Don’t Let Shyness Spoil Your Holidays

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The holidays are looming, and many shy people are dreading the season’s numerous social events. But you don’t have to let shyness spoil your holidays. WebMD spoke with experts about what you can do now to prepare.

Understand Your Situation

Storyteller Garrison Keillor is admittedly shy and exhibits a fondness for shy people and their predicament in his writing and his radio show, A Prairie Home Companion. The radio shows has a mythical sponsor — Powdermilk Biscuits — “made with whole wheat that gives shy persons the strength to get up and do what needs to be done.”

An essay in Keillor’s book Happy To Be Here is entitled ”Shy Rights: Why Not Pretty Soon?” In it he asks, ”Would anyone dare to say to a woman or a Third World person, ‘Oh, don’t be a woman! Oh, don’t be so Third!’? And yet people make bold with us whenever they please and put an arm around us and tell us not to be shy.””You can’t just tell people not to be shy,” says Bernardo J. Carducci, PhD, director of the Indiana University Southeast (IUS) Shyness Research Institute, New Albany, Indiana. He knows firsthand; he counts himself among the “successfully shy.”

“Shy people have an excessive self-preoccupation and concern that others are looking at them and judging them. It’s like walking around with a mirror all day long. They don’t realize that many other people are just as uncomfortable at parties as they are.”

What can make the problem even worse this time of year is that feelings such as love, joy, sweating, trembling, , rapid heartbeat, dizziness, and headaches. SAD affects about 7% of the adult population — men and women equally — at any given time, according to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America.

“People with SAD have so much apprehension about meeting new people, they will do anything to avoid others,” says Ross, who is spokeswoman for the Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA). “They’re preoccupied with fear that others are evaluating them and will think they’re stupid. People have told me they’d rather die than order from a waitress. Or as soon as they wake up in the morning, they worry about situations in which they have to talk to people.”

Some people develop avoidance patterns to make the world small and safe. “They might feel safe going out to dinner with a certain friend or be able to talk at a work meeting, but won’t have lunch with colleagues,” says Ross. “They’re hindered from advancing in careers.”

While shy people can become “successfully shy” by facing their fears and acquiring conversational skills, Ross tells WebMD that exposure to fearful situations fails to desensitize people with SAD. “It’s the fear of fear itself.”

The good news is that the vast majority of people can be helped. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is most commonly used to treat people with situational anxiety, which is characterized by specific fears, such as giving a speech, making phone calls, or talking to salespeople. “CBT is the gold standard of treatment, and it works very well individually or in groups,” says Ross. “It teaches people how to change their thoughts and behavior and to deal with their anxiety while they’re experiencing it.”

For chronic, generalized social anxiety disorder, CBT may be combined with antidepressant or antianxiety drug therapy.

Carducci offers a parting word of advice for enjoying — not just enduring — holiday parties: “Become the person who makes other people have a good time.”