Annie Ridout is an author and journalist who believes being shy is a gift.
Her first book Shy: How Being Quiet Can Lead to Success (out on 15thApril) features a mix of personal experience and expertise from clinical psychologists to explore why we radically need to rethink how we view shyness as something to overcome, and instead embrace it in all aspects of our life. Here she shares her own experience post-lockdown shyness and some tips if you're feeling the same...
Towards the end of the first lockdown, I arranged to meet a neighbour for a socially-distanced cup of tea on the street.
All day, I felt excited about nattering to a female friend. But as the time approached, I started panicking. I wasn’t sure I wanted to meet her anymore. Perhaps I was concerned I wouldn’t have anything to say but I’m not sure, because all I felt was ‘panic’. There was no rationalising.
I went for a walk to the shops and on returning, noticed that my neighbour was already out on the street. As I approached her, shopping in hands, she greeted me warmly.
We started chatting and quickly slipped into a comfortable conversation – opening up about what we’d been struggling with, laughing about our homeschooling efforts and just generally being friendly and sociable. It felt so good.
This apprehension I’d felt about meeting, even in this casual setting, is what many others might be feeling as restrictions are slowly being lifted.
Psychotherapist Kemi Omijeh explains that if you’re naturally a shy person, lockdown will have brought that out in you. She says: 'Perhaps you have adjusted to socialising, working, because you know that society expects that. Lockdown gave you a welcome break from that, no more pretending.' But following the quarantine, she says we may need to learn to socialise again.
'It will take an adjustment and a re-learning post lockdown,' says Omijeh. 'If the individual chooses to do this. They may very much just accept their shyness and not readjust.'
I find this particularly reassuring, coming from a psychotherapist: the notion that if you are okay with being quieter and spending more time alone, that’s OK.
We must remember that shyness is not a flaw. Like introversion, it’s a personalist trait and is perfectly acceptable, as long as you are comfortable with it.
Being shy will likely bestow you with other qualities like being observant, empathic and a better listener. But in a world that celebrates loudness, extraversion and confidence, it can be hard to treasure these traits that often accompany shyness.
I bet that your friends find your quietness alluring, though. Not all of us like to be surrounded by noise and chaos – and shy people bring the peace.
For those who like the idea of reintegrating and being able to socialise again but have an accompanying fear, here are some tips that may help…
Post-lockdown shyness: 'Will I know what to say?'
If you feel concerned that you won’t know what to say when faced with someone in the workplace, at the school gates or on the street then come prepared. Think of three questions you could ask them after saying ‘hello’.
This will deflect the attention from you, and make them feel great, because people generally love being asked about themselves.
You could try:
'How are you finding it, now that the restrictions have eased?'
'Are you back in the workplace, or still working from home?'
'How are you finding it, being out and about more now?'
Post-lockdown shyness: 'What will it be like sitting in a pub or cafe with a larger group?'
If the idea of meeting with a group of six – and eventually, perhaps more – feels daunting, start small. Plan to meet with just one other person, or in a group of three.
It might be worth mentioning to the person(s) you’re meeting that you feel a bit nervous about socialising again, and check if they’re OK with meeting just with you this time.
Post-lockdown shyness: 'I’m not sure I want attention'
If you like the idea of being around people, but don’t want to talk about yourself, or feel as if you are the focus of the conversation, try ‘mirroring’.
It’s a conversational technique that involves repeating back part of what you’re hearing.
For example: You: 'How are you?'
Friend: 'I’m ok. Bit tired but ok.'
You: 'You’re a bit tired?'
Friend: 'Yeah. Just didn’t get much sleep last night as the cat was pouncing around.'
You: 'The cat was pouncing around?'
Friend: 'Yeah he gets pretty hyper around midnight, no idea why.'
You: 'You’re not sure why?'
What you’re doing here is keeping the focus on your friend, and letting them lead the conversation.
Mirroring can be a really powerful listening technique, and your friend will probably feel very ‘heard’, while you get to enjoy not being the main focus. But to end, it’s worth keeping in mind that if you are shy, or feel shy as you return to socialising, this isn’t something you need to feel ashamed about.
Shyness isn’t a flaw that needs fixing. We are all whole and multifaceted – and shyness is sometimes part of that. I believe it’s an attribute: you can be shy, and proud.
Preorder Shy: How Being Quiet Can Lead to Success here (4th Estate, out on 15thApril).
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