Shyness vs. Social Anxiety: 5 Key Differences to Note

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Shyness and social anxiety are similar, but they are not the same thing. It would be wrong to use the two terms interchangeably. Social anxiety is a clinical condition, while most people consider shyness to be more of an underlying personality trait. 

You can take a social anxiety self-test if you are wondering whether this term might apply to you. You can also check out this list of key differences between shyness and social anxiety if you feel like you might have either one or the other. 

The Intensity of the Fear You Feel is a Major Difference

If someone is shy, they might be somewhat afraid to be in social situations. They may not like going to a party where they do not know anyone, for example. However, they can still bring themselves to do it, even if they’re not in love with the notion.

If someone has diagnosed social anxiety, though, that is often enough to make them avoid parties or other social gatherings unless they feel they have no other choice. Someone with each condition may feel fear when facing social situations, but it’s much more intense with social anxiety. 

The Level to Which You Avoid Social Situations is Another

Someone shy might understand in the logical part of their brain that they need to meet new people sometimes. They may need to have a job interview, for instance. They won’t like it, but they can do it. 

Someone with social anxiety may not be able to force themselves into situations where they’re interacting with unfamiliar people, even if it’s vitally important that they do so. 

The Impairment of Function is a Difference Between the Two Conditions

Someone shy can usually turn off that part of their brain long enough to interact with people when needed. They may not be the life of the party, but they can galvanize their tongue into forming words when someone speaks to them. 

Someone with diagnosed social anxiety may not be able to do that. They might become tongue-tied and flee the room if someone they don’t know talks to them. 

Comfort Around Familiar People is a Difference

If someone is shy, that probably means they would prefer to be around people they know. They can still meet new people, though, and they might even loosen up if they find they’re getting along with someone new.

Someone with diagnosed social anxiety might only be able to talk to people they know. Even if they’ve met someone before and they’re reasonably familiar with them, they might find themselves hard-pressed to act naturally around them. 

Social Anxiety Can Have a Detrimental Effect on Someone’s Finances, Education, and Professional Life

Someone shy can tamp down those feelings long enough to go to work or school. Someone with diagnosed social anxiety might not be able to do that. They may need to work from home or do distance learning since they can’t force themselves to sit in a classroom or an office surrounded by coworkers. 


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