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Social Anxiety vs Shyness: 37 Signs, Differences & Ways to Overcome Them

If you suffer from social anxiety and shyness, you are not alone. Although you think you can’t overcome it, you can. Here are some tips for you to use.

Social Anxiety vs Shyness

At some point or another, we all wonder and weigh the traits to understand the differences between social anxiety and shyness in our lifetimes. These words are often used interchangeably, but they both have characteristics that the other doesn’t have.

You may be out in public and have trouble talking to other people or performing tasks you would normally be able to do in the comfort of your own home. Do you have social anxiety, or are you just a shy person? [Read: Steps to break you out of your shy shell for good]

We are here to break down the differences between social anxiety and shyness, their causes, and the steps you can take to overcome either.

What causes shyness and social anxiety? 

You might wonder why some people are outgoing and the life of the party while others are shy and socially anxious. What actually causes this? There are a lot of different reasons, so let’s take a look at some of the major causes 

1. Negative social experiences 

“Negative social experiences” is a broad term and can mean different things to different people. For example, a person might have had a very embarrassing experience in front of other people. They could have been bullied or shamed by their peers at school. 

If that happens, then their social development is negatively affected by these experiences. They would be more likely to develop social anxiety or shyness. This could become a permanent part of their personality if they don’t try to change it. [Read: Shy extrovert – what it means, 16 signs, and how they’re not like others]

2. Criticism from other people

If someone had a critical family, friends, or even teachers, this could also cause social anxiety or shyness. Some families or cultures are inherently very critical and judgmental. And if someone grew up in that kind of culture, then it can affect their personality.

This criticism will affect confidence in both children and teenagers. When other people doubt your capabilities and other qualities, it will make them feel bad about themselves and thus retreat from other people.

3. Physical factors

Another cause of shyness or social anxiety is physical or biological factors. However, this cause is rarer. Abnormalities such as an imbalance in serotonin in the brain can affect someone’s mood and personality. [Read: 35 best text conversation starters for the shy and socially awkward]

4. Inherited from parents

When we say “inherited,” we don’t necessarily mean genetically. But instead, they inherit the behaviors of their shy parents.

So, if a child watches their parents being socially awkward, they can pick up on that themselves. This is called social learning. It’s sort of the “monkey-see, monkey-do” effect. People emulate behaviors that they see in other people. And our parents are the strongest role models in anyone’s life.

5. No affection from parents

Children who don’t get affection from their parents can also develop shyness or social anxiety. [Read: Being raised by narcissists – 18 harmful ways it affects your life]

These types of families don’t express any feelings or physical touch. They never say “I love you” or say that they are proud of anyone’s accomplishments. This can contribute to long-lasting effects on a child’s personality.

6. Family dynamics

Most people develop their shyness at a young age, and it can also stem from other family dynamics. For example, if the parents of a child are divorced and they don’t handle it very well, it could cause a toxic environment. 

Or, if there is abuse from the parent to the child, then that can also cause the children to emotionally withdraw. [Read: Toxic family members – 15 signs and reasons to cut them off for good]

The difference between social anxiety and shyness

Although social anxiety and shyness share similar traits, they are in fact not the same thing. These subtle differences play a huge part in how someone lives their day-to-day lives.

If your symptoms align with many of them listed below, it might be time to talk to a professional. [Read: Are you socially awkward? 16 easy hacks to loosen up and live life]

Social anxiety

Social anxiety is a social phobia. In other words, it is a disorder in which someone is essentially disabled from social stations. This comes from being overwhelmed by almost all social situations.

These symptoms appear during social interactions or during the very thought of social interactions.

Symptoms of social anxiety

1. Clammy hands

2. Sweating

3. Stuttering

4. Heavy breathing

5. Fast breathing

6. Anxiety or panic attacks

7. Blackened vision *edges of vision begin to darken and blur*

8. Nausea

9. Dizziness

10. Redness on face or chest

11. Rash/hives

12. Overthinking social situations and interactions

13. Fear of making phone calls

14. Avoided situations where you may be the center of attention

15. Constant worry over humiliation or embarrassment

16. Overanalyzing social situations after they occur

Please note that these symptoms might be symptoms of other disorders, and if you are concerned that you may have a social anxiety disorder, you should seek professional help.


Sometimes, people are avoidant of social situations because they are just shy. Shyness is not a social disorder like social anxiety. While shyness on its own is nothing to worry about, it does commonly accompany a social disorder. [Read: The best ways to kick shyness to the curb]

The following are signs and symptoms of shyness.

Symptoms of shyness

1. Doesn’t like small talk

2. Fear of public speaking

3. Difficult to talk to people, but not impossible

4. Covers mouth when talking

5. Often covers up with clothing

6. Doesn’t date often or at all

7. Avoids eye contact

8. Speaks very quietly

9. Possibly self-consciousness

If you feel that your shyness is so severe that it prohibits you from enjoying certain aspects of social life, it is time to speak to a professional. Shyness may still be a form of anxiety in your case, so reducing any anxiety associated with social situations is sure to help.

Social anxiety vs shyness – The subtle differences

While shyness is often partnered with social anxiety, social anxiety is not always associated with people who are shy. This is because social anxiety is extreme and intense anxiety. While it is also possible to experience this if you are shy, it is most common in social disorders. 

People who have social anxiety suffer from physical and emotional responses to their environment. Whereas someone who is shy will only suffer emotional responses, such as embarrassment or feeling uncomfortable. [Read: Social anxiety to social butterfly – how to be less awkward]

Some may face social anxiety in all social situations, and others may face it in certain social situations. The similarity between those with social anxiety is that it affects their quality of life drastically.

Although someone who is shy may feel awkward doing tasks, their quality of life is not affected in similar ways. General shyness is a personality trait and not inherently a negative trait. [Read: Tips and tricks for those who feel socially awkward]

If your shyness begins to trigger anxiety symptoms, or you believe you have social anxiety, both of these can be treated with a professional’s help.

How to overcome and get rid of social anxiety and shyness

If you want to overcome shyness and social anxiety, it might seem impossible. But it’s not – it can be done. Here are some things you can do to change it. [Read: Signs of social anxiety that hold you back and how to overcome it]

1. Journaling

Journaling might not seem like it would help social anxiety or shyness, but it can.

For example, if you are so shy that it negatively affects your life, then you need to keep track of the specific things that trigger you. This allows you to identify what causes you stress.

You can’t change what you don’t recognize. So, writing things down in your journal will help you figure out what is causing your condition. Then, once you know what you need to change, you can change it.

2. Cognitive behavioral therapy

If you can afford to go to a professional psychologist or therapist, they can help you control your anxiety through cognitive behavioral therapy. They will teach you how to do relaxation techniques and how to meditate. You can also learn to replace negative thoughts with positive ones. [Read: Socially inept – what it is, 20 signs, and how to feel confident again]

3. Don’t focus on yourself

Part of what creates anxiety is the self-talk that we have going on in our minds. When you’re in a situation that makes you anxious, most shy people turn inward and worry about what other people think about them. And they always assume it’s negative.

So, don’t focus on yourself, just focus on other people. Not everyone is judging you. In fact, most people aren’t at all.

4. Fake it ‘til you make it

As strange as it sounds, just try to fake confidence whenever you can. Just pretend that you are confident. You’re not the only one who feels this way. So, you can develop self-confidence just by acting that way. The more confident you act, the more positively people will respond to you. [Read: Signs of anxiety – how to read the signs ASAP and handle them better]

5. Talk to people

If you are uncomfortable in groups, then try to talk to people one-on-one more often. Once you have more conversations with people, then you will be more comfortable talking in general.

For shy people, talking to someone can be challenging because they don’t know what to say. So, the more you talk to people, the easier it will become.

6. Face your fears

You can’t overcome your social shyness if you don’t do something about it. If you just stay at home all day every day, then you will never be able to change.

You have to put yourself out there and face your fears about people. Expose yourself to situations that make you anxious. If you keep avoiding it, you will be hurting yourself and you won’t grow as a person.

[Read: How to build self-confidence – 16 ways to realize you’re worth it]

Social anxiety vs shyness: two terms are commonly thrown around to have the same meaning. Now that you know the difference, you better understand your own social reactions and those around you.

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Carol Morgan LP
Dr. Carol Morgan
Dr. Carol Morgan has a Ph.D. in communication and is a professor at Wright State University where she loves corrupting young minds. As a relationship and succes...