In the digital age of remote work, meditation classes, and near-instant communication, it can be difficult to make genuine connections with the people around us. For those on the more extreme end of the shyness spectrum, overwhelming anxiety can make the thought of even just introducing ourselves to fellow park-goers or ordering takeout from an unfamiliar restaurant a paralyzing prospect. To make matters worse, virtual connections can’t compare to the comfort and confidence a real social interaction provides.
If that’s how you feel then you’re not alone. An estimated 20% of Americans suffer from social anxiety and around 40% of adults report having struggled with shyness at some point in their life. The highly individualized symptoms range from anxiousness in crowds to a fear of speaking up in meetings, but fortunately, the medical community offers treatments in the form of therapy or medication. While these are viable options to overcoming shyness and building social confidence, there are additional steps you can take right now to start putting yourself out there.
The first step is simply to take a deep breath and acknowledge that you have nothing to lose. Remember that everybody else is feeling just as awkward and self-conscious as you are. Once that’s out of the way, the more difficult part becomes establishing genuine relationships. Reaching out can be intimidating, and for most, giving compliments to strangers is the last thing we want to do – which is why small talk is the perfect icebreaker. Start up conversations with your barista, shop assistants and bus driver, and actively listen to what they have to say. It's better when your interactions serve a shared purpose, like when someone helps you find something in the store or teaches you how to use the bus system. Long-term relationships are often based on these kind of situational interactions.
When it comes to dating, social media can be a great tool for connecting with people who share your interests or living in close proximity. Asking if someone wants to grab coffee or meet up for a walk is far less intimidating than asking them on a date right off the bat. Swipe-based apps can also offer an easy way to introduce yourself and even out the playing field since the conversation requires both people to make the first move. Even if meeting someone in person seems impossible at the moment, virtual dates are commonplace and provide an opportunity to get to know someone when setting boundaries is easier.
One of the biggest components of confidenece in all relationships is feeling secure. To that end, trust is paramount and needs to be earned. It's important to take each step in the process at a speed that is comfortable for both parties and accept rejections gracefully. Once built, trust opens the door to messier topics and builds a solid foundation for communication.
Although loneliness is a legitimate symptom of social anxiety that zaps your energy and, in more severe cases, can be debilitating, it's important to remain patient when it comes to forging lasting relationships. Not everyone will stick around, but ultimately it isn't about the number of relationships you have – it’s about the quality of the relationships, so focus on the ones with mutual respect and connection. And don't forget about your first relationship with yourself – practice healthy habits that foster self-confidence, start a gratitude journal, learn to disconnect from electronics regularly, or go for a walk every day – whatever it takes to show yourself the love and care you need in order to love and care for others.
Strength can be found in vulnerability and talking through our fears is the only way to grow. With this in mind, find the people that make you feel strong and safe, practice active listening and communicate honestly to form genuine relationships, and always remember that you’ll never truly know how much a connection means until you give it a chance. Overcoming shyness will come in due time, but life is too short to miss out on valuable connections as you wait.
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