Jun 6, 2013

Shyness and its effect on mental ability

"Shyness is a feeling of exaggerated self-consciousness," says Dr. Warren Jones, PhD., a psychologist at the University of Tennessee, a leading researcher on emotional and mental effects of loneliness. "You become so keenly aware of yourself as an object of other people's social perceptions that it interferes with your ordinary ability to remember and your ability to perform whatever it is you need to do. You're so worried about the impression you're making that you focus on your image rather than the task at hand - the names of people you are introduced to, for instance. And when you can't focus, it hurts other aspects of your thinking ability. You can't even remember a name you just heard."

Not that some shyness isn't to be expected. Almost everybody feels shy - call it nervousness or whatever - at the thought of having to give a speech. You might even feel shy about attending a cocktail party with people who may intimidate you. That's perfectly normal. In fact, those types of situations can even enhance your mental ability by making you care more than usual about the impression you're giving, so you pay closer attention than you normally would.

"But if you feel shyness in getting together with some friends, with people you should feel comfortable with, then it can be a real problem with devastating effects," says Dr. Jones. "Severe shyness can interfere with your problem-solving and decision-making abilities. Shy people are also less likely to go after a challenge, be it at work or even in relationships."

But it doesn't have to be this way. You can learn to use your shyness to your advantage.

First understand that if you're seriously shy, you're not going to eliminate it. "But you can learn to deal with it," says Dr. Jones. And it starts with the realization that you are not the only shy person in the world, or in the room, or at the party - whatever the circumstances may be.

The excessively shy often worry about themselves so much because they feel they 're the only ones feeling the way they do. "But this is just not true," says Dr. Jones. "In fact, shyness is common among a lot of people – more than you might imagine. And there is some sense of relief in just knowing this."

It may sound unlikely that a thought like this will put you more at ease, but it does work, says Dr. Jones. Try it the next time you feel shyness pulling the shade on you.

When you realize you're not alone, you're ready for the next step: Find that shy someone else and strike up a conversation.

"What shy people seem to be most afraid of is not knowing what role they're supposed to take," says Dr. Jones. "They don't know how to act."

The classic example is a cocktail party where you know only the host or hostess. Look around the room and try to identify another person who looks as uncomfortable as you, someone who looks just as shy. "Approach that person because he or she is the most approachable," advises Dr. Jones. "They'll probably be most grateful that you struck up a conversation."

You'll also be in control, because it was you who adopted the role of the interviewer. If you ask the questions about their lives, you take the pressure off yourself.

If you practice this in a "safe" environment before trying it out at the party, says Dr. Jones, you'll probably be more effective. (Boost Your Brain Power, by Ellen Michaud, Russell Wild and the editors of Prevention Magazine)