Social Anxiety vs. Shyness

Social Anxiety vs. Shyness

Shyness is a very common personality trait that can fluctuate in intensity. You might feel shy when you start a new job and don’t know your coworkers yet, or you may hesitate to mingle at a big party. Feeling unsure of yourself in certain social situations is completely normal and no cause for concern. As long as your social needs are being met and you don’t feel distressed about your social interactions, you shouldn’t worry about being shy. Sometimes, though, fear or self-doubt in social settings can become paralyzing. Social anxiety is a clinical mental health disorder characterized by intense anxiety regarding social interactions. This disorder can take a severe toll on your quality of life and can stand in the way of you achieving health and happiness.

If you feel awkward or uncomfortable during social situations, you might ask yourself, “Do I have social anxiety or am I just shy?” Shyness and social anxiety share a few similarities, so it’s easy to mistake one for the other. It’s important to recognize when your social challenges are affecting your mental health and to be aware of your resources for seeking therapy or other forms of support. Here’s everything you need to know about social anxiety vs shyness:

What Shyness Feels Like

Shyness is the quality of feeling nervous, awkward, or self-conscious during social interactions. If you’re a shy person, you may second-guess yourself before approaching someone for a conversation, and you may dislike being the center of attention. Most shy people find that they struggle to connect with new people, but their interactions become much easier as they get to know someone.

The following are some common experiences you might relate to if you’re a shy person:

  • • Staying mostly quiet during a group conversation
  • • Not knowing what to say when talking to a new person
  • • Feeling nervous to attend a party when you know very few guests
  • • Preferring to speak to people one-on-one
  • • Rehearsing what you want to say before you say it
  • • Feeling frustrated with yourself for your shyness

What Social Anxiety Feels Like

Social anxiety may feel like an extreme form of shyness. When you suffer from social anxiety disorder, you might feel intense emotional and physical distress because of your social interactions. You could feel nervous before, during, or after an interaction, and you may go out of your way to avoid talking to people because your anxiety is so difficult to handle.

While shyness often results from feeling awkward or unsure of oneself, social anxiety is characterized by low self-esteem and a painful fear of embarrassment or rejection. You’re not just unsure of what to say or how to connect with a new person. You doubt yourself so severely that you convince yourself that others will judge, ridicule, or hate you for the slightest social misstep.

Here are some of the most common symptoms, signs, and effects of social anxiety:

  • • Avoiding social interactions at all costs
  • • Extreme fear of embarrassment or judgment
  • • Overwhelming fear of being the center of attention
  • • Worrying that people will notice your anxiety
  • • Expecting the worst when approaching a social situation
  • • Overanalyzing your social interactions after they happen
  • • Physical symptoms like muscle tension, racing heart rate, and sweating

Social Anxiety vs Shyness: Avoidance

One of the key differences between social anxiety and shyness is how far you’ll go to avoid situations. If you’re a shy person, you might prefer to stay home or spend time with your best friend rather than go to a party. You may avoid conversations with strangers while out in public, or you may choose to send your team an email at work instead of speaking up at a meeting. Although these are all conscious choices that help you feel more comfortable, you’re not dramatically altering your life to steer clear of socializing.

Social anxiety, on the other hand, causes more frequent and more severe avoidance of social settings. If you have social anxiety, you may spend much of your time at home despite feeling lonely because you’re so worried about embarrassing yourself. You might make excuses to avoid parties or other social events, or you might do everything in your power not to give a presentation at work even if it would improve your professional standing.

Social Anxiety vs Shyness: Functioning

Because social anxiety can cause such extreme avoidance of social settings, it can also have a major impact on your day-to-day functioning. Typically, shyness doesn’t significantly impair your quality of life. You may wish that you were more confident and less nervous during social interactions, but you don’t feel like your shyness affects your mental health, your close relationships, your self-care, or your career.

However, social anxiety can affect many areas of your functioning. You might feel painfully lonely because you struggle to make close connections. Your excessive worry and overanalyzing of your conversations could get in the way of your other activities, and the physical symptoms of anxiety can even affect your health.

When Shyness Turns Into Social Anxiety

The line between shyness and social anxiety is not always clear. Sometimes, shyness can turn into social anxiety. Your worries could get more intense with age, or you may experience a negative social situation that creates more fear of future interactions.

Extreme shyness becomes a problem when it starts to affect your overall quality of life. If you feel like your life would be much better if you weren’t so shy or socially anxious, it’s time to consider therapy.

Treating Social Anxiety With Therapy

Social anxiety disorder can prevent you from living a full, happy life, but anxiety is treatable with therapy. Counseling can be incredibly helpful for anxiety because it’s a private, calm environment for you to express yourself. During your therapy session, your counselor may ask you to elaborate on your anxious thoughts and the situations that trigger those thoughts.

As you explore your experiences in therapy, you’ll gain great insight into exactly why you struggle with social anxiety and what happens in your mind as the anxiety takes hold. Then, you and your therapist will create a plan to gradually challenge your anxiety. You can continue to reflect on your process in therapy and receive support from your counselor as you work toward wellness.

Menachem Psychotherapy Group offers therapy for social anxiety and many other mental health concerns. If you’re ready to overcome your social anxiety, you can contact us today to connect with a therapist in Los Angeles.


Get a Free Consultation