A Shy Person’s Guide to Navigating the Social World

Author: August Clarke

For many teens, including myself, approaching a new social environment is an anxiety-inducing activity. Often, shyness is not something that makes sense to those who experience it. There isn’t always a solid explanation for the panic-inducing stress many teens encounter when faced with a daunting new situation; however, these feelings are not only valid, but also extremely common.

In many ways, social interaction is like a sport. There are always those who naturally excel with effortless grace, whereas others just cannot seem to find the trick of it no matter how hard they try. The good news is that – even for those who trip over their feet the most – there is always room for improvement. There are many tricks that you can use to help alleviate some of your social anxiety.

Place yourself in situations where you feel confident.

A lot of the time, the most daunting obstacle regarding social interaction isn’t the interaction in itself but finding the proper people to spend time with. It is difficult to form trust and lasting relationships with your peers if you can’t summon up the courage to talk to them in the first place – especially when you don’t know anything about them, or what to talk about.

Luckily, there is a way to avoid those awkward first encounters riddled with uncomfortable small talk that never feels like it is leading anywhere.

For myself, I find that one of the most effective ways of compartmentalizing my feelings of personal inadequacy is to participate in activities and situations where I feel confident. For example, joining a club that focuses on a hobby of yours is a great way to initiate conversation with peers who hold similar interests as you. It is far less nerve-wracking to interact with those whose passion you share – rather than those you don’t – as it ensures your conversations will never be dull. No more need to fill those uncomfortable silences with talk of the weather or that math test that you “totally bombed.”

Even if you feel like you don’t share anything particularly interesting in common with someone, it doesn’t need to be a enormous thing! After weeks of suffering in silence, I finally broke the ice with my lab partner in science class by talking to her about a TV show I knew we both liked. That girl is now one of my closest friends, and all because of one small interest we shared.

Maintain an open mind.

As a teenager, it is easy to be intimidated by the idea of cliques and exclusive social circles. When I made the transition from junior high to senior high school I was pleased to find that the deeply ingrained lines which previously isolated my peers and I from each other appeared to have evaporated and – suddenly – kids who never used to mingle were hanging out together.

The point of all this is that it is important to keep an open mind when seeking out potential friends. Just because someone doesn’t typically hang out with the same people that you do, it doesn’t mean that you can’t, or shouldn’t, befriend them.

Building new relationships with a wide range of people of diverse interests and backgrounds can act as a gateway to developing long-lasting social skills that encourage you to expand your comfort zone. They also promote the development of self-confidence – the lack thereof being a major source of social discomfort.

Remember: your loudest judge is the voice in your head.

Often, what makes it so difficult to talk to new people (or anyone, really) in a social environment when you are a shy person, is that we tend to grow hyper-aware of our perceived shortcomings. The truth of the matter is, the person you are talking to probably didn’t notice the zit on your nose or remember that time you tripped in the parking lot last Tuesday. It is easy to inflate small flaws or mistakes about yourself that others likely did not notice or do not care about.

The truth of the matter is, the person you are talking to probably didn’t notice the zit on your nose or remember that time you tripped in the parking lot last Tuesday.”

In all likelihood, the person you are talking to doesn’t think you are weird or awkward or any of the other things we like to tell ourselves in order to ensure we enter every social interaction with as many nerves as possible. Once you realize this, it is much easier to interact with others without feeling like there are one hundred pairs of scrutinizing eyes analyzing your every move.

Conquering shyness is not a feat to be accomplished overnight; instead, it is an ongoing battle that is fought everyday. It requires effort, concentration, and consistent reassessment of one’s own areas for growth. The important thing to remember is that shyness is a psychological concept that every individual holds the power to overcome, no matter how intimidating the task may seem.