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  • Writer's pictureAlyssa Zajdel, PhD

Is It Social Anxiety or Shyness?

Embarking on the journey of understanding our social tendencies is like sailing through the sometimes-murky waters of our own minds. Often, we find ourselves questioning whether our reservations in social settings are just shyness or if they point to a deeper, more intricate web known as social anxiety.




The Spectrum of Shyness:

Shyness is a common trait, one that many of us can relate to. It's that initial hesitation, the butterflies in your stomach before a social event, or the preference for quieter, more intimate gatherings. Shyness is a personality trait, a natural inclination to be reserved or reticent in certain situations. It doesn't necessarily interfere significantly with daily life or cause distress.


Social Anxiety Unveiled:

On the flip side, social anxiety is a nuanced psychological condition that goes beyond the occasional discomfort in social situations. It manifests as an intense fear of judgment, scrutiny, or embarrassment in everyday interactions. Individuals with social anxiety may harbor irrational fears that others are constantly evaluating or negatively perceiving them. This can lead to avoidance behaviors, limiting one's social interactions to an extent that hinders personal and professional growth.




While both shyness and social anxiety share common ground, several factors can help distinguish one from the other.


Impact on Daily Life:


  • Shyness typically doesn't impede daily functioning. It might make social situations momentarily uncomfortable, but it doesn't lead to avoidance or severe distress.

  • Social anxiety, on the other hand, can significantly disrupt one's ability to engage in routine activities. It may hinder the pursuit of opportunities, building relationships, or participating in social events.


Physical Symptoms:


  • Shyness may cause mild physical discomfort, such as blushing or a racing heart, which tends to subside as the person becomes more comfortable in a situation.

  • Social anxiety often triggers more intense physical symptoms, including nausea, sweating, trembling, and even panic attacks. These symptoms can be overwhelming and challenging to manage.


Fear Levels:


  • Shy individuals might experience a level of nervousness or discomfort but can generally function in social settings.

  • Socially anxious individuals harbor an intense fear of negative evaluation, often leading to avoidance of social situations whenever possible.




Understanding whether you're dealing with shyness or social anxiety is the first step toward personal growth. If shyness feels like a gentle ebb and flow of social discomfort, then embracing it might lead to personal enrichment. However, if social anxiety is significantly impacting your interactions, seeking professional guidance can provide tools to work through these difficulties.



If you would like to figure out if you are experiencing shyness or social anxiety, talking to a therapist can help!


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