Gill Stannard

Monday, November 26, 2007

overcoming shyness


”The feeling of apprehension or lack of confidence experienced in regard to social association with others.”


Most of us have felt shy at some point, no matter how confident we appear. In the last few years shyness has gained a lot of attention, largely as a marketing ploy to reclassify this normal emotion as a “social anxiety disorder”. The point of medicalising a feeling as a ‘disorder’ is primarily to put another marketing spin on a common antidepressant drug. An excerpt from Christopher Lane’s “Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness” provides an eloquent rundown of the issue.

Shyness carries most of the hallmarks of anxiety – when in a social situation your heart may beat faster and your palms can become sweaty. Often you feel as if you have nothing worthwhile to say and there may be an over riding fear that people don’t really like you.

What can natural therapies offer to reduce shyness?

Flower essences: are similar to homeopathic remedies in that they are a ‘vibrational medicine’. The fact they are so dilute means you cannot overdose and are safe to use with children.

A common combination of Bach Flowers is “Rescue Remedy”. This is handy to take in any challenging situation where you’d really prefer to be anywhere but there. It is also used for general anxiety, stress and nervousness.

From the Flower Essence Society range is a favourite of mine, buttercup. Just like the modest flower that reflects a golden light, this essence helps boost self-confidence. Mallow is especially useful if you have trouble getting words out due to shyness or you over compensate verbally.

Herbs: Calming your nerves with herbs, rather than self-medicating on alcohol or other drugs is a sensible and healthier alternative. A strong cup of chamomile tea can help ease butterflies in the stomach, skullcap is a slight muscle relaxant helping you feel less tense but for severe shyness an anxiolytic like kava kava (available in most States in Australia as a tablet) is useful.

Food and drink: While one glass of alcohol may ‘calm your nerves’ when self-medicating to overcome shyness, a glass can quickly become a bottle and can feed your shyness by creating embarrassing situations that you wish you could forget. Likewise, caffeine can rev you up and make you even more adrenalised and stressed, which will heighten an anxious state.

Some experts suggest carbohydrates can be calming due to triggering a release of serotonin. Most comfort foods are rich in flour or sugar. While they may initially make us feel better, the blood sugar drop that may follow can have the opposite effect. Healthier, slow release carbs include nuts and seeds or a bowl of rolled oats.

Creative visualization: Just as the habit of negatively anticipating all the things that can go wrong when you are out in public can heighten your shyness, practicing a positive rehearsal on your way can have the opposite effect. Imagine feeling comfortable in the environment and finding the people there fascinating. Visualize feeling relaxed, listening to what others are saying and making eye contact.

Thinking yourself out of shyness

Cognitive behavioural therapy is a psychological tool, with the basis that our thoughts create our feelings and behaviours. Talk to a psychologist to find out whether this type of therapy suits you.

Hypnotherapy in many cases this is practiced by an accredited psychologist (which allows you to get a rebate with some private health insurers), which like CBT works on our thought patterns.

Remember many confident appearing people are really shy at heart. It just takes practice to develop new, positive oriented neural pathways.

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