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Social Anxiety Disorder Is Not the Same as Being Shy

To understand the difference between being shy and having social anxiety disorder, read how Mary and Sarah, in the examples below, react to being invited to a party.

Mary's reaction

Mary is nervous at the thought of meeting new people at the party, but she is still looking forward to going and seeing her friends. At the party, a person Mary doesn't know starts talking to her. Mary begins to blush and feel uncomfortable. She avoids making eye contact with the person. After a brief talk, Mary is relieved when the person moves on to speak with someone else. Mary, now feeling relaxed, joins some of her friends and enjoys the rest of the party.

Sarah's reaction

Sarah feels a strong fear just thinking about walking into the party. Her heart starts pounding and her stomach tenses up. She tries to think of a good excuse for not going, but her boss is having the party and she has to attend. In the days leading up to the party, Sarah continues to be stressed out. She worries something will happen to make her feel embarrassed or humiliated. These thoughts affect her eating and sleeping.

At the party, Sarah feels very nervous. Her mouth is dry and her hands are shaking. She tries to stick it out as long as she can, doing her best to avoid interacting with the other people. But she goes from feeling nervous to having a panic attack. She tells a co-worker she isn't feeling well and quickly leaves the party. On the way home, she is sure people back at the party are saying negative things about how she was acting. Now she is upset about going back to her job and seeing her co-workers.

Shy versus social anxiety

Mary is shy. It's part of her personality. She's not comfortable meeting new people, but she can deal with it. Being shy doesn't really keep her from enjoying social activities. Sarah, on the other hand, has social anxiety disorder. The fear and stress of being in certain social situations is so strong that it holds her back from doing things. This is not a personality trait. It is a behavioral health condition that is affecting Sarah's quality of life and even her physical health.

There are effective treatments, such as talk therapy and medicines, to help people with social anxiety disorder. With treatment, some people are able to completely overcome the condition or at least manage the symptoms well enough to improve their overall health and enjoy life more.

If you have symptoms related to social anxiety disorder and feel you could benefit from outpatient therapy, please contact PerformCare.

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health