Difference between Shyness and Social Anxiety

August 12, 2015 by Editorial Team

Many people may experience shyness around strangers, but for some, the shyness goes a little further and becomes social anxiety. What are the differences between shyness and social anxiety? This article will help explain.


Shyness and Social Anxiety

Shyness is a feeling of apprehension or discomfort when around other people. It is most common in children, though adults do sometimes experience shyness. The most common fear associated with shyness is a fear of ridicule. The shy person will be afraid that the group of people he or she is shy around will laugh at or make fun of him or her. Shyness is normal in many situations, such as when meeting a group of people for the first time, or meeting people when one has lower self-esteem. In its extreme form, however, shyness is known as social phobia or social anxiety disorder. There isn’t necessarily a treatment for shyness other than social coaching, and shyness tends to dissipate with age.

Social anxiety, also called social phobia or social anxiety disorder, is an anxiety disorder defined by an intense fear in social situations. To be categorized as a disorder, the fear must be present in various parts of life, cause considerable distress, and must impair ability to live life. Symptoms of a social anxiety disorder include trembling, excessive sweating, blushing, and nausea. Social anxiety can lead to panic disorders, where sufferers will experience a phenomenon known as anxiety attacks or panic attacks. Social anxiety can be treated with cognitive-behavioral therapy, also known as CBT.

Comparison chart

ShynessSocial Anxiety
A personality traitAn anxiety disorder

Shyness vs Social Anxiety

What is the difference between shyness and social anxiety? One is a personality trait, and the other is an anxiety disorder.

Shyness tends to be more common at younger ages, and in children is often the norm. Adults can sometimes experience shyness as well, usually manifesting as slight discomfort around new people. In adults, shyness is not the norm, but is seen as an aspect of one’s personality.

Social anxiety, on the other hand, tends to be associated with significant fear of humiliation, embarrassment, and failure, and those who suffer from social anxiety will actively avoid social situations due to this fear. It is classified as an anxiety disorder because is it present in many areas of the anxious person’s life, causes them considerable distress, and impairs their ability to live life.

It should be noted that while shyness and social anxiety are often associated with introversion, extroverted people can also suffer from social anxiety.


This video explains some of the differences between social anxiety and shyness.