Difference Between Shyness and Social Anxiety

Main Difference – Shyness vs Social Anxiety

Shyness and Social anxiety are two terms which are used to define two psychological situations we commonly come across in the modern society. Even though it is a bit difficult to differentiate those clearly from each other, it is important to find out a proper line of demarcation between the two situations, mainly for establishing a correct diagnosis to decide whether respective individuals need medical interventions or not. The main difference between shyness and social anxiety is that social anxiety affects the day to day life of a person and drastically reduces the quality of life whereas shyness can be simply viewed as a personality trait.

This article describes,

1. What is Shyness? – Definition, Characteristic Features, Signs, etc.

2. What is Social Anxiety? – Definition, Characteristic Features, Signs, etc.

3. Comparison and Key Differences Between Shyness and Social Anxiety

Difference Between Shyness and Social Anxiety- infographic

What is Shyness

Some psychological professionals define shyness as a type of social anxiety whereas some tend to identify it as a personality trait. Most of us, at some point in our life, will be out of our comfort zones to meet unfamiliar people and hang out with them. More importantly, people who are shy find it really hard to be around people or talk to strangers although it is never ever impossible for them if it is really necessary.

Shyness can often cause issues in our day to day activities, and some people suggest that it can even lead to social anxiety, but it will rarely reduce the quality of life on a major basis. Shyness will tend to affect only a single or few aspects of an individual’s existence, and shouldn’t be mixed up with Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) or Social Phobia, which can completely interrupt almost every aspect of one’s interpersonal interactions. In certain individuals, the above-mentioned conditions may be kept mistaken as extreme shyness, and be left undiagnosed or untreated throughout the whole life.

Difference Between Shyness and Social Anxiety

What is Social Anxiety

Social anxiety is defined as the fear of interaction with other people due to excessive self-consciousness and fear of being judged and assessed in a negative way which will ultimately lead to various unusual feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, shyness and avoidance of social gatherings and events.

Displaying extreme anxiety in a familiar or unfamiliar crowd, without any particular clear cut reason, is a characteristic feature noted in people who suffer from this condition. But this anxiety completely disappears when he is alone.

People affected by social anxiety often tend to over-analyze simple situations. They will also be noted as a group of people who are self-criticizing and self- judging, and they always anticipate negative events in the future.

Moreover, in certain individuals shyness can sometimes convert into social anxiety over time even without any obvious change in behavior. These people will still appear as just too shy for others unless closely observed. They will also tend to move within a crowd in a really admirable, friendly and comfortable manner even if there is a continuous struggle with thoughts of anxiety deep within the mind. Being unable to withstand the inner pressure, they will often quit the scenario as soon as they get a proper chance.

Main Difference - Shyness vs Social Anxiety

Difference Between Shyness and Social Anxiety

Condition in Familiar Situations 

Shyness: Shy people have a remarkable potential to get rid of disturbing emotions and physical signs of anxiety when the environment or situation become familiar.

Social Anxiety: Social anxiety may either remain unchanged or get worsened even when the environment or situation becomes familiar.


Shyness: Shy people are more optimistic and are not as self-critical as those suffering from social anxiety.

Social Anxiety: People affected by social anxiety tend to over-analyze simple situations and always tend to anticipate negative events.

Medical Intervention 

Shyness: Shyness does not have a major effect on one’s quality of life; therefore, it does not require medical intervention.  

Social Anxiety: Social anxiety needs medical intervention. 

Unfortunately, Social Anxiety is often left undiagnosed, untreated or misdiagnosed as shyness and long-term continuation of the condition with continuous self-struggle may ultimately end up in reducing the quality of one’s life.

Image Courtesy:

“Phobia” by JD (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

“shyness” by Marg (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

About the Author: Embogama

Embogama is a passionate freelance writer for several years. Her areas of interest include general medicine, clinical medicine, health and fitness, Ayurveda medicine, psychology, counseling and piano music