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Social Anxiety vs Shyness: How to Decipher What You Feel Inside

If you suffer from social anxiety and shyness, you are not alone. Although you think it can’t be overcome, it can. Here are some tips for you to use.

social anxiety vs shyness

This is something that really interests me—and bothers me at the same time. At some point or another, we all wonder about and weigh the traits to understand the differences between social anxiety vs shyness in our lifetimes.

A short history of social anxiety vs shyness in my life

As a young girl, I was incredibly shy. I had hair so long I often sat on it and a love for books and flowers and dogs. Notice that I didn’t mention friends or people in general? Yeah, I wasn’t a huge fan. 

I had two friends and that was all I really needed. My teachers used to tell my mom that I never talked and that I was well-behaved. My mom didn’t believe it, because of course, at home I was a little hellion.

Fast-forward five years and I was a social butterfly, as my mom liked to call it. I couldn’t get enough of people, I began to get in trouble at school for talking too much. If I was moved around the class to interrupt chatting, I would just chat with whoever was next to me. [Read: 13 steps to break you out of your shy shell for good]

Now? I still like to talk. I coined myself a social introvert because I thoroughly enjoy social interactions, but when I’m out of “social juice,” it’s time for me to go home and hang out with my dog. 

What that also means, and something that I’ve recognized in my twenties, is social anxiety hits me like a brick wall, completely out of nowhere.

I work in retail, and this is where I tend to notice it the most. In the middle of a busy Saturday, I will have an anxiety attack because there are just too many people. 

It becomes too “peoplely,” and I can’t handle it. It’s interesting how life changes our social behaviors and reactions. [Read: Understanding introvert burnout and how to deal with it]

What causes shyness and social anxiety? 

You might wonder why some people are outgoing and the life of the party and others are shy and socially awkward. What actually causes shyness? There are a lot of different reasons, so let’s take a look at some of the major causes 

1. Negative social experiences 

“Negative social experiences” is a broad term and can mean different things to different people. For example, a person might have had a very embarrassing experience in front of other people. They could have been bullied or shamed by their peers at school. 

If that happened, then their social development is negatively affected by these experiences. They would be more likely to develop social anxiety or shyness. This could become a permanent part of their personality if they don’t try to change it. [Read: Shy extrovert – what it means, 16 signs, and how they’re not like others]

2. Criticism from other people

If someone had a critical family, friends, or even teachers in their life, then this could also cause social anxiety or shyness. Some families or cultures are inherently very critical and judgmental. And if someone grew up in that kind of culture, then it can affect their personality.

The criticism will affect their confidence – in both children and teenagers. When other people doubt your capabilities and other qualities, it will make them feel bad about themselves and thus retreat from other people.

3. Physical factors

Another cause of shyness or social anxiety is physical or biological factors. However, this cause is rarer. Abnormalities such as an imbalance in serotonin in the brain can affect someone’s mood and personality. [Read: 35 Best text conversation starters for the shy and socially awkward]

4. Inherited from parents

When we say “inherited,” we don’t necessarily mean genetically. But instead, they inherit the behaviors of their shy parents. So, if a child watches their parent – one or both – being socially anxious, they can pick up on that themselves.

This is called social learning. It’s sort of the “monkey-see, monkey-do” effect. People emulate behaviors that they see in other people. And our parents are the strongest role models in anyone’s life.

5. No affection from parents

Children who don’t get affection – or very little affection – from their parents can also develop shyness or social anxiety. Some families just don’t express any feelings, and that includes physical touch. [Read: Being raised by narcissists – 18 harmful ways it affects your life]

They never say “I love you” or say that there are proud of anyone’s accomplishments. This can contribute to long-lasting effects on a child’s personality.

6. Family dynamics

Most people develop their shyness at a young age, and it can also stem from other family dynamics. For example, if the parents of a child are divorced and they don’t handle it very well, it could cause a toxic environment. 

Or, if there is abuse from the parent to the child, then that can also cause the children to emotionally withdraw. Thus, the children might avoid people because it’s just too scary for them. [Read: Toxic family members – 15 signs and reasons to cut them off for good]

The difference between social anxiety and shyness

Now that I’ve talked too much about my experience with social anxiety and shyness, it’s time to talk about YOU! Where do you think you fit in this mix? Do you suffer from social anxiety? Or do you think you are just shy?

Social anxiety

Now, I’m not remotely qualified to tell you whether or not you have social anxiety–since it’s a real disorder. I just share my thoughts to help you reflect and understand yourself better. If you want a real diagnosis, please seek someone that paid much more for school than I did. Really.

To sum it up, social anxiety is basically the act of becoming overwhelmed in social situations, whether at parties, at work, or in one-on-one conversations. If you think you might have social anxiety, check out this list of possible symptoms. These symptoms appear during social interactions or during the very thought of social interactions. [Read: Are you socially awkward? 16 easy hacks to loosen up and live life]

Let’s look at symptoms of social anxiety vs shyness.

Symptoms of social anxiety

– Clammy hands

– Sweating

– Stuttering

– Heavy breathing

– Fast breathing

– Blackened vision *edges of vision begin to darken and blur*

– Nausea

– Dizziness

– Redness on face or chest

– Rash/hives

– Overthinking social situations and interactions *Going over conversations several times in your head before they occur*

– Fear of making phone calls

– Avoided situations where you may be the center of attention

– Constant worry over humiliation or embarrassment

– Overanalyzing social situations after they occur

Please note that these symptoms might be symptoms of other disorders, and if you are concerned that you may have a social anxiety disorder, you should seek professional help. [Read: Tips and tricks for those who feel socially awkward]


Some people are just shy, guys. Often young girls are shy, and I think this is just because we haven’t yet found our power. Just wait, those shy girls will grow into powerful women. Stand back, they could evolve any minute now.

Shyness is not a social disorder like social anxiety, and it cannot be treated with medication or counseling. Shyness is simply a personality trait and is commonly mistaken for social anxiety. While shyness on its own is nothing to worry about, it does commonly accompany a social disorder. [Read: The best ways to kick shyness to the curb]

The following are signs and symptoms of shyness vs social anxiety:

Symptoms of shyness

– No small talk

– Fear of public speaking

– Fear of job interviews

– Covers mouth when talking

– Often covers up with clothing

– Fear of speaking to the opposite sex

– Doesn’t date often or at all

– Fear of talking to superiors

– Fear of meeting new people

– Avoids eye contact

– Speaks very quietly

– Possibly self-consciousness

Social anxiety vs shyness – The subtle differences

Understand the difference between the two now? Basically, social anxiety is a real social disorder and needs to be treated with mediation and/or therapy. Shyness is just a personality trait that often accompanies a social disorder, such as social anxiety.

Social anxiety tends to be more intense because you can pass out or become ill. While it is also possible to experience this if you are shy, it is very common in social anxiety disorders. 

While shyness is often partnered with social anxiety, social anxiety is not always associated with shy people. Myself as an example, I’m not a shy person. I consider myself rather outgoing, but social anxiety tends to hit me out of nowhere, and when it hits me, it hits hard. [Read: Social anxiety to social butterfly – How to be less awkward]

On the flip side, I know many people that suffer from social anxiety that are actually very introverted people. In this case, I would say that their social anxiety might be even more heightened because they spend less time with people, so when they have to do so, it becomes increasingly difficult.

There are countless social disorders that mimic social anxiety, and as such, if you feel as though you may be suffering from social anxiety or something similar, I highly encourage you to seek professional help. 

I know many of us fear the stigma tied to going to therapy, but it is truly important to seek help when we need it. We are only human, and sometimes we need help from one another. There is no shame in that.

How to overcome and get rid of social anxiety and shyness

If you want to overcome shyness and social anxiety, it might seem impossible. But it’s not – it can be done. Here are some things you can do to change it. [Read: 14 Signs of social anxiety that hold you back and how to overcome it]

1. Journaling

Journaling might not seem like it would help social anxiety or shyness, but it can. For example, if you are so shy that it negatively affects your life, then you need to keep track of the specific things that trigger you. This allows you to identify what causes you stress.

You can’t change what you don’t recognize. So, writing things down in your journal will help you figure out what is causing your condition. Then, once you know what you need to change, then you can change it.

2. Cognitive behavioral therapy

If you can afford to go to a professional psychologist or therapist, they can help you control your anxiety through cognitive behavioral therapy. They will teach you how to do relaxation techniques and how to meditate. You can also learn to replace negative thoughts with positive ones. [Read: Socially inept – what it is, 20 signs, and how to feel confident again]

3. Don’t focus on yourself

Part of what creates social anxiety is the self-talk that we have going on in our minds. When you’re in a situation that makes you anxious, most shy people turn inward and worry about what other people think about them.

And they always assume it’s negative. So, don’t focus on yourself – just focus on other people. Not everyone is judging you. In fact, most people aren’t at all.

4. Fake it ‘til you make it

As strange as it sounds, just try to fake confidence whenever you can. Just pretend that you are confident. You’re not the only one who feels this way. So, you can develop self-confidence just by acting that way. The more confident you act, the more positively people will respond to you. [Read: Signs of anxiety – how to read the signs ASAP and handle them better]

5. Talk to people

If you are uncomfortable in groups, then try to talk to people one-on-one more often. Once you have more conversations with people, then you will be more comfortable talking in general. For shy people, talking to someone can be challenging because they don’t know what to say. So, the more you talk to people, the easier it will become.

6. Face your fears

You can’t overcome your social anxiety if you don’t do something about it. If you just stay at home all day every day, then you will never be able to change. You have to put yourself out there and face your fears about people. Expose yourself to situations that make you anxious. If you keep avoiding it, you will be hurting yourself and you won’t grow as a person.

[Read: How to build self-confidence: 16 ways to realize you’re worth it]

Social anxiety vs shyness: two terms are commonly thrown around to have the same meaning. Now that you know the difference, you better understand your own social reactions and those around you.

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Brett Larabie
Brett Larabie
Brett is a health and wellness blogger who aims to inspire her readers to live happy, fulfilled lives. She follows a plant-based lifestyle and lives in a tiny a...