I have always considered myself a shy girl. Although not many people would, I agree that I am.
I tend to avoid many social situations. I’m talking about work meetings, meetings with friends, parties, networking events, meetUps, bars, museums (sometimes), dates, you name it.
I overthink things. I overthink the situation, and I always psych myself out for no good reason. I know I do it, I hate it and it does prevent me from living my best life because I have no experience.
No matter what it is, I avoid all social situations, and only under certain circumstances will I muster enough courage to go to any of those things. But when I don’t, I go to my little black book: “101 Excuses To Get Out of Any Social Situation”.
Just kidding, I have no such book.
But if I did, I think I’d be a best seller.
Because did you know that social anxiety affects 15 million adults or 6.8% of the U.S. population?
That’s a lot of people.
First, Things First
Do you know the difference between being shy and having social anxiety?
If you don’t, that’s okay because most people don’t, and before this post, I didn’t know either.
It can be difficult to differentiate these two from one another but I hope that this blog post serves to explain the two.
Social anxiety (also known as social phobia) is considered a mental health condition that includes having a consistent fear of being negatively judged by others. Notably, it refers to feelings of nervousness and discomfort in social situations.
Shyness, on the other hand, is the feeling (could be fear) of being awkward around people. It is not a mental health condition, but it is a characteristic.
We often describe someone as “shy,” but we don’t do the same for someone who has a social anxiety disorder.
However, someone who has social anxiety can be shy as well.
Statistics have shown that approximately 50% of people who have social anxiety claim to be shy (1).
What Is Social Anxiety?
A person who has a social anxiety disorder has a fear of being in social situations and being exposed to these social situations can affect them negatively.
They have a deep fear of being humiliated or judged. Even though it is a mental disorder, a person with social anxiety can show physical symptoms of distress when put in these types of situations.
Physical symptoms include (2):
Faster heart rate
Feeling nauseous or sick to the stomach.
Difficulty speaking (or speaking very softly)
The intensity of social anxiety will differ from person to person. For some people, it is manageable, and for others, it can be quite overwhelming.
In particular, people with social anxiety find it difficult to:
Talk in front of others.
Go to parties
Talk to strangers
Eat, drink, write, or use a phone in front of others.
Use public toilets
Be in a situation where they may have to to say “no” to someone
Send text messages
Readout loud in front of people
Use public transportation
Wait in line at the grocery store
As a result of their anxiety people with this phobia present a few behavioral symptoms including, but not limited to(3):
Avoiding social situations altogether
Leaving meetings or events prematurely
Focusing too much on themselves
Trying not to draw attention
Not looking at other people
Is It Shyness?
Shyness is considered a character trait, and not a mental health disorder.
Shy people aren’t as negatively affected by social situations compared to those with social anxiety. They can overcome their social concerns once they become more familiarized with their surroundings.
Shy people may avoid social interaction due to their shyness but with mental preparation, they can overcome it.
The level of distress experienced by someone shy is significantly lower than someone who has social anxiety.
Is It Social Anxiety? Or Is It Shyness?
As you can see, although there are differences, there are also similarities between the two.
What they both have in common is the fear of social situations.
Differences include social anxiety being a mental health disorder and shyness a characteristic. People who are shy are able to manage social situations with preparation and familiarity to the situation, whereas someone with social anxiety cannot.
It is also, worth mentioning that shyness has the potential to turn into social anxiety under certain circumstances.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
Social anxiety is often treated with CBT, which helps the person alter their way of thinking about situations and helps them approach them more readily (4).
This allows the person to identify thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to people’s negative feelings.
Teaching people new ways of thinking and behaving to manage their anxiety better
I hope that I was able to help you understand the difference between being shy and having social anxiety.
If I didn’t do that, I apologize.
Social anxiety is a mental disorder and is commonly treated with Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
Shyness is a personality characteristic. You can use this term to describe someone.
By the way, have you ever met someone who was diagnosed with “shyness” or “being shy”?
I bet you haven’t because I am pretty sure that you can't diagnose “shyness”.