Holiday Survival for the Ultra Shy (cont.)

Jeremy Ruggles, a network administrator in Davie, Fla., says he tends to get nervous and lose his train of thought whenever he talks with someone new. "It has been seen as rude or odd."

So what makes a person shy? According to the American Psychological Association, genetics and natural temperament play a small role. Other factors include:

  • Stressful life events, such as moving often during childhood
  • Negative family interactions, including overly critical parents
  • Stressful work or school environments

Ruggles tells WebMD he has been shy for as long as he can recall. "I remember my mom dropping me off at kindergarten, and I wrapped myself to her leg and wouldn't let go."

Evaluate Your Shyness

Carducci says the first step toward enjoying the holiday social scene is recognizing that there is nothing wrong with being shy. "The world would be better off with more shy people. Shy people are generally good listeners. They are highly motivated and they yield to others. Imagine if everyone acted like Dennis Rodman or Howard Stern."

But shyness can become a problem if it holds you back. Cheek says to ask yourself if shyness is a barrier to your career or relationship goals. "When people feel blocked, they should seek professional help."

People who are so overwhelmed with anxiety that they go to extremes to avoid socializing may have social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia. This intense and persistent fear of being judged or humiliated can interfere with work and other everyday activities. "For awhile I didn't even want to go out to lunch with people at work," says Nan, a 30-year-old educator who asked that we use only her first name. She developed symptoms of social phobia in her teens, and the problem became worse as she got older. "I'll accept the faults and imperfections in other people, but I don't want anyone to see mine."

During the stress of the holidays, even people with ordinary shyness may show signs of social phobia or another potential pitfall, the holiday blues. "Shyness is a risk factor for depression when a person feels lonely or lacks social support," Cheek tells WebMD. "What shy people need to do is stop drifting passively and instead make some concrete plans, no matter how modest."

Respect Your Shyness Comfort Zone

Carducci says the key is to make plans that suit you. "Don't feel you have to go to everything. Pick and choose where and how you want to socialize." For Ruggles, that means "intimate gatherings among friends." Like many shy people, he is most comfortable sticking with familiar places and faces.

For those who want to expand their comfort zone, Carducci recommends changing one factor at a time. If you want to meet new people, try to do it on familiar turf. If you want to check out a new club, bring along familiar people.