backwards, there’s almost certainly something you can compliment them on.

Even if it’s their brave choice of those particularly loud socks. Although staring at the floor probably isn’t a good idea, so something like a tie or a shirt would be a better choice.

Compliments are quite infectious and they help to lighten the mood.

If you’re really feeling awkward and shy, you could always say that you’re normally too shy to do this kind of thing but you really felt you had to on this occasion. Obviously you’d need to remember you’ve used that excuse subsequent times you met the person but by then you should have broken the ice and be able to talk to them without wanting to curl up into ball and vanish.

Use strangers as practice

I’ve mentioned this earlier – cashiers in shops, waitresses in restaurants, all of them are fair game to be used as practice. They’re used to short conversations with random people so they won’t be fazed if you’re yet another person to do so.

Asking for directions is another option – it takes a bit longer to give directions that it does to give the time of day (and if your phone is visible you’ve got a clock available anyway). Or you could maybe try to tap into some local knowledge – where’s the best place to grab a bite to eat or a drink.

If you’ve got access to a dog – maybe one owned by a friend – take it for a walk. For some reason, dog walkers seem automatically more chatty than other people you pass. And so long as the dog is friendly it’s an excellent ice breaker to start a conversation.

Stop listening to that noisy voice in your head

We all have voices in our heads at some stage or another. Not just those movies where you hear what the character is thinking.

Most of us allow that voice to talk to us in a tone that we wouldn’t tolerate if the words were spoken out loud.

Practice quietening that voice – a mindfulness approach can be good for this.

And if all else fails, tell the voice exactly where to go and what to do. Remembering to keep the instruction in you head otherwise people around you will get the wrong idea.

How to overcome shyness in bed

Shyness in bed is perfectly normal.

You’re at your most vulnerable – probably naked or close to that – so there are very few places to hide.

It’s probably not helping that your mind has been over-actively thinking about the occasion for longer than you’d care to admit.

Make sure you’re in comfortable surroundings

The back seat of a car might look a good idea in the movies but it’s rarely the best place for a romantic encounter.

On top of all the other pressures that you’re thinking about, you add in the possibility of being seen as well as the fact that it’s not exactly the most comfortable place for an intimate encounter.

Far better to use a bedroom complete with bed, blankets, drapes (if you want to use the cover of darkness to hide your shyness) and somewhere to freshen up.

You can always progress to more adventurous locations if you and your partner think that would be a good idea. But by that time you’ll be more confident and feel less under pressure for whatever reason.

Stop being body conscious

Our clothes do a good job of hiding the imperfections in our bodies.

Whether that’s a birth mark that’s been with you forever or whether it’s more skin and fat than you’d like (maybe even to the extent that you’d prefer the room didn’t have mirrors).

But it’s your body and it’s how you look at the moment.

Hopefully your partner isn’t just being superficial – if they are, you may need to reconsider your choice. We all get older and looks typically get worse as we age.

Just chill as much as you can. Turn the lights off if you really have to. And be aware that you’re in this position because the two of you have some kind of attraction to each other.

It’s unlikely that attraction will vanish completely when you’re both next to each other, literally in the flesh. But if it does then maybe the relationship either isn’t meant to be or maybe it’s just meant to be friends rather than friends with benefits.

Talk through your shyness with your partner

Men especially feel that they are under pressure to “perform” no matter what.

As your relationship progresses, your partner will get to understand you better. But for the first few encounters there can be more pressure than you’d care to admit to live up to the stereotypes you’ve seen.

This is happening more with easy access to adult movies where the actors are always ready, always last for an impossible amount of time and where both parties are better endowed than the majority of people you’ll meet in real life.

Remember that adult movies are entertainment and that the actors in them have been chosen for various attributes (not usually much to do with their acting skills). Like the stars you see elsewhere on the screen, they’ve been carefully vetted and chosen. And there were lots more who didn’t make the grade.

Incidentally, talking through your shyness may or may not involve talking dirty or talking about your fantasies.

Be yourself as much as you possibly can – after all, there’s not much you can hide when you’re laid down next to your partner, skin on skin.

Or you could just stay quiet and say that you’re enjoying the moment.