Is Social Anxiety Just a Fancy Name for Shyness? Is There a Difference?

The slightly longer answer

The DSM-V, the American ‘bible’ of psychiatric disorders, has a longer definition for “Social Anxiety Disorder.” All psychiatrists in the US use this manual to diagnose mental health illnesses.

Social anxiety disorder can be diagnosed if the following symptoms occur over a time period of at least six months and have a significant impact on your function in the workplace, your social life, and your relationships.

1. Elevated stress symptoms and anxiety in social settings, where you feel scrutinized, put on the spot, and painfully exposed. These feelings may be uncontrollable and can be expressed by crying, sweating, palpitations, nausea, and many others.

2. Anticipation of experiencing social anxiety before the event, sometimes called ‘fear of the fear.’

3. Consistent distress and stress symptoms caused by social interactions.

4. Fear of social interactions that is grossly disproportionate to the interaction itself. Fear that doesn’t resolve after the interaction and occurs again next time at the same level.

5. Anxiety and fear of social interactions that lead to avoidance of social situations and huge efforts of endurance if these situations are unavoidable.

6. The anxiety does not improve on its own.

This list is not comprehensive and it is not meant as an aid for self-diagnosis!

If you feel that you may be suffering from social anxiety disorder, please consult a psychiatrist. Social anxiety disorder is treated successfully with medication and counseling.


Shyness is a personality trait. Personality traits are not pathological.

Shyness is often linked to introverts. It’s part of who they are and can be experienced in a positive way. The enhanced sensitivity and richness of their inner life, for example, are their way of connecting with the world.

It can also be an appropriate response to intimidating behavior by others, or a tendency to want to ‘go slow’ in a world that values ‘going fast.’

Shyness is often a temporary state in a relationship or when becoming a member of a new group — settings in which a certain degree of shyness is natural and maybe even a positive trait that can protect you and give you time to assess the situation.

Often, children who don’t have much experience with social interactions and find themselves in unfamiliar social settings experience shyness. For example, having to change schools, joining new clubs, and making new friends without adult guidance. Adolescents often go through a period of shyness because they are trying to adjust to their own psychological and social development. They are temporarily out of tune with their environment and also within themselves.

But the majority of shy kids grow up to be able to enjoy social interactions by learning communication skills and acquiring more confidence. Eventually, they are able to shape the intensity and frequency of their shyness according to their personality and personal preferences.

Social anxiety disorder, however, is a mental health issue that won’t go away on its own.

Where to Get Help

There is an abundance of information about this disorder online. You will find tips for coping with and overcoming social anxiety disorder. The most effective way to overcome social anxiety disorder, however, is with the help of a trained counselor. Counselors have the tools necessary to help you get to the root of your social anxiety. With his or her help, you can have a happier, healthier social