“Shyness” refers to the tendency in an individual to feel nervous or timid in their interactions with other people; while “social anxiety” is a broad term that includes shyness, as well as the experience of fear when being observed by others (eg while eating) and performing in front of people (eg public speaking).
Shy and socially awkard people are often nervous when performing in front of other people, because they worry about what might happen while they are being observed. These worries might include:
- That they may do or say something embarrassing such as spill a drink or forget somebody’s name
- Showing signs of anxiety (eg blushing, trembling, sweating).
- A fear of being scrutinised and judged critically by others – for example, as clumsy, incompetent, weak and so on.
These are just a few examples of how social anxiety can present itself in an individual’s thought patterns – but the good news is, social anxiety and shyness are very treatable.
Types of Anxious Thinking
Fortune telling is when your mind starts to predict what will happen – normally something negative, such as: “I won’t have anything to say”; “I’ll have a panic attack and won’t be able to get any words out, and my co-workers will discover that I am incompetent”.
Mind reading can be easy to spot, it is when your mind tells you what others are thinking about you, usually in the form of judgemental thoughts. These type of thoughts usually start with: “He thinks … “, “She thinks … “, or “They think … “. For example, “She must think I am a nervous wreck”, or “They think that I am dull and boring”.
Using statements that include the word “should” is known as “shoulding”. This is a popular activity of the anxious mind, and may include statements such as:
- I should not appear anxious
- I should be perfect
- I shouldn’t inconvenience others
- I should always be in control
- I should always appear to be charming and funny
- I should/shouldn’t (fill in other that applies to you): …
Postmortem is when your mind ruminates and rehashes about what you think happened (or should have happened) in social situations. Your “postmortem” review of a situation can last from a few seconds to hours to days, and can often “raise its ugly head” from time to time, long after you have left a situation.
The Spotlight Effect
Gary* worked in a medical supply company and was often required to demonstrate various techiques to medical students. During the demonstrations, he often felt that he was the centre of attention, as if a spotlight was shining on his shaky hands for everybody to see and that they would judge him. As a resultm he would often call in sick on the days of the demonstrations, or else he would beg one of his colleagues to take his place.
What Gary was experiencing is called the “spotlight effect” as described by psychologists Thomas Gilovich and Kenneth Savitsky (1999).
This is when the anxious mind generates stories about who you are in social situations, and they are usually negative (for example, a story about about you as a failure). To try to get some of your stories, complete the following phrases:
- In social situations I feel as if I am (for example, am an imposter) …
- In social situations I am someone who always (for example, says the wrong thing) …
- In social situations I am someone who can’t (for example, hold down a conversation) …
If this article resonates with you or you struggle with shyness and social anxiety, I would love you to make an appointment and together we can help you to overcome your problem!
Author: Linda Thomson, B Arts, Social Science, Human Services, Masters of Counselling, Master Social Work Studies, Social Work, Member – AASW.
Linda Thomson has many years of experience in different fields of counselling, and has also managed counselling services in the not-for-profit sector. She has been involved in training and mentoring counsellors, and providing professional supervision. Linda finds it very rewarding to help people overcome shyness and social anxiety.
Please call 1800 877 924 or book Linda Thomson online today!
*Not real name