Many people believe that shyness and social anxiety are the exact same thing. I’m here to tell you otherwise. Let’s discuss their differences.
We live in a world heavily driven by socializing and companionship. It should be. No one will be able to go through this world alone. At least, not in a sane manner. The truth is, we need other people in our lives just as much as they need us. You need other people in your life.
That’s why when socializing isn’t your forte, other people see it as weird or it’s just not right. This is wrong thinking, of course, but that won’t stop other people from thinking it so.
If you don’t socialize much, you’ll get called shy or you have social anxiety. People will call you either of these things as if they’re the exact same things. In reality, that’s just not the case.
Yes, shyness and social anxiety both share similar descriptions. A person who suffers from social anxiety is often perceived by society as someone who is “extremely shy”. People also believe that if you’re shy, then you must be very anxious about the idea of being shy.
In this article, we will discuss how each of these two attributes is different in their own right. Their similarities make people think they’re one and the same. Their differences will let you know just how different they are from one another.
Before we proceed with discussing what the differences are between shyness and social anxiety, let us first discuss what shyness really is.
What it is
Shyness is the fear of negative social feedback and has some benefits to social behavior. It’s there for a reason. Shy people act exclusively based on natural instinct. Their minds are telling them to be shy because it wants to avoid social humilation.
Think of it this way:
When you don’t eat for a day, even just a couple of hours, you experience hunger. This is your mind telling you that your body needs nutrients in order to sustain itself properly. Your hunger is your mind’s defense mechanism telling you to keep yourself healthy. The same thing happens with thirst.
Well, the same thing also happens with shyness.
You feel shy when you place yourself in a situation where negative social feedback can happen. It’s your mind telling you to “be careful”. Sometimes, this can become overbearing. Shy people have a voice in their head telling them that everything is going to go badly in social situations. To combat this, you need to balance this out and have a “mental cheerleader”. Whenever the voice in your head is telling you things are going to go badly, your mental cheerleader will cheer you on and tell you it won’t be so bad if you just approach it head-on.
What it is not
Shyness is not who you are. It’s simply a personality trait. That’s why it’s more fitting to say that you feel shy rather than to say that you are shy.
A lot of people associate shyness with introversion. While it’s fair to assume this and it’s completely normal to be an introvert, shyness and introversion are not the same.
Introversion is a person’s nature. Shyness isn’t. Shyness is simply a feeling that you experience.
The good thing about feelings is that you can control them.
Shyness also is not an anxiety disorder. It is not the problem that people perceive it to be. If you constantly feel shy in strange and unfamiliar situations, there is nothing wrong with you.
As mentioned, your feeling of shyness is just your mind telling you to be careful. As long as you can control it enough for it to not be irrational, you actually need that shyness in your life. It makes you careful. It makes you mindful. That shyness will tell you what will go wrong so you can do your best not to make that happen.
It is not something you should be afraid of, or even angry about.
Having Social Anxiety
Now that we’ve discussed what shyness really means, let’s talk about its “perceived twin”, social anxiety.
What it is
Social anxiety, in essence, is the intense fear of the idea of socializing and everything that comes with it. It is the fear of rejection, judgment, and eyed in a social setting.
It is a very harmful thing to experience as it drowns out the thoughts of those who have it. People who have social anxiety constantly question themselves, in fear of this experience, and it affects their personal relationships greatly.
Everything about socializing is a scary thought to someone who has social anxiety. It’s not just socializing at parties and meeting strangers either. This can also affect them when someone just meets their eyes on the street, lining up in a grocery store or a coffee shop, being in meetings, and even job interviews.
Because of this, people who have social anxiety often struggle to get through their days. It’s so much more difficult. Living with social anxiety in a social world is understandably very tough to deal with.
Symptoms of Social Anxiety
People who have social anxiety immediately feel the intense fear whenever they enter a social situation. Several symptoms are commonly present in these situations for those who have it. Symptoms such as:
- Rapid heart rate
- Constant thoughts of judgment from other people
- Hand tremors
- Heavy sweating
- Dryness of throat
- Difficulty forming words or even thinking them
These symptoms are often, if not always, accompanied with feelings of fear and sadness.
What it is not
First and foremost, having social anxiety is not just being shy; but we’ll get to that later.
Introversion is also associated with social anxiety. While some people who have social anxiety are introverts, the two aren’t really mutually exclusive.
A lot of people who have social anxiety actually have a semblance of wanting to socialize. They’re just afraid of the negative repercussions. When these people overcome their social anxiety and finally become comfortable socializing, they found that they actually enjoy it. A lot. They draw energy from it. Meaning, they have the nature of extroverts.
There is a difference between not being able to draw energy from crowds and being legitimately afraid of it. The former is introversion and the latter is social anxiety.
Another, more important thing, social anxiety is not something that you will be stuck with forever. Social anxiety is something you can overcome properly without you having to drown yourself in pills.
Your fear of socialization can be reduced to frequent exposure to socializing, with the help of positive reinforcement. Similar to how a shy person can picture a mental cheerleader whenever they get negative shy thoughts with socializing, so can you. Every time you think of a negative thought, something scary that may happen if you socialize, you can counteract it with a positive thing that will actually happen if you push through.
The more and more you put yourself in a position where you can socialize, the lesser fear you’ll feel. In time, this is something you can overcome. This isn’t a lifetime deal.
What’s The Difference Between Shyness And Social Anxiety?
Finally, the question of the day: What’s the difference between shyness and social anxiety? You may already have a clear picture as to what those differences actually are based on everything you’ve read thus far. But you may also have caught glimpses of their similarities and are still convinced that these two are one and the same.
To help you get a clearer understanding as to what makes these two things so different, let’s talk about each differences in detail.
The intensity of fear is different between a shy person and a person who has social anxiety
A person who has social anxiety fears social interactions, sometimes on an extreme level. As mentioned earlier, symptoms such as palpitation, nausea, and loss for words occur to people will social anxiety whenever they attempt to socialize. For shy people, it’s inconvenient at best. It’s still scary for shy people, but its never at the same intensity as the one a socially anxious person feels.
Shy people can actually socialize while people with social anxiety will avoid it altogether
Shy people can socialize if they have to force themselves to do it. It will be uncomfortable and scary if they can’t control their shyness, but they can get through a socializing evening.
On the other hand, a socially anxious person’s fear for socializing is so great that they try to avoid socializing altogether. The control their anxiety have over them is so strong that it virtually controls their life. They are unable to do certain mundane things that require other people to be there because they’re too afraid that they might do something awful around them.
A shy person feels something like this too, but it will never control them to a point that they’re even to afraid to line up at a coffee shop.
A shy person can be comfortable with their shyness, while a person with social anxiety do not
A lot of people are very aware of their shyness. In fact, they embrace. They acknowledge their shyness and its reasonable purposes and are very comfortable with having those in their lives.
A socially anxious person would rather not have this kind of feeling. They feel very powerless over it. They know how much it is destroying their lives, how much it prohibits them from doing great things, but they feel like they have nothing they can do about it.
A socially anxious person will live in constant fear of things around them and for what they have. That’s not what a shy person is. This alone should convince you how different shyness and social anxiety are.
Shyness is not a pre-requisite for social anxiety
If shyness and social anxiety were the same, then that would mean every single person who’s shy experiences social anxiety.
A shy person does feel levels of discomfort and dread when they’re about to enter unfamiliar situations, simply because of the possibility of failure. It will never reach alarming levels, though, where their hearts feel like it’s going to burst out of their chests. What they feel is never distressful fear.
On the other hand, A socially anxious person will never tell you that they’re “shy”, and that’s because that’s not exactly what they’re feeling. “Afraid” is the more proper term for it.
Socially anxious people may have experienced what they would call “shy” when they were young, but this isn’t true to all of them. Some socially anxious people exhibit social anxiety from the get-go.
There Is Nothing Wrong With You
A lot of people will point out that having social anxiety, even just feeling shy in social gatherings, is an alarming attribute to have.
Don’t let this get to you.
Think about this: A lot of the most social people in the world right now once had social anxiety. A lot of them felt shy on more times than they could count before they became the person they are today.
In fact, one could argue that the reason why they’re so good at socializing now is because they know what it’s like to be bad at it. To be afraid of it.
A lot of people have over-saturated social anxiety so much that if you have it, people will say that you need to have yourself checked or see a professional RIGHT AWAY, like it is the only thing you can actually do.
If seeing a professional is something you want, then alright. Go for it.
But you need to know that’s not the only option you have.
There’s nothing wrong with you that can’t be straighten out. If you want to overcome shyness and social anxiety, you very much can. By your own hand, using your very own will.
Your shyness could be mistaken for social anxiety and your social anxiety could be mistaken for shyness
A lot of the most social people in the world right now once had social anxiety.
The fact that people have mistaken shyness for social anxiety and the other way around is a testament to how exaggerated both these things have been. If you’re shy and are afraid of socializing, it’s seen as a dangerous mental health issue right away.
The fact of the matter is, you could just be very shy about socializing simply because you’re not that used to it. Because you’re constantly shy and don’t have exposure, you will almost fear socializing for its unfamiliarity.
However, if you give yourself a chance, if someone has told you, to go forward and see the other possibilities aside from just telling you that you need help, things will go differently.
On the other hand, if you do experience incredible social anxiety, this process is going to go a lot differently. It will take longer. Positive association will take more time and more effort.
But it doesn’t mean it cannot be done.
Just think of the previous quote.
A lot of the most social people in the world right now were previously socially anxious and/or incredibly shy. But they braved through it because they know they can.
Because they wanted to. And they did.
If they were able to do it, that says one thing about you…
You can do it as well.
Achieve Social Confidence
If there’s one thing shyness and social anxiety have in common, it’s the fact that it can be alleviated through constant exposure.
At the other end of the spectrum of social anxiety is social confidence. This is where you can socialize without having to worry about any negative thoughts. Even feelings of shyness disappears if you have social confidence.
When shy people and socially anxious people attain social confidence, it’s as if they never had social anxiety or shyness at all. It will become forgotten.
The scary notions of socializing, the possibility of failure, fear of humiliation, those gets thrown out the window. Forgotten and unseen.
Whether you’re shy or socially anxious right now, social confidence is what you’re going to have to aspire for. The best way to do that is to improve your social skills.
If you improve your social skills, you’ll know what to do in every social gathering. You’ll know what to do if something goes wrong and you’ll know what to do to avoid things from going wrong. Conversations suddenly become less scary because you already have things you know you can talk about, and actually want to talk about.
Instead of being afraid or nervous of social interactions, you will suddenly become excited for them. You’ll look forward to every single one. Once you start making friends, making connections, creating memories, you will have been socially confident and you’ll never ever look back.
So for now, study. Once you have enough information about socializing, expose yourself to it. Expose to it yourself more and more until the idea of becoming afraid of it almost becomes absurd.
Until then, good luck. You can do it just by socializing and applying yourself. You can get to the other end of the road.
Learn more on how to improve your social skills and learn how to make friends here.