social anxiety vs. shyness

I’m so sick of hearing people say Social Anxiety Disorder is just another way of saying someone is extremely shy or introverted. I’ve even heard someone argue that social anxiety is just a euphemism for shyness–which doesn’t make any sense to me. Sure, shyness and introversion are generally a part of social anxiety, but they are not the only parts. Not every shy and/or introverted person has Social Anxiety Disorder.

So what’s the difference?

Well, shyness and introversion can make life difficult at times but you generally pull through. You go to parties and other social gatherings, you make speeches in school, you accept promotions at your job, etc. They’re difficult, in other words, but you still get through them. With Social Anxiety Disorder though, it becomes almost impossible to engage socially, even in the most basic social situations. You have difficulty standing in line at the grocery store, you can’t talk on the phone, you avoid all social situations, etc.

Shyness makes life difficult; social anxiety makes life impossible.

With that said, I think in our society people jump to hasty conclusions, demanding drugs when drugs may not be needed. Sometimes people who are just shy may be diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder and be given drugs, and this has hurt the people who really do have the disorder, as it gives everyone a bad name. But not everyone operates in this manner; there is legitimate suffering going on. People need to be conscious of this before they trivialize someone’s problems.


6 responses to “social anxiety vs. shyness

  1. It is so common for definitions to become blurred in this way through improper use, it’s like the difference between depression and someone saying they are depressed if their mood dips a little. It’s a pity that lack of understanding prevents many from appreciating the seriousness of such issues.

    Thanks for your kind comment on my blog 🙂

    Sarah x

  2. Pingback: is social anxiety real? | Unhappy Happiness

  3. Excellent post Mike. I’m so tired of lazy doctors diagnosing people with illnesses they really don’t have. Like you said, it only hurts the people who actually HAVE the illness because people don’t take it seriously – and social phobia, depression, etc. aren’t taken as serious illnesses.

    I’ve suffered from anxiety/panic attacks my entire life. When I was in grade school I remember having (what I now know was) a panic attack. However, at the time I thought I was having a heart attack! Imagine a little kid going up to her teacher and telling her that “her heart hurt” and I felt weird and scared… and then she tells me to go back and SIT DOWN!? I had EKG’s done – had heart monitors, etc… but back then no one really knew much about panic attacks… being a kid and having them really sucked…

    And now – now it seems to be resurfacing due to my recent bout with major depression… I truly can not go out without panicking. If I HAVE to go out it can only be for a short while – in and out – I hope that this goes away because being at home all the time is really boring! I’m working on it through therapy…


    • Hey Christine. I can’t even imagine how scary that must have been for you having a panic attack in school and not knowing what to do or who to turn to for help. I’m sorry you’re struggling with them again. I’ve only had a few panic attacks, and I’ve found that medication can really help. Actually, just having the medication there–knowing that I can use it and it will help if I start to panic–really, really helps. I’m glad you’re working through things in therapy.

  4. Hi Mike,

    I’m currently off work as I’ve been suffering with Social Anxiety but only recently found that’s what it is. I’m getting nowhere with my doctor, he’s prescribed all sorts of medication which haven’t helped much and it was me who suggested he referred me for CBT through reading blogs like yours. My therapy starts next week, so thanks!


  5. Hey Claire,

    Unfortunately, medication is all trial and error. What works for some, will not work for others. You have to find the right drugs and the right balance for you. I’ve been experimenting for almost six months now. I think I may have found something that works. Only time will tell, though. CBT has been great for me. I’m noticing huge differences in my thought patterns. I can now stop my negative thoughts when they start and break up the cycles. I hope therapy goes well for you. It takes a lot of practice and dedication. Good luck! I hope you write about your experiences in your blog, as I’d love to read them.

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