6 Ways to Free Yourself from Social Anxiety and Shyness

Anxious Man

“Dont hide yourself. Stand up, keep your head high, and show them what you got!” ~ Joe Mari Fadrigalan

Do you struggle with social anxiety or shyness?

Is this anxiety affecting multiple areas of your life?

Are you yearning to break free from feeling isolated?

Like many people, I was shy as a kid. But I wasn’t just shy—I was painfully shy. I would avoid social situations like the plague. And I barely spoke because I stuttered.

My shyness followed me well into adulthood. I stayed away from social situations, fearing the embarrassment of stumbling in my speech. But even as my speech improved, I was always on guard and still felt awkward in social settings.

Then, I met a man who helped me change how I approached my fears. Tom had a stutter much more severe than mine, but it did not stop him from interacting with people. I was amazed by his courage and seeming lack of self-concern as he introduced himself to me.

We chatted for a bit, and he left an impression on me that I would never forget. He couldn’t stop his stutter, but he wouldn’t let it stop him from talking.

Reflecting on this experience taught me some valuable lessons about how to overcome shyness. These can work for you too (even if you don’t stutter):

1. Acknowledge the fear.

A common fear for shy people is the fear of what others may think about them. For me, my concern was the way I spoke. But it could be something else, such as a concern over your physical features or intelligence.

Tom could have easily been afraid of how he appeared to me as he introduced himself. If he was, it didn’t stop him from engaging me in conversation. I knew that to follow his example, I would first need to acknowledge my own fears of how I appeared to others when I spoke.

You may be tempted to discount your feelings or try to ignore them. But the more you try, the more the anxiety grows. The first step to freedom is to acknowledge the fear, as silly or inconsequential as that seems.

When you do, something interesting will happen; you’ll realize that you’re likely more concerned about your own quirks than other people are. This will give you the strength and courage to begin moving past them.

2. Accept embarrassment.

Yes, it’s painful. Nobody likes to embarrass themselves in public, but it will happen.

As a stutterer, I’ve felt incredibly embarrassed because of my speech on many occasions. I would be flowing along as I spoke only to be hit with blocked speech. Some episodes were so bad that I would appear to be suffering from convulsions.

Needless to say, this made me wary of speaking in public; I was too afraid of embarrassing myself. But Tom didn’t seem to have this problem at all. It made me wonder, “What if I accepted the potential for embarrassment rather than hide from it?”

The more I opened up myself to potentially embarrassing situations, the more courageous and resilient I felt.

This can happen to you too if you are willing to experience the greatest fear holding you back from interacting with other people.

Think about the worst-case scenario. Is it a life or death situation? If not, you will recover, and you’ll be stronger for it. You’ll more easily enter conversations rather than sit on the sidelines.

3. Challenge your perceptions.

We place many unreasonable expectations on ourselves when entering social interactions. Somehow, we believe that social conventions call for a person to be highly intelligent, witty, and entertaining in all their conversations.

I tried to be all these things to all people in the past—and I failed miserably because I was not being myself. I was trying to be what I thought others wanted me to be. Instead of choosing to be fluent or silent, Tom chose to be himself.

His powerful example caused me to ask myself, “Would I hold others to the same ridiculous standards I was holding myself to?” Probably not.

Do you believe you need to be intelligent, witty, and entertaining in all your social interactions? Challenge those perceptions.

Most people can see right through fake encounters. Just be yourself. People will appreciate you for who you are. And if they don’t, you’ll likely never see them again (or won’t see them for a long time). So, don’t worry about it.

4. Focus on others.

As I chatted with Tom, I noticed how much he encouraged me to talk about myself. I got the impression that he was sincerely interested in me and my story.

He helped me realize how hyper-focused I was on myself and on what others might (or might not) think about me. To break the spell of self-absorption, I needed to focus on helping others.

When I stepped outside of my own world, I could see that other people had similar fears about what others thought of them. This caused a big shift in my thinking.

Rather than struggling to put myself at ease, I focused on helping others feel at ease with welcoming words and a warm smile. I learned to listen to them attentively and be genuinely interested in what they had to say.

The next time you’re tempted to withdraw from conversation, remember this sage advice from Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends and Influence People:

“So if you aspire to be a good conversationalist, be an attentive listener. To be interesting, be interested. Ask questions that other persons will enjoy answering. Encourage them to talk about themselves and their accomplishments.”

This step is almost guaranteed to put them, and you, at ease.

5. Start small.

Sometimes, we think that to overcome our shyness, we need to do big things—like speak in front of hundreds of people or start a conversation with every person we meet.

Tom didn’t try to make long speeches. His sentences were brief and to the point. I began to model his behavior by using fewer and simpler words. Over time, I became more comfortable with speaking at greater length.

You can start to overcome shyness by taking action in small ways. If groups of three or more seem too daunting, try introducing yourself to a person who may be looking for some company. If making eye contact seems too hard right now, try focusing on another area close to their eyes rather than looking down.

You’ll begin to make progress, and before you know it, you’ll become more confident in larger social settings.

6. Practice self-compassion.

Overcoming social anxiety will not be easy, and you’ll have times when you’ll slip back into old habits. My stutter has greatly lessened over the years. But sometimes it comes back with a vengeance whenever I’m anxious or tired. Or sometimes it just happens randomly.

Sometimes I avoid social situations when my confidence is low. When I am tempted to get angry with myself for falling short, I remember how patient Tom was with himself as he struggled to speak. He didn’t get angry. He simply took a minute to regain his composure and try again.

I remember that I, too, can become more kind and patient with myself when my fear of social interaction returns.

If you’re struggling with setbacks also, practice self-compassion. Be patient and kind with yourself on your journey to freedom. Don’t be tempted to give in when you’re feeling down.

You Have More Courage Than You Think

Until now, you may have allowed your shyness to hold you back from meeting people in social settings.

You mistakenly thought you weren’t interesting enough, important enough, or courageous enough to be in the company of others.

You’ve been in a state of self-imposed exile.

But you have more courage than you think.

It’s time to step outside your shell. It’s time to exercise your courage. It’s time to stand up so others can know and appreciate you for who you are.

The sheer power of your presence may make someone’s day or even change their life (and yours) for the better.

Anxious man image via Shutterstock

About Cylon George

Cylon is a spiritual chaplain, musician, devoted husband, busy dad of six, and author of Self-Love: How to Love Yourself Unconditionally. He blogs about practical spiritual tips for living well at Spiritual Living For Busy People. Sign up and get his free guide 20 Little Tricks To Instantly Improve Your Mood Even If You Feel Like Punching Something (or Someone).

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  • Anonymous

    Nice stuff man. I am very skinny and I used to face (and still face) lot of challenges when among people. New people just laugh at me. I feel so embarrassed but I started digesting the fact that yes I am skinny and that’s how God made me. So instead of showing frustration, I keep smiling back and go on. Being in India, I feel so vulnerable that I become the target for bullying at each and every step. Like for example, I am driving my car and met with a little accident and not my fault. But the person who hit my car from behind comes and tries to beat me up or use filthy language. This is just because me being skinny and they know very well that I can’t win the fight. So many instances like these starting from my teenage till now. While I was in college, I kept away from many social gatherings due to people laughing at me. But yes, at each step I take the courage to go on and keep trust in God. While I was

  • Mark Tong

    Hey Cylon – great article – I particularly like your advice to start small and take it a step at a time.

  • Thank you for sharing this very courageous story. Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” I think you’ve taken this lesson to heart. Congratulations and all the best to you 🙂

  • Thanks Mark! Taking small steps on a consistent basis is truly the key to success.

  • andreastill

    Hi Cylon, thank you for the motivating and inspiring article! Yes, I’ve struggled with this issue for years. I can really relate to what it feels like not being able to interact with others, for fear of not being accepted. Your tips are spot on though – especially the one about being less self-obsessed and focusing more on other people. Very hard to do, but it does work when you try… 🙂

  • Brenna

    It’s amazing how once I started using conversations and awkward situations as a learning experience or tool to practice what I learn, I started enjoying them. It took me a while to realize that I enjoyed and looked for them, but I did. A mindset shift can do wonders.

    I also realized that having social skills isn’t as complex as I thought it was. You just talk. You do it more often than you think. Using techniques like asking questions or building off of what the other person says helps, but at the end of the day, you naturally know how to make conversation. You don’t have to be great at it, just okay.

  • Hey Cylon,

    Great post here. I was very shy growing up but I have grown out of it a lot. Now I’m just introverted lol but more of an outgoing introvert. Yes it’s an oxymoron but there are quite a few of us out there.

    But these tips are great for all of us who ate shy and shy away from social events. I could have use this year’s ago.

    Thanks for sharing! Have a great weekend!

  • Joe Alvarez

    Learn kick boxing and use your skinny limbs to your advantage. Not that you want to beat everyone up. But this will help with self confidence. Knowing a marital art will negate the fact that someone is bigger and trying to bully you.:)

  • Nicki Lee

    Thanks for this helpful post, Cylon. I will be starting right at the beginning with acknowledging the fear. I have a lot of work to do, but I’m excited to have clear steps to follow.

  • Brenna, so true. It just requires taking those initial hard steps to break through our mental blocks. Once we can do that, the process becomes much simpler. Thanks for sharing!

  • Sherman, I get the oxymoron! I think I’m in the same category 🙂 Have a great weekend too!

  • Hi Andrea, Thanks for making this point. It is very hard to not focus on what others think. In my experience, it takes ongoing work to be mindful of our natural tendencies and compassionately bring ourselves back by practicing the steps above. As you say, it’s hard but definitely worth the effort 🙂

  • I’m so glad Nicki that this will be a roadmap for you. May you find success on the journey 🙂

  • Ann Davis

    George, great post. I wish I had read this post growing up- all my friends thought I was too skinny and needed to add weight-I tried but it never worked…Thank you for sharing.

  • Kaida

    Nice article. I know a lot of these things are true for social anxiety. I wish I suffered from that kind, I would be thrilled if this advice worked for me. No, mine stems from a fear and distrust of others, rather than insecurity or doubt in myself.

    I hope this post helps people though. Social anxiety is awful and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

  • This is great Cylon, and I’m so impressed at the courage with which you’ve dealt with this issue. Number 2, accept embarrassment really resonated with me right now – it’s amazing the lengths we go to to avoid this, when it’s just not that big a deal – and everyone feels it, so it can actually link us to our fellow human beings if we do what you suggest. Thanks for sharing.

  • Thank you Cylon for this fantastic post. I particularly like point 4. When the
    conversation is about others, then we are less self conscious and the
    interaction flows more with ease.

  • Anthony Smits

    Hi Cylon

    Thank you for this piece which gives me much to reflect on. I have not been accepting of embarrassment; I have avoided it. And I’ve been very good at self imposed exile! But it’s true that I have compassion for others an I will endeavour to have more for myself more consistently.


  • I always love reading your posts Cylon.. God bless you.

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  • Thank you Mohinish. God bless you too 🙂

  • Hi Ant, accepting the possibility of embarrassment was very eye opening for me. it caused a big shift in my thinking on my approach to social anxiety and other areas of my life. The more we fight our fears, the bigger they become and vice-versa.