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Holiday Survival for the Ultra Shy

Just because you're shy doesn't mean you have to dodge the mistletoe this holiday season.

Evaluate Your Shyness continued...

People who are so overwhelmed with anxiety that they go to extremes to avoid socializing may have social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia. This intense and persistent fear of being judged or humiliated can interfere with work and other everyday activities. "For awhile I didn't even want to go out to lunch with people at work," says Nan, a 30-year-old educator who asked that we use only her first name. She developed symptoms of social phobia in her teens, and the problem became worse as she got older. "I'll accept the faults and imperfections in other people, but I don't want anyone to see mine."

During the stress of the holidays, even people with ordinary shyness may show signs of social phobia or another potential pitfall, the holiday blues. "Shyness is a risk factor for depression when a person feels lonely or lacks social support," Cheek tells WebMD. "What shy people need to do is stop drifting passively and instead make some concrete plans, no matter how modest."

Respect Your Shyness Comfort Zone

Carducci says the key is to make plans that suit you. "Don't feel you have to go to everything. Pick and choose where and how you want to socialize." For Ruggles, that means "intimate gatherings among friends." Like many shy people, he is most comfortable sticking with familiar places and faces.

For those who want to expand their comfort zone, Carducci recommends changing one factor at a time. If you want to meet new people, try to do it on familiar turf. If you want to check out a new club, bring along familiar people.

"One thing shy people can do is pick out a friend or family member as a coach," Cheek says. "That person can then act as a bridge to the social world."

When considering invitations outside your comfort zone, focus on the possible benefits rather than the risks. "Going to an office party might make you feel anxious, but it has the potential for the rewards of human connection," Cheek says. He advises shy people to avoid the "all or nothing" trap. "They tend to think, 'Either I've got to stay home or I've got to be the life of the party.'" Showing up at the office party doesn't mean you have to hang out under the mistletoe. Give yourself permission to enjoy being an observer.

Forget "Fashionably Late"

In the days before a big party or daunting social function, do some reconnaissance. Find out where to park, who will be there, what type of food will be served and how much money you will need. Knowing what to expect may remove some of the stress on the day of the event.

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