Everyone behaves differently in social situations. Some may be outgoing and extroverted, while others may be more reserved and quiet. There are many reasons why different people act in different ways when around others, but it can sometimes be difficult to determine when a person is just shy and when he or she is suffering from a social phobia.

What is a Social Phobia?

A social phobia (also referred to as social anxiety disorder) is a condition in which social interactions cause a great deal of stress and anxiety for an affected person. The following conditions can be uncomfortable and stressful for people who suffer from a social phobia:

  • Public speaking
  • Social gatherings
  • Group conversations
  • Meeting new people
  • Telephone conversations
  • Working with others
  • Confrontation
  • Engaging in small talk
  • Dating
  • Errands
  • Crowded spaces
  • Parties or celebrations

A person with a social phobia has difficulty being exposed to such situations outlined above. Even something as simple as ordering a meal or waiting on a line will cause anxiety in a person with a social phobia. People with social phobia will experience the following symptoms when exposed to a social situation:

  • An intense urge to escape or excuse oneself from the social setting
  • Sweating, shaking, dizziness or lightheadedness in reaction to anxiety
  • Feeling as though he or she may be in danger even though no danger is present
  • Active avoidance of social situations
  • Perceiving oneself as awkward and making other uncomfortable
  • Fear of judgment or embarrassment
  • Racing negative thoughts about what others may think about him or her
  • Overanalyzing social interactions

How Can I Tell the Difference Between Shyness and Social Phobia?

It can sometimes be confusing to understand the difference between shyness and a social phobia, but the core issue that creates a difference is the level of emotional, mental and physical distress a person faces when he or she is exposed to a social situation. A person who is simply ‘shy’ may be a bit nervous in social situations, but does not have as intense of a reaction as someone who has a social phobia. Someone who is shy may be:

  • Introverted
  • Quiet
  • Prefer to listen and be a part of a crowd, rather than have the attention on him or her
  • Prefer intimate and mellow settings
  • May not have a strong presence or stand out among others
  • May identify as a ‘listener’ and not be verbal in conversations but remain actively engaged in content

The core difference between shyness and a social phobia is the way it affects the person in question. Shyness is a personality trait, meaning it is just the way that person is- it is a part of his or her personality. A social phobia however, is a mental health issue as it causes emotional distress and triggers symptoms in response to the emotional upset. A social phobia will induce fear, apprehension, and anxiety, but being shy does not cause these things. A person who is shy will not experience the emotional distress that a person with social anxiety will experience. He or she may feel a little nervous at times, but overall are able to comfortably interact with others without feeling apprehensive or fearful.