Most of us were shy at some point in our lives, while over 40% described themselves as currently shy. About 4% described themselves as extremely shy in that they felt shy all the time. It is a natural emotion for feeling shy.
Shyness and social anxiety disorder share many characteristics. If you have spent your whole life feeling as though you are just a shy person, how do you know if it is something more serious? Or, if you’re a worried parent, you may be wondering if your child is afraid of strangers or not making new friends at school. In either case, how do you know whether it is a serious problem?
What Is Shyness?
When someone is experiencing shyness, they experience feelings, physical symptoms and their behavior may change in predictable ways. Self-consciousness, feelings of embarrassment, insecurity and inferiority all go along with feeling shy.
Someone who is feeling shy may experience physical symptoms of anxiety such as “butterflies in the stomach”, blushing, sweaty palms, and an increased heart rate. Shyness is also evident in people’s behavior. Someone feeling shy may be hesitant to talk at all and when they do talk, it may be in a quite voice with little or no eye contact. The person seems to want to disappear into the floor.
What is Social Phobia?
Sometimes considered an extreme form of shyness, Social Phobia is an intense fear of becoming humiliated in social situations, specifically of embarrassing yourself in front of other people. If you suffer from social phobia, you tend to think that other people are very competent in public and that you are not.
Small mistakes you make may seem to you much more exaggerated than they really are. Blushing itself may seem painfully embarrassing, and you feel as though all eyes are focused on you. You may be afraid of being with people other than those closest to you. Or your fear may be more specific, such as feeling anxious about giving a speech, talking to a boss or other authority figure, or dating.
The most common Social Phobia is a fear of public speaking. Sometimes Social Phobia involves a general fear of social situations such as parties. More rarely, it may involve a fear of using a public restroom, eating out, talking on the phone, or writing in the presence of other people, such as when signing a check. It often runs in families and may be accompanied by depression or alcoholism. Social Phobia often begins around early adolescence or even younger.
Shyness vs. Social Phobia
Although Social Phobia is often thought of as shyness, the two are not the same. Shy people can be very uneasy around others, but they don’t experience the extreme anxiety in anticipating a social situation, and they don’t necessarily avoid circumstances that make them feel self-conscious.
In contrast, people with social Phobia may not feel shy in all situations. They can be completely at ease with people most of the time, but particular situations, such as walking down an aisle in public or making a speech, can give them intense anxiety.
Social Phobia disrupts normal life, interfering with career or social relationships. For example, a worker can turn down a job promotion because he can’t give public presentations. The dread of a social event can begin weeks in advance, and symptoms can be quite debilitating.
People with Social Phobia are aware that their feelings are irrational. Still, they experience a great deal of dread before facing the feared situation, and they may go out of their way to avoid it.
Even if they manage to confront what they fear, they usually feel very anxious beforehand and are intensely uncomfortable throughout. Afterwards, the unpleasant feelings may linger, as they worry about how they may have been judged or what others may have thought or observed about them.
About 80% of people who suffer from Social Phobia find relief from their symptoms when treated with Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy or medications or a combination of the two. Therapy may involve learning to view social events differently; being exposed to a seemingly threatening social situation in such a way that it becomes easier to face; and learning anxiety-reducing techniques, social skills, and relaxation techniques.