Shyness and social anxiety

What is shyness?

Are shyness and social anxiety the same thing? Heiser et al. (2009) explained that the defining features of both shyness and social anxiety are similar and include somatic symptoms (e.g. trembling, sweating, blushing), cognitive symptoms (e.g., fear of negative evaluation), and behavioural symptoms (e.g., avoidance of social situations). They outlined that shyness is a normal facet of personality. Shyness is manageable.

What is social anxiety?

Heiser et al. (2009) research with socially anxious, shy and those who do not experience shyness outlined the difference between those with social anxiety and shyness. They found that the social anxiety group reported a significantly greater number of social fears, avoidance of social situations, negative thoughts, and somatic symptoms than the shy group, which in turn, reported more symptoms than the non-shy group.

This difference is further outlined in diagnostic manuals (American Psychiatric Association, 2013) and includes that the anxiety in social situations causes significant distress  and effects your functioning in social, occupational and other areas of life. Other criteria that help differentiate shyness from social anxiety are that the individual will fear that they will display their anxiety and experience social rejection, social interaction will consistently provoke distress, social interactions are either avoided, or painfully and reluctantly endured, the fear and anxiety will be disproportionate to the actual situation, the fear, anxiety or other distress around social situations will persist for six months or longer.

Common situations which are feared by people who experience social anxiety include:

  • Speaking in public
  • Meeting new people
  • Being criticised
  • Using the telephone
  • Being watched doing something
  • Being the centre of attention
  • Being teased
  • Eating and drinking in public.

Professional help

If you suffer from social anxiety, help is available to assist you to manage your condition much more effectively. Contact Counselling and Psychological Services to organise a confidential assessment of your situation by a counsellor. At times referrals are organised with external counsellors and psychotherapists for your ongoing treatment depending on your individual needs.


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5. Washington, D.C:

Heiser, N. A., Turner, S. M., Beidel, D. C., & Roberson-Nay, R. (2009). Differentiating social phobia from shyness. Journal Of Anxiety Disorders, 23(4), 469-476. doi:10.1016/j.janxdis.2008.10.002

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