If you tend to experience feelings of intense fear and nervousness in social situations, you may wonder if you can do anything to improve your quality of life.
It is common to feel some degree of uncertainty when faced with large groups or unfamiliar people. But negative thoughts that are severely impacting your daily life and ability to interact with others may be a sign of a larger problem.
Often, these social fears are dismissed as typical “shyness” when there potentially is another explanation for the suffering—social anxiety disorder.

What Is Shyness?

Shyness is generally defined as a feeling of awkwardness, uncertainty, discomfort, or worry during social situations. It can be situational, increasing or lessening as the result of changing circumstances.
Commonly, children are shy because they’re still developing and learning more about how they fit in with the world around them. Therefore, shyness is typically considered to be a personality trait that will often decrease or we “grow out of” over time.

What Is Social Anxiety?

Social anxiety refers to extreme feelings of fear, apprehension, embarrassment, or panic when faced with social situations. And social anxiety disorder is a mental health condition and is significantly more serious than shyness.
Not all individuals who have social anxiety disorder are automatically shy. Many may actually be outgoing or social by nature. But their disorder can hold people back from speaking up or participating when they otherwise would choose to.

Telling Shyness from Social Anxiety

Shyness and social anxiety disorder share some similarities, but the two conditions are not the same. While it can sometimes be difficult to differentiate between them, social anxiety can usually be recognized by the severity of the symptoms.
Here are some of the more common ways to tell shyness from social anxiety:


Shyness: Temporary feelings of discomfort in new social situations. It will typically subside once you have left the situation or become more familiar with the circumstances.
Social Anxiety: Intense feelings of fear and discomfort that can begin days, weeks or months before a new social situation. These feelings typically do not subside after you have left the situation.


Shyness: Little-to-no tendency to obsess over details of a social situation.
Social Anxiety: Ruminating and obsessing over something you did or said during a social situation or something that was done or said to you.


Shyness: Indifferent or even positive feelings toward the condition.
Social Anxiety: Feelings of shame, frustration, or self-loathing with respect to the condition.

Physical Symptoms

Shyness: Mild physical symptoms, such as sweaty palms before public speaking or “butterflies” in the stomach when meeting new people.
Social Anxiety: Significant physical symptoms, such as very rapid heart rate, shortness of breath, nausea or diarrhea, heaviness of chest, dizziness, or moderate sweating.

Sleep Issues

Shyness: No difficulty sleeping.
Social Anxiety: Frequent difficulty sleeping and tendency to stay awake at night worrying.

Treating Social Anxiety Disorder

Learning to recognize social anxiety in yourself and in others takes time. It can be helpful to consider questions like the following:

  • Am I/is my loved one obsessing over minor details of a social situation?
  • Are my/my loved one’s thoughts interfering with my/their ability to complete daily tasks and live a normal life?
  • Am I/is my loved one experiencing repeated physical symptoms such as difficulty breathing, rapid heart rate, or insomnia as a result of social situations?

An answer of “yes” to these and similar questions is a strong indicator that you or a loved one may be suffering from social anxiety disorder. Such a diagnosis can feel overwhelming, but recovery is possible.
Meeting with a licensed counselor is a wonderful first step toward managing your social anxiety. A therapist can help customize a workable approach and develop an individual treatment plan that fits your needs. With their support, you will learn to address your symptoms and their underlying causes.
If you would like help with whatever your personal situation demands, contact us today to learn more about our approach to anxiety therapy.

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