Social Anxiety VS Shyness. Almost everyone feels shy from time to time. Being set up on a blind date, giving a presentation at school or giving a wedding toast are usually activities people fear. The famous Seinfeld quote about people fearing giving a speech more than death is as relevant as ever.
For most, the butterflies in the stomach go away after a while and after the feared activity you feel relieved and soon go back to feeling normal. However, if you suffer from social anxiety disorder it might be different. Knowing you have to give a presentation or a wedding toast will likely cause intense anxiety long before the actual event starts. You are likely to fill your head with negative thoughts about previous situations where you feel like you embarrassed yourself. The anxiety is in many cases so strong it will cause you to avoid the event altogether.
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If avoiding is not a possibility, you will most certainly endure it under intense discomfort. A big part of social anxiety disorder is focusing too much inwards in order to make sure you don’t “do anything stupid”. The fear of embarrassment by showing signs of nervousness is palpable, and looking out for signs of that, such as sweating, blushing or trembling only makes you more nervous. This vicious circle is to some extent what social anxiety is.
What is shyness
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), shyness is “the tendency to feel awkward, worried or tense during social encounters”. It can also be described as a personality trait where the shy person feel some level of discomfort when approaching or being approached by others.
Being shy is not the same thing as being introvert. An introvert person is energized by being alone and in most cases prefer it to spending time with others. Many shy people on the other hand want to be around others, but for various reasons find it hard. More often than not a shy person have “safe” people they don’t feel nervous around, but being introduced to new people is hard and stressful.
Why are we shy?
Scientists believe shyness to some extent derives from genetics. Around 15% of newborns are born with shy tendencies. However, as many as 40 to 60% of adults report being shy which suggests a big part of is developed later in life.
Exactly how shyness develops in teenagers and adults is hard to say because it can develop from a number of different factors and situations. As for many other fears, a specific trauma can be the trigger, but it can also be other things.
Some potential causes of shyness:
- Lack of self-confidence
- Poor social skills
- Emotionally detached parents
- Medical conditions
- Child abuse, particularly emotional abuse
The difference between shyness and social anxiety
Social anxiety is the fear of social situations – or more specifically the fear of being judged in social situations. We go in more depth about what social anxiety is in our article What Is Social Anxiety Disorder – The Complete Overview.
As you’ve probably come to understand, it’s not entirely easy to distinguish SAD from shyness because they share plenty of the same characteristics. One definition of the difference is the intensity of the fear itself. Being a little uncomfortable around others is not the same as having high anxiety levels, or flat out panic, which is what many SAD-sufferers feel. The intensity of the fear also relates to the impairment in daily life it causes. Social phobia often affects several parts of your life, whereas shyness often only affect meeting (new) people.
Another difference lies in the level of avoidance. Most shy people can endure uncomfortable situations and know that the discomfort is not dangerous. Socially anxious on the other hand often avoid feared situations to a greater extent.
Social anxiety vs shyness – some differences
- Shyness is a personality trait, social anxiety is a disorder.
- Social anxiety often affects many parts of your life, shyness is often only a problem with new people.
- The intensity of the fear of social situations is often higher for socially anxious.
- Socially anxious tend to use avoiding as a coping mechanism to a greater extent.
- Social anxiety is more often linked to depression
How do you know if you have social anxiety?
As previously mentioned it can be hard to distinguish social phobia from shyness. The symptoms are alike, and someone who is shy can develop social anxiety. The most effective way to determine if you suffer from social anxiety disorder, and not shyness, is to let a CBT-therapist examine you and build a physiological profile. This is usually done by answering a questionnaire of 15-30 questions. The questions are typically about what you feel in social situations, how often you avoid them, and how much you worry about upcoming events. After answering the question the therapist can usually give you a pretty good diagnosis.
See if you have social phobia right now
If you want an answer right away instead of making an appointment with a CBT-therapist, we put together a slightly less extensive test that can give you an idea of whether or not you suffer from SAD. You will the social anxiety test here, and it will take approximately two minutes to answer.
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