What is the Connection Between Shyness and Social Anxiety?

B. Schreiber
B. Schreiber
A shy child may be reluctant to join a group.
A shy child may be reluctant to join a group.

Shyness and social anxiety describe thoughts and emotions that result in similar behaviors, but may or may not have harmful effects on a person's life or well-being. Shyness can range from occasional inhibition in new social settings to such anxiety that a person avoids typical social behavior, such as work and relationships. While social anxiety is sometimes used in an informal way to describe shyness, it also describes a disorder that can have damaging effects on a person's life. People with social anxiety disorder are more likely to avoid social settings than those with mild shyness. Someone who is shy may not have social anxiety, and someone who has social anxiety is not necessarily shy either.

Shyness is not necessarily associated with anxiety.
Shyness is not necessarily associated with anxiety.

Shyness is not always associated with anxiety and is seen by some as a positive personality trait. Social anxiety is associated with the bodily changes that result from the flight or fight response, imagining the worst that could happen, and behaviors like only going to familiar places. While they are different, shyness and social anxiety probably have similar causes, including genetics, environmental factors like upbringing, and the biochemical differences responsible for other mental health disorders. Often people with shyness and social anxiety both respond to therapy, including cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Social anxiety often causes sufferers to avoid meeting new people.
Social anxiety often causes sufferers to avoid meeting new people.

One difference between shyness and social anxiety is that, while shyness is often thought of as part of a person's personality, social anxiety can be a disorder that requires treatment. In the latter case, social anxiety can have a damaging effect on work and developing or maintaining relationships. That's because it can cause someone with the condition to avoid situations in which she might be expected to speak in a work meeting or meet new people. In more severe cases, someone may choose to only work night jobs, drop out of school, or even remain unemployed. Treatment for social anxiety disorder can greatly reduce counterproductive behaviors and allow people with the condition to lead fuller lives.

Extreme shyness can pose an obstacle to developing friendships and other relationships.
Extreme shyness can pose an obstacle to developing friendships and other relationships.

The terms shyness and social anxiety are sometimes used interchangeably, but some people with social anxiety don't describe or think of themselves as shy. For example, a person with social anxiety may have no trouble talking with fellow coworkers but might pass up a promotion because it requires an interview for the position. The fear of being judged or criticized in an interview could cause so much anxiety that the person avoids the situation and declines the promotion.

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Discussion Comments

anon1001119

one semester shy of graduating i dropped out bc i had to do a power point presentation. i regret it tremendously now but back then i felt like id faint at the podium. cowardly i suppose. i shouldve challenged myself in spite of the consequences. but the risks outweighed the benefits. i also feel bad about that still but i forgive myself notwithstanding.

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    • A shy child may be reluctant to join a group.
      By: Vlad
      A shy child may be reluctant to join a group.
    • Shyness is not necessarily associated with anxiety.
      By: Ilike
      Shyness is not necessarily associated with anxiety.
    • Social anxiety often causes sufferers to avoid meeting new people.
      By: Sabphoto
      Social anxiety often causes sufferers to avoid meeting new people.
    • Extreme shyness can pose an obstacle to developing friendships and other relationships.
      By: Elenathewise
      Extreme shyness can pose an obstacle to developing friendships and other relationships.
    • Anxiety can prevent someone from getting proper rest prior to a big social gathering.
      By: Focus Pocus LTD
      Anxiety can prevent someone from getting proper rest prior to a big social gathering.
    • People who have social anxieties may spend their evenings watching TV instead of going out.
      By: xalanx
      People who have social anxieties may spend their evenings watching TV instead of going out.
    • People with social anxiety might feel like they are invisible and inaudible to people around them.
      By: gemenacom
      People with social anxiety might feel like they are invisible and inaudible to people around them.
    • Someone who has social anxiety may lack the motivation to go out and meet people.
      By: Innovated Captures
      Someone who has social anxiety may lack the motivation to go out and meet people.
    • It may take a while for a shy person to feel comfortable in a new social scenario.
      By: belahoche
      It may take a while for a shy person to feel comfortable in a new social scenario.