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What is the Difference Between Shyness and Social Anxiety?

Many people claim they have social anxiety because many people do. Social anxiety is a common issue that affects millions of people and can hurt your quality of life. Many people are also shy and have trouble speaking up in front of others. This brings up an interesting question: are you suffering from social anxiety? Or are you simply a shy person?

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The Subtle Differences Between Social Anxiety and Shyness

Shyness is most certainly a form of social anxiety, so in that sense, they're one in the same. But social anxiety usually refers to social phobia, which is a type of anxiety that can reduce your quality of life and make it very hard to be social. Make sure you take my anxiety test if you are new to the site.

Human beings crave social behaviors. It's part of our DNA. So it's no wonder that when someone is suffering socially, they can be badly affected by it, possibly leading to sadness and depression. Indeed, even being a little shy can affect you socially, because it makes it harder to interact with those that may make good friends or relationship partners.

But while those with social phobia exhibit shyness, they're considered different issues.


  • Makes it harder to talk to people you don't know, but not impossible.
  • Can make it harder to speak up in a group unless you know people.
  • May cause people to boss you around or take over.

Shyness can be a problem, and one might even argue that it can lead to social anxiety, but what shyness doesn't do is guarantee that the person has a bad life. Many shy people have amazing friends, enjoy an active social life, and find ways to get around their shyness and still be happy.

Social anxiety - aka social phobia - is different:

  • Anxiety is severe, and may even cause panic attacks.
  • Thinking about a social function causes anxiety, even before you're there.
  • Interacting with anyone causes extreme fear and doubt.
  • Any perceived mistake may lead to shame, depression, and further negative emotions.
  • Causes you to feel very negative, and may make your life much more difficult.

Social phobia is an extreme version of shyness. While there are several types of differences, the biggest is simply the person's contentment level with their life. If you are practically disabled by social situations, chances are you have social phobia. If you are fine but very quiet around other people and only a little bit prone to embarrassment, chances are you're simply shy.

Curing Shyness or Social Anxiety

Shyness may still be a form of anxiety, however, so if you do feel like you want to overcome your shyness, reducing your anxiety can be a big help. Similarly, even if you are severely social phobic, that doesn't mean that you can't treat it. In fact, social phobia is one of the most treatable anxiety conditions out there provided you commit to it and know where to look.

I've worked with thousands of social phobic people - and shy people - helping them overcome their anxiety. Start with my free 7-minute anxiety test, and see how you can stop your social anxiety today.

Start the test here.

Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Nov 23, 2017.

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