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Mental Health Center

Don't Let Shyness Spoil Your Holidays

Experts offer tips to overcome shyness, especially during the holiday season.
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WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

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, grief, and anxiety get exaggerated during the holidays, says Jerilyn Ross, LICSW, president of the Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA). "It's normal to feel these extremes."

Conditioning for the Holidays

Just as you wouldn't run a marathon without advance preparation, don't go to parties cold.

Conditioning begins with having effective coping techniques to deal with feelings and paying particular attention to good, healthy habits. "Get a good night's sleep, take a yoga class, exercise, and eat right," she says.

She also advises prioritizing. "You don't have to say 'yes' to every invitation." Prioritize. Select what you really want to do. If the invitation is from a co-worker you don't like who drinks too much and is having a party at a bar, say 'no.'"

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