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Shying Away from Being Shy

Does being shy throw you into total terror? Does feeling stressed out socially put pressure on your pleasure? Are you afraid of not knowing what to say in specific settings? If so you'll find yourself in good company: NICOLE KIDMAN, BRAD PITT and CARRIE UNDERWOOD have all struggled with a major case of shyness at some point in their lives.

Annalee Flower Horne had the same problem. The junior at Earlham College (Richmond, Indiana) says, "The things I want to say start to run afoul of themselves when I open my mouth."

Annalee spent most of the first semester playing video games in her dorm room. She was certain everyone thought she was dull and clueless. Only later she found out it was her roommate, not her, that students were avoiding.

"After I got a new roommate everyone started hanging out in my room," she says. "I found out that being sociable really isn't fatal."

There are a number of things you can do to reduce shyness. Reading to yourself out loud is one new way and, gulp, it can even be fun.

Shyness 411
According to recent research, shyness has grown 10 percent over the last 10 years. In fact, 40-50 percent of adults in the U.S. report being shy, a quarter of them painfully shy.

"Shyness is a fear of social judgment," says Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D., psychotherapist and author of the popular book, "The Highly Sensitive Person," (Broadway Books, 1996). She splits shyness into three types:

1. Fear of social evaluation as a result of trauma from previous criticism or ridicule.
2. Having qualities that society snubs, like being overweight, having a poor complexion or wearing odd clothing.
3. Being a highly sensitive person.

"A highly sensitive person is not necessarily shy in the traditional sense of the word," Aron says. "They enjoy being alone and like to observe. Because others refer to them as shy, they begin labeling themselves as shy."

Shyness -- The Good News
Aron reports that some nervousness is normal. "Most people are somewhat anxious when they meet strangers, especially if they are of the opposite sex. Because we are social animals we are easily shamed, most of all when we are young."

Shy people usually make great friends - they are trustworthy and find it easy to keep a secret. Plus they're less apt to waste words talking behind someone's back.

"People value good listeners," says Annalee. "Being able to ask intelligent questions is a better social skill than being able to give perfect answers."

Shyness -- The Bad News
The Big Question, though, when you arrive at the U is how do I make friends?

For Caylinn, a University of Florida sophomore, social anxiety frequently stops her from going on dates, going out with friends and attending parties and other group activities. In fact, she spends class time praying to not be called on.

Bashfulness is a thief of opportunities. For Paula Montgomery that meant not being able to attend college. Even at business school she couldn't speak to anyone for the first three days. "When I later attended St. Louis University I didn't speak to my classmates at all. By the time I got my degree I was finally talking to them and speaking up in class," she says.

Shyness -- Solutions: Tips to Reading Out Loud
According to Barbie Scott, a licensed speech pathologist in Oregon, 25 percent of us are dissatisfied with our voice. Becoming familiar with your voice frees you to engage in the communication you need to meet people and succeed academically.

"When you're tense," says Aron, "your vocal cords tighten and your voice doesn't sound right to you or others, making you even more self-conscious. Reading out loud is a way to strengthen the vocal cords and develop confidence."

For Annalee, reading out loud has helped develop the skills necessary to speak clearly. "While reading, I enunciate each syllable. When the sounds are spelled out right in front of me I can focus on each one of them. I also read so that someone 30 feet away could understand me without having to raise my voice."

Here's how to get started:

  • Pick out material that inspires and energizes you. A motivational book, poetry or even a textbook (ugh!).

  • Set a timer for 10 minutes. Worse case scenario: use your watch.

  • Read out loud. Just give it that ole "college try." You'll be surprised by the results.

  • At first, you're likely to read tentatively, quietly. That's okay; it's what you're used to. But try to increase your voice strength by reading louder in the last couple of minutes. Add volume gradually so you don't strain your voice. When you're ready, vary sentence pace by speeding up and slowing down in different parts of a sentence. Play with emphasizing particular phrases, then repeat by stressing a different part of the sentence. To increase voice strength, project your voice to the farthest corner of the room, then speak as you would if people in another room needed to hear you. As you become more comfortable, visualize your voice able to be heard even farther: to another room, farther down the hall and eventually to the great outdoors.

    Practice this exercise as often as you can; three times a week is recommended. Vary what you read and how you read it to keep it fun.

    Shyness -- Additional Techniques to Meeting People as you Enter College

    • Look at your shyness as being situational, rather than as a fixed trait.

    • Remember that nearly everyone is shy at times.

    • Choose a couple of topics before you go out: things you did or heard about, news items, even the weather.

    • Gradually increase eye-contact.

    • Ask others about themselves and show interest when they respond.

    • Smile!

    All you have to do is read out loud in order to join the likes of Carrie Underwood and other celebs to overcome enough shyness to engage in the social occasions you want. Who knows? Maybe you'll become the next Idol!