Social Anxiety

What is the Difference Between Shyness and Social Anxiety?

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated October 10, 2020

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?

The Subtle Differences Between Social Anxiety and Shyness

Shyness is most certainly a form of social anxiety, so in that sense, they're 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.

Human beings crave social behaviors. It's part of who we are. 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.

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.

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Where can I go to learn more about Jacobson’s relaxation technique and other similar methods?

– Anonymous patient


You can ask your doctor for a referral to a psychologist or other mental health professional who uses relaxation techniques to help patients. Not all psychologists or other mental health professionals are knowledgeable about these techniques, though. Therapists often add their own “twist” to the technqiues. Training varies by the type of technique that they use. Some people also buy CDs and DVDs on progressive muscle relaxation and allow the audio to guide them through the process.

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