Wellesley College psychologist Jonathan Cheek has compiled practical tips to help shy adults overcome their sometimes crippling anxieties.
These examples are taken from his book, "Conquering Shyness," written with the help of his sister, Rowena Cheek, a research coordinator at Wellesley. They are based on years of research by Cheek and other specialists.
* If some situations, like making a speech, make you extremely anxious, even panicked, try learning a relaxation method, such as transcendental meditation or self-hypnosis. Then practice the relaxation technique while visualizing all the steps leading up to the speech. Eventually, you should be able to relax automatically when you walk up to give the speech.
* If you're particularly critical of the way you look, try standing in front of a full-length mirror and observing yourself from head to toe. The important point here is not to judge your body. Simply observe it for a few minutes every day. Once you have become familiar with all parts of your body, start saying, "I accept and love all of me." It sounds silly, but it works.
* If you're a shy person with low self-esteem, try this: Every time you start thinking like a pessimist, rephrase the thought immediately into a more optimistic one. Instead of saying: "I'm not comfortable doing job interviews, so I'm sure I'll bungle it," tell yourself: "With each interview, I become more relaxed and get closer to finding the job I want."
* If you're very self-critical, enlist the help of family and friends and write down a list of all your good qualities. Every day, remind yourself of at least one of these qualities say, for instance, "I like myself because I'm compassionate."
* If, like many shy people, you worry excessively about how you appear to others, you may become so self-absorbed that you miss what others are saying. As a result, you may be perceived as being aloof or not very good at listening.
To fight this self-absorption, pick a particularly nonthreatening social situation, like the morning coffee break at work, and then simply observe the people in your group. First watch their postures, mannerisms and facial expressions (without staring) and then listen carefully to what they're saying. Write down your observations in detail later.
Not only will this exercise help you realize that the people you once feared are not saying anything particularly brilliant or unique, but it should help you become a more active listener and conversationalist. Once you get actively involved in this way, you will no longer have the time or inclination to worry about yourself.