Feature Archive

Holiday Survival for the Ultra Shy

Just because you're shy doesn't mean you have to dodge the mistletoe this holiday season.

WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario

From surviving small talk with Aunt Mary on Thanksgiving to sidestepping the mistletoe at the office Christmas party, shy people may view the holiday season as a daunting obstacle course. If you're one of them, you're in good company. According to surveys by the Shyness Research Institute at Indiana University Southeast, about 40% of people consider themselves shy.

The institute's director, psychology professor Bernardo J. Carducci, PhD, tells WebMD, "Shy people are not alone. They feel nobody else is shy, because shy people don't talk to each other. They fail to realize that there are lots of other people just like them." He suggests keeping that in mind when you make the rounds this holiday season. "Look to your left, look to your right ? Chances are one of those people is shy."

What Is Shyness?

According to Jonathan Cheek, PhD, a professor of psychology at Wellesley College, shyness is "the tendency to feel tense, worried, or awkward during social interactions, especially with unfamiliar people." Shy people may have trouble maintaining eye contact or relaxed body language at social events and often agonize over what to say in conversation. "Shy people are their own worst critics," Cheek tells WebMD. "They have a perfectionist vision of what they ought to be doing."

Unlike introverts, who prefer spending time alone, many shy people want to enjoy the company of others. "They force themselves to go to social functions, parties, bars, concerts," says Carducci, who is also the author of Shyness: A Bold New Approach. "The problem is they don't know what to do once they're there."