Shyness or Social Anxiety Disorder?

Some people walk into a social setting, whether it be work, school, a party or university, and are confident, outgoing, comfortable and eager to socialise with others. Having social interactions energises them and they find it easy to converse with new people and facilitate discussions. These people are often referred to as “social butterflies” or they are the “life of the party”.

Then there are people who are the opposite to this, they like being in places that are quiet, with not too many people around and it generally takes them more time to warm up and be comfortable around new people. These people are often referred to as “shy”, “quiet” or “reserved”. 

So what exactly is shyness? And how is it different to Social Anxiety Disorder or Social Phobia?

Shyness is a personality trait or an emotion that is affected by the company of others. Being shy can mean that you feel nervous, timid and feel awkward when approaching or being approached by others. 

Social Anxiety Disorder involves fear, anxiety and avoidance that significantly impacts different areas of a person’s life such as work, school, daily routines or in other settings. This fear or anxiety occurs in social situations where there is a possibility to be embarrassed or negatively evaluated by other people. 

Common signs and symptoms of social anxiety disorder include:

  • Fear in social situations where you may be judged by others
  • Fear that the you will act in a way that will be embarrassing
  • Fear that your anxiety symptoms will be noticed by others
  • Concern that other people will think you are anxious, weak, crazy, stupid, boring or unlikeable
  • Social situations almost always provoke fear or anxiety
  • Social situations are generally avoided or endured with intense fear or anxiety
  • You avoid situations where you are the centre of attention
  • You experience physical symptoms such as a rapid heartbeat, shaking, breathlessness, trembling, sweating, dizziness, having an upset stomach
  • You avoid engaging in common social behaviours such as starting conversations with unfamiliar people, eating in front of others, making eye contact, dating, entering a room where everyone is already seated, attending parties or retuning something to a store.
  • Fear that your physical symptoms may embarrass you such as blushing, sweating or trembling.
  • Worrying every day in advance of an upcoming social event or repeating a speech for days in advance
  • After a social situation you may spend time analyzing and constantly going over what you said or how you behaved  

What to do?

It is perfectly normal to feel shy and to take your time to warm up to new social settings or people. If you are a shy person and want to have fun socializing and being more comfortable to be yourself in new situations here are some tips:

1. Start Practicing: You can start practicing “small talk” or asking questions to someone you are comfortable with and once you feel comfortable enough you can begin to practice these skills with people you don’t know as well such as at school, work or at the shops.  The more you practice the more comfortable and confident you will feel when socializing.

2. Identify your strengths: If there are some situations that make you feel shy, that is okay! You may have a lot of amazing qualities that other people may not have. You can write these down and carry them around with you and if you feel shy and need a reminder you can read them. Remember your good qualities and remember to love yourself!

3. Get out of your comfort zone: Do a speech, join a sporting club, pick up a new project at work, talk to a stranger at a café. Exposing yourself to new situations will enable you to overcome your shyness as you are building confidence in many areas of your life. 

If you read this article and the common signs and symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder applied to you. In that, you fear or avoid normal social situations because they cause you intense fear, anxiety or panic. It may be a good idea to share this with a GP or Psychologist who will be able to assist you in overcoming those symptoms.

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