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  • Writer's pictureDr. Elena Duong

Am I Shy or Is It Something Else?

Updated: Mar 10, 2023

Do you ever feel nervous around new people? Many have experienced this. Does it prevent you from talking with people? It can be helpful to understand the difference between being shy and/or experiencing social anxiety.

Being shy usually refers to being uncomfortable around people, especially new people. People who are shy tend to warm up after a while and are able to converse with those people. Individuals with a tendency to be shy are able to make and sustain friendships. On the other hand, social anxiety disorder is a clinical disorder. Some key differences include level of distress/impairment on one’s life and avoidance of social situations, which is more indicative of social anxiety.

What is Social Anxiety?

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder-5 (DSM-5), social anxiety disorder (SAD), formerly known as social phobia, is defined as: (1) having marked fear or anxiety in social situations, where a person is exposed to possible scrutiny, (2) fearing they will act or show their anxiety and be negatively evaluated, (3) being in social situations almost always evoking fear or anxiety, (4) avoiding or enduring the social situation with intense fear or anxiety, (5) their fear or anxiety is out of proportion to the actual threat in the social situation, (6) the symptoms persist for six months or more, and (7) the symptoms cause clinically significant impairments in daily functioning (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).

What Causes Social Anxiety?

Many individuals have wondered about the cause of SAD (Hope et al., 2000). Hope and colleagues (2000) believe there are three main causes of SAD with each cause interacting with the other. The causes are genetics, family environment, and important life experiences. People from families with SAD have a predisposition towards SAD. They may learn from their family members how to act in social situations through a lens of social anxiety. An example can be seeing your parents pretend to be sick to avoid attending social event(s) to avoid experiencing discomfort in those situations. People may also learn from different life events, where they have felt embarrassed or humiliated, and start to avoid those social situations, which, in turn, reinforces their social anxiety.

I have Social Anxiety, What Next?

  • If you feel ready for treatment, we highly recommend seeking professional mental health treatment.

    • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has the strongest research support for social anxiety treatment. If you are interested in learning more about this, feel free to click here

    • If you are interested in CBT, you can focus your search for therapists who practice CBT on various therapist directory sites.

  • If you don’t feel ready, we suggest doing your own internal work, which can be starting to read about social anxiety.

    • You can try purchasing some self-help workbooks for social anxiety to start off with. Feel free to start by looking at resources for anxiety on our site.

    • You can also list out the situations that trigger your social anxiety and start challenging them on your own or with help from a trusted loved one.

      • If you are able to confront those situations, remember to reward yourself. This can help reinforce your current pattern of behaviors and show your brain that nothing bad happened.

    • In most cases, people do have some success in those workbooks and/or challenging their social anxiety on their own, but they tend to eventually need additional professional help.

Social anxiety is difficult to treat at times due to one of the primary symptoms being avoidance, which gets reinforced every time a person avoids a certain social situation. The more you avoid the situation, the more difficult it is for you to manage your symptoms in the long-run. Some people are able to live their lives with social anxiety, but their lives are more limited in terms of social interaction. They often feel more isolated from others than need be.

If you are struggling with social anxiety and want therapeutic services with us, feel free to reach out to us through our site.

Stay tuned. The next topic is "Anxiety 101."


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.

Hope, D. A., Heimberg, R. G., Juster, H. A., & Turk, C. L. (2000). Managing Social Anxiety: A Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Approach Client Workbook (Treatments That Work). New York, NY: Oxford University Press, Inc.

Written by Elena Duong, Psy.D.

Edited by Susanna La, Ph.D.

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