Overcoming Shyness at College
Being shy can suddenly seem a lot worse when you hit college with new people and new situations. Follow these suggestions for overcoming shyness.
By Diana Rodriguez
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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Some people are introverted and may not have the easiest time making friends. Others may be a little timid about speaking up in class or giving a presentation in front of a crowd. No matter how shyness affects you, it can drastically affect your entire college experience.
What makes someone shy?
Being shy might just be part of your personality, says Kaveh Zamanian, PhD, a clinical psychologist and owner of East End Psychological Associates in Louisville, Ky. Some people have a naturally shyness — they just lack that confidence and exuberance that others seem to have.
Some people may be shy because of a particular trauma or incident that affected their confidence and left them feeling insecure. Significant stress can lead to shyness pretty much out of the blue. "Certain experiences that potentially could be overwhelming do affect the person in that direction," explains Zamanian. "They tend to retreat."
Shyness and the College Experience
Shyness that's part of your personality can start in childhood and continue into the college years. "In college I never dated and, despite getting the top grades in the class, I was too shy to attend my own graduation ceremony," ways Gordon Irlam, of Berkeley, Calif., who has been shy since childhood. "Shyness definitely kept me from the experiences I wanted. I was a loner despite deeply wanting social company."
Zamanian compares shyness to being an observer of a game rather than a player: "If you sit on the sidelines, you're really not getting the full benefit of the college experience. It certainly can affect the social aspect of a person's life in terms of being able to make connections that could be growth-promoting and that could foster professional and personal developments.”
Eventually, Irlam was able to overcome his shyness, but only after a lot of hard work and undergoing cognitive-behavioral therapy. "It taught me to look at my thought patterns that were supporting my shyness and to try out social interactions that I was so fearful of,” says Irlam. “‘Feel the fear, but do it anyway’ is a great motto to live by."
How to Overcome Shyness
To keep your shyness from getting in the way of a good education and making some good friends along the way, try these tips:
Take small steps.Don't immediately sign up to give a presentation in a huge auditorium — start smaller. Join a club or organization on campus. Look for something less intimidating. “Start in a smaller group and work your way up,” says Zamanian, who suggests looking for a group that is friendly and non-competitive, and something that you enjoy and feel confident about.
Talk to your instructors.Zamanian says this can be helpful, but stresses that you should try to figure out who might be receptive to your shyness issues before you approach them. Get a feel for the professor first, and see if he or she appears to be sympathetic to students struggling but really trying to succeed.
Meet your academic advisers.Their job is to help you succeed in college and show you the tools available to help you overcome shyness, fit in socially, and get good grades.
Seek services from the on-campus counseling center.Particularly if you've had a traumatic event that triggered your shyness, Zamanian suggests visiting with a counselor who can do an assessment, help you figure out what's at the root of your shyness, and how to conquer it.
Waiting doesn’t make shyness any easier to deal with; what’s more, you’ll miss out on a lot of wonderful college activities and experiences. Get the help you need to overcome your fears and come out of your shell.
Video: Being Shy in College
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