shy vs social anxiety
Mental health

Shyness vs Social Anxiety: Understanding the Differences | The Fair Flow

If you're someone who feels nervous or uncomfortable in social situations, you might wonder if you have social anxiety or if you're just shy. While shyness and social anxiety share some similarities, they are not the same thing. Understanding the differences between shyness and social anxiety can help you better understand your own experience and determine if you could benefit from seeking help.

Shyness vs Social Anxiety

Although shyness and social anxiety are often used interchangeably, they're actually quite different:

Shyness as a Personality Trait

Shyness is a personality trait that some people are born with. It's a feeling of discomfort or awkwardness in social situations, especially when meeting new people or being the center of attention. 

Social Anxiety as a Disorder

While some may believe social anxiety is just extreme shyness, it's a more complex condition. It's characterized by an intense fear of being judged or evaluated negatively in social situations. People with social anxiety often avoid social situations altogether or endure them with extreme distress. Social anxiety can interfere with daily activities and lead to isolation, depression, and other mental health problems.

Key Difference

Are you suffering from social anxiety? Or are you simply a shy person? A key determinant in separating a personality trait from a mental health condition is the impact that it has on the person's quality of life. Shyness is a mild personality trait that doesn't necessarily interfere with daily activities, while social anxiety is a severe disorder that can significantly impact a person's ability to function.

Social Anxiety Disorder, More Than Just Shyness

Social anxiety disorder used to be called social phobia, but the name was changed to better reflect the nature of the condition. If you think you might have social anxiety disorder, it's important to talk to a professional who can help you get the support you need.

Some common social anxiety symptoms include:

  • Fear of being judged or embarrassed
  • Avoiding social gatherings or feeling anxious beforehand
  • A racing heartbeat sweating or shaking
  • Trouble making and maintaining eye contact
  • Difficulty speaking in social situations
  • Feeling self-conscious or insecure when meeting people

In the next section, we will explore how social anxiety and shyness can impact your everyday activities.

Social Interactions

Social interactions can be challenging for people who experience shyness or social anxiety. You may feel nervous or uncomfortable when interacting with people, and this can make it difficult to form friendships or engage in activities that involve other people.

For shy individuals, communicating with others is uncomfortable, but still possible. You may feel hesitant to speak up in groups or initiate conversations with new people, but you can still participate in social activities and make friends over time.

For individuals with social anxiety disorder, human engagement can be extremely difficult and even debilitating. You may experience intense fear or anxiety in social settings, which can lead to avoidance behavior. This avoidance can make it difficult to form meaningful relationships or participate in activities that involve other people.

Here are some ways that extreme shyness can impact your interactions:

  • Initiating conversations: If you are shy or have social anxiety, you may find it difficult to start conversations with new people. You may worry about saying the wrong thing or appearing awkward, which can make it hard to connect with others.
  • Maintaining conversations: Even if you are able to initiate a conversation, you may find it challenging to keep it going. You may struggle to come up with things to say or worry that you are boring the other person.
  • Attending social events: Social events can be particularly challenging for individuals with social anxiety. You may worry about being judged by others or fear that you will embarrass yourself in front of a group.
  • Making friends: Forming new friendships can be difficult if you experience shyness or social anxiety. You may struggle to put yourself out there and may worry that others will reject you.

While social interactions can be challenging for individuals with shyness or social anxiety, it is important to remember that these difficulties can be overcome with time and effort. 

Physical Symptoms

When you experience shyness or social anxiety, you may notice certain symptoms. These sensations can be uncomfortable and distressing, but they are a natural response to feeling anxious or nervous in social gatherings. Some common ones include:

  • Blushing: Your face may turn red or feel hot when you feel embarrassed or self-conscious.
  • Sweating: You may sweat more than usual, particularly on your hands or forehead.
  • Trembling: You may feel shaky or jittery, especially in your hands or legs.
  • Rapid heart rate: Your heart may beat faster or feel like it's pounding in your chest.
  • Nausea: You may feel sick to your stomach or have a queasy feeling.
  • Dizziness: You may feel lightheaded or dizzy, especially when standing up or moving around quickly.
  • Mind going blank: You may have trouble thinking clearly or remembering what you wanted to say.
  • Soft voice: You may speak more quietly than usual, or have difficulty speaking at all.

These symptoms will typically go away once the social situation is over. However, if you find that they are interfering with your everyday life, or if you feel like they are getting worse over time, it may be helpful to talk to a mental health professional.

In some cases, physical symptoms can be a sign of a more serious condition, such as a heart condition.  If you experience any worrying symptoms, it is important to talk to your doctor. They can help determine if the cause is physical or psychological. 

shyness vs social anxiety. Distressing feelings

Environmental Factors

Your surroundings and your experiences can play a significant role in the development of social anxiety disorder. These factors include parenting and family environment, adverse life events, cultural and societal factors, and gender roles.

Family environment

Your family environment can have a significant impact on your social anxiety. If your parents were overprotective or critical of you, it could lead to you feeling insecure and anxious in social interactions. On the other hand, if your parents were supportive and encouraging, it could help you develop confidence and skills.

Life events

Adverse life events, such as bullying or traumatic experiences, can also contribute to social anxiety. If you have experienced these events, you may become more fearful of social gatherings and avoid them altogether.

Cultural and societal factors

Cultural and societal factors can also influence social anxiety. For example, cultures that place a high value on conformity and social status may create more pressure to fit in and be accepted. This pressure can lead to increased anxiety in social occasions.

Gender roles

Gender roles can also play a role in social anxiety. In some cultures, men are expected to be more assertive and confident, while women are expected to be more nurturing and passive. These expectations can lead to increased anxiety for people who do not fit these gender roles.

It is essential to remember that these factors are only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to social anxiety disorder. Many people who experience adverse environments do not develop social anxiety, and many people who experience supportive environments can still develop social anxiety. 

Can Anxiety Disorders Be Cured?

If you are struggling with shyness or social anxiety, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) may be an effective treatment option for you. 

In CBT, you will work with a therapist to identify and challenge negative thoughts and beliefs that may be contributing to your shyness or social anxiety. You will learn new coping strategies and skills to help you manage your symptoms and feel more confident in social situations.

CBT typically involves:

  • Cognitive restructuring: This refers to the process of recognizing and questioning harmful thoughts and beliefs, and substituting them with more optimistic and reasonable ones. For example, if you have a negative thought like "I'm going to embarrass myself in front of everyone," you might learn to challenge that thought by asking yourself, "Is that really true?"
  • Exposure therapy: This involves gradually facing feared social occasions in a safe and controlled way. For example, if you are afraid of public speaking, your therapist might help you practice giving a speech in front of a small group of people before gradually working up to larger audiences.
  • Social skills training: This involves learning and practicing specific social skills, such as assertiveness, active listening, and effective communication.

Overall, CBT can be a highly effective treatment. It can help you learn new ways of thinking and behaving that can improve your confidence and reduce your symptoms. If you are interested in CBT, talk to your healthcare provider or a mental health professional to learn more.

Substance Abuse

Substance abuse is a serious issue that affects many people who struggle with shyness and social anxiety. While not everyone who experiences shyness or social anxiety will turn to drugs or alcohol, some individuals may use these substances as a way to cope with their feelings of discomfort or anxiety in social situations.

Using drugs or alcohol can provide temporary relief from social anxiety or shyness, but it can also lead to addiction and other negative consequences. It can cause physical and mental health problems, relationship issues, financial difficulties, and legal trouble.

It is important to understand that using alcohol is not a healthy or effective way to cope with shyness or social anxiety. If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction, it is important to seek help from a medical or mental health professional.


In this article, we discussed the difference between shyness and social anxiety disorder. We also discussed the factors associated with social anxiety disorder, as well as different strategies for managing it. Finally, we covered how substance abuse can be a risk factor for people who struggle with shyness or social anxiety.

Shyness and social anxiety are common issues that many people face. With proper treatment and support, individuals can develop better-coping skills and confidence in social situations. If you are struggling with either of these conditions, be sure to check out these programs: Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and .... With time, practice, and the right help, you can improve the quality of your life and enjoy greater social confidence.