Do You Have Social Anxiety Disorder or Are You Just Shy?

Do you avoid meeting new people? Are you afraid of being judged? Do you feel anxious or nervous while attending social gatherings? If you are facing these problems for a longer period of about six months or more and it is hampering your everyday tasks then you might have social anxiety disorder. However, some people assume it is shyness. Shyness and social phobia share many characteristics and are sometimes used interchangeably. However, they are different.

In this blog, you will learn some key differences between shyness and social anxiety disorder that help you identify what you have.

Read the blog, to find out if you have social anxiety disorder or shyness.

Social Anxiety Disorder vs. Shyness 

To distinguish between these two terms you will have to understand the meaning of both terms.

You are shy when you feel a bit reserved or uncomfortable in social situations. On the other hand, Social anxiety disorder is more severe. You experience fear of social meetings.

Unfortunately, social anxiety disorder (SAD) is considered as extreme shyness. Most people don’t seek medical help for this because they don’t realize they have this psychiatric condition. The researchers have found that almost 9.1% of teenagers and 7.1% of adults over 18 have social phobias that typically appear in childhood. Some people overcome this disorder on their own, while some struggle to even acknowledge the problem.

If you have social anxiety disorder or social phobia then things can go tough for you. You might start avoiding all your social contacts and meetings because what is normal for people, is a challenge for you. Facing people, making eye contact, and talking to them while everyone is just watching you, is not normal for you. The stress of the situation is too much to handle.

Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder and Shyness

Social Anxiety Disorder/PhobiaShyness
SweatingFeeling nervous
Racing heartbeatShaky and breathless
Chest tightnessSweating
Migraine or headacheBlushing
Fear or anxietyTimid or insecure
Panic attacks 
Feeling of numbness 

Although they share some traits, shyness is more related to feeling nervous at social meetings or gatherings. It is a personality trait that mostly occurs in a new situation or event and does not require treatment. Social anxiety on the other hand is a mental health condition that can worsen over time if not treated.

Shyness is related to the situation. If you are being introduced to new people, you may feel shy. When you become accustomed to the event, you start feeling at ease. However, this is not the same for people with social anxiety disorder. Their fear can also be situational but persists before, during, and after the event.

Try to understand the difference between shyness and anxiety disorder with this example – You are supposed to give a speech on stage. You are nervous before the presentation/speech. It is normal and obvious to be nervous and tense. This is a sign of shyness. However, if you feel anxious even before a week or month or you are having sleepless nights feeling uneasy about the presentation, then this is social anxiety disorder.

When Does Social Anxiety Happen?

Shyness is feeling nervous in particular situations like speaking in public or starting a conversation with a stranger.  Social anxiety means feeling afraid of social situations that make you anxious. Well, every person with a social anxiety disorder may experience different symptoms. Below are the situations when social anxiety happens:

  • Speaking in public
  • Talking to a stranger
  • Attending any social meeting with unknown people
  • Making eye contact while talking
  • Facing an interview
  • Eating in front of other people
  • Dating
  • Attending parties
  • Starting conversation
  • Giving a presentation or speech
  • Entering a room full of audiences

People with social anxiety may have different fears of certain situations. But, in general, the most common fears are:

  • Being judged by people
  • Being humiliated by others
  • Accidentally offended someone
  • Embarrassment
  • Being watched by many strangers while speaking
  • Being the center of attraction

Can Shyness Turn into Social Anxiety Disorder?

Yes, if a person continues to avoid, worry, or analyze social interactions, his shyness may develop into a social anxiety disorder. If a person tends to worry about their shyness, they will develop a negative thought of inferiority which will trigger social anxiety disorder. Hence, it is important to acknowledge your problems and seek medical help if required.

This disorder can emerge at any age or point in life. A study says that social anxiety disorder can impact almost 7% of the population. Besides, this disorder can accompany some other problems like depression, substance use disorder, etc.

What Can I Do About Social Anxiety Disorder?

If you think you have social phobias or anxiety disorder by reading the most common symptoms of social anxiety disorder, you might need treatment.

If it’s hampering your work and you are unable to do the things you are willing to do, then you must seek medical help. You should consult a doctor or therapist to diagnose the problem. They can then refer to a psychiatrist or psychologist for better treatment. The mental health professional will ask certain questions to know your history. He will ensure no unrelated physical health issues are causing this problem.

So, the first step you need to do is to get the problem diagnosed by a mental health professional.

How Social Anxiety Disorder is Treated

The two most effective treatments for social anxiety disorder are prescription medication and behavioral therapy. Your doctor prescribes either medicines or therapies to improve your condition or, you may receive both.


Understanding your situation, your doctor will prescribe the medicines that reduce the symptoms of SAD or eliminate them completely. However, some people may not react to the medicine prescribed. The doctor will change the drug to see the impact. This may take time to find out if the actual medicine is working for you.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved only a few medicines for social anxiety disorder. However, some other medicines work successfully too. Your psychiatrist will know which medicine will work best for you. There are many advantages of having medicines you just have to take them once a day and the symptoms will go away. But, there are some disadvantages also.

The first demerit is that the symptoms may return if you stop taking medicines. The second is that you might have some side effects like nausea, headache, etc. The consumption of these pills may lead to suicidal thoughts. Therefore, people under the age of 24 should be closely monitored. You and your doctor must weigh the advantages and disadvantages of the medication before prescribing it. And, if you notice any side effects, consult your doctor immediately. If required, he can refer you to a therapist who will provide behavioral therapy to cure your social anxiety disorder symptoms.

Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral therapy is provided by a trained psychiatrist or psychologist who helps you to change the way to attend social meetings or gatherings. The type of behavioral therapy your doctor will use could be exposure therapy. During this, they let you attend a social meeting that you are afraid of. This gradually exposes you to the type of meetings you avoid until you start feeling comfortable. You will see that the problems were in your thoughts and that the social situation is not so bad.

When Should I Seek Medical Help?

If you are still confused if you have anxiety disorder or shyness and when you should get medical help then ask a few important questions to yourself. These questions will help you know if it’s the right time to seek medical help for social anxiety disorder:

  • Have I started frequently avoiding social meetings or interactions because I am afraid people would judge me?
  • Do I usually sweat, tremble, blush, or have any other physical symptoms while attending any social event and I  am afraid people would notice them all?
  • Do I feel anxious or panicky before entering any crowded room?
  • Do I panic when I have to do things in front of people like giving a speech or presentation?
  • Do I have a fear of rejection?
  • Is my anxiety affecting my work life, home life, and social life?

Feeling nervous or anxious is normal. This doesn’t mean you are sick or have any mental disorder. But if your anxiety has started affecting your life and the way you work and behave, then there is a problem. You must immediately talk to your doctor. Because if the problem is left untreated this may lead to other mental disorders like depression, and drug or alcohol problems.

Final Takeaway

No matter what your situation is, getting help from your loved ones or a licensed professional such as a psychologist or psychiatrist will be beneficial. Nobody wants to live with shyness or social anxiety disorder. However, if you are facing this problem you should know that you are not alone. Getting the right treatment will bring meaningful changes in how you perceive your life and social events. Just make sure to choose the right therapist, who understands your personal experience and provides better treatment. 

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