If you are feeling shyer than you’d like to be, you’re in good company. A lot of kids—and adults—say they get nervous during social situations. Maybe it’s speaking up in class or making a phone call or just trying something new. You might feel butterflies in your stomach, or your heart may race or you get suddenly shaky and sweaty. Those things are your body’s reaction to fear. And if fear of being embarrassed or making a mistake is getting in your way, there are some things you can try on your own to help.
Don’t avoid things
Experts agree that avoiding situations that make us anxious can actually make things worse in the long run. “Getting out of something you didn’t want to do might make you feel better in the moment,” says Rachel Busman, a psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, “but you will still feel anxious the next time you’re asked to do it.” And the things that make us nervous—talking to new people, giving presentations—aren’t going to go away.
While leaving your comfort zone isn’t easy, it can be very good for you. That’s because anxiety tends to go away when you start doing the things that make you anxious. So if you feel too shy to walk into the cafeteria alone or ask someone to be your lab partner, for instance, try to face your fear and see what happens. “Chances are the worst outcome that you fear won’t happen,” says Dr. Busman. “And if it does, you might find you have the skills to handle it.” And next time you’re in that situation you might feel less self-conscious.
As an experiment, try doing something that makes you nervous. It’s fine to start small and ease yourself into it. Picking goals that feel realistic to you is important—you don’t need to run for class president. If you think you might like to join a club, try just sitting in on a meeting at first. Or if you’d like to volunteer at the local animal shelter but you’re feeling nervous about it, start by bringing a friend or family member along for company.
Whatever you do, you’ll find that it gets easier over time. That’s because by practicing the things that make you nervous you are actually expanding your ability to handle them. This is true even when things don’t work out exactly like you might hope. For example, a lot of kids hesitate to ask teachers questions because they worry they’re already supposed to know the answer. But if you decide to ask your teacher anyway and he responds, “You already learned that so go ask a friend,” you’ll probably find that hearing that isn’t such a big deal after all. It’s just another kind of practice.
Doing things like yoga and exercising can also help you stay calm. Likewise, you might want to cut back on soda and coffee, since caffeine makes some people anxious.
But if you’re way too nervous to try these things, and feeling self-conscious is stopping you from doing a lot of things you need or want to do, it’s a good idea to get help. And Dr. Busman says the place to start is talking to your parents. “Tell them how you’re feeling,” she says. “Anxiety is something that you can definitely get help for, but telling someone that you need it is the first step.”