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Health & Balance

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Don't Let Shyness Spoil Your Holidays

Experts offer tips to overcome shyness, especially during the holiday season.

Conditioning for the Holidays continued...

But don't avoid all social gatherings. "Each time you go to a party and confront the fear, it gets easier," says Ross, who is director and CEO of the Ross Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders in Washington, D.C. "It's like building a muscle."

Carducci says many people fear making small talk, yet it's the starting point of all relationships. Do your homework before the party. "Read the newspaper; be able to talk about current events or sports or movies. Then practice by discussing these things with your family or with people in your carpool."

A part of your homework is what he calls "social reconnaissance." Know who will be at the party and what their interests are. If it's a charity bazaar, learn something about the vendors so you can make a constructive remark to a stranger at the wine-and-cheese table.

One other thing: become a volunteer, if you're not one already, Carducci tells WebMD. "There are plenty of opportunities to volunteer at the holidays, and it's something you should do year-round. I believe that the solution to shyness is in the heart. The more one focuses on others, the less focus there is on one's self. Another benefit is that wherever you volunteer -- at the animal shelter or kids' club -- it's something you can talk about at parties."

Tips for Making Small Talk

Carducci, author of The Pocket Guide to Making Successful Small Talk: How to Talk to Anyone Anytime Anywhere About Anything, says there are rules of engagement and a structure for making small talk. The Shyness Research Institute web site offers five steps for being a successful schmoozer:

Step 1. Setting Talk: Getting Started. Make a comment about the weather or your environment, such as, "Boy, this line is long," or "How do you know the host?" You don't have to be witty or brilliant. The purpose is to show a willingness to communicate.

Step 2. The Personal Introduction: who you are, what you do. Anticipate being asked what you do for a living. Instead of a terse response, such as "I work at the mall," a more fruitful response would be, "I work at the mall selling cell phones, and you would not believe the reasons people give me for wanting a cell phone." This will invite the other person to engage.

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