Shyness is understood to be an emotion that many, if not most, people can experience from time to time and at different times of their lives. Shyness is also a tendency to feel awkward, worried, or tense during social encounters. People who have severe shyness will also experience a number of physical reactions, such as blushing, sweating, and even a pounding heart or upset stomach. They can also experience negative thoughts and feelings about themselves, such as believing that others will judge them or won’t like them. These feelings and the tendency to have these feelings often cause people to withdraw or avoid social interactions or social events.
When is it a disorder?
Just being shy isn’t a disorder, even if it feels uncomfortable or unwanted. There are a number of benefits that come with being shy, including being more cautious (and not jumping into things too quickly), having a calming effect on others (especially those who are also shy or just inexperienced), as well as being better equipped to tackle solitary activities.
However, shyness can lead to difficulties when you no longer enjoy activities or start avoiding activities because of the social anxiety that you can often experience. When you start missing out on activities because of your shyness, then it can become a problem and, if it gets really severe, a disorder. However, studies of shyness in children have shown the shy children, who also experienced positive emotions, are indistinguishable from children who are not shy. This reinforces the view that shyness, by itself, is not necessarily a problem.
What difficulties can shyness cause me?
When shyness leads to sustained fear and avoidance of situations, then problems can arise, adversely affecting social relationships, as well as your performance at work and school.
What should I do about it?
There a number of things you can do about your shyness.
#1. Remind yourself that it is okay to be shy. Most people experience shyness at some point in their lives. Being shy doesn’t mean you are necessarily going to have problems. What matters most is whether or not you are going to let your shyness get in the way, and it doesn’t have to.
#2. Interrupt it. When your shyness is interfering with how you are feeling or what you would like to do, stop and breathe. Relaxation breathing is an effective strategy to interrupt any time of emotional reaction that is unwanted. Breathing can help you reduce the physical signs of social anxiety (e.g., sweating, increased heart rate) and interrupt the cognitive signs of social anxiety (e.g., worry about others scrutinizing you).
#3. Don’t avoid it. If you find yourself avoiding situations because you are experiencing some anxiety or worry about becoming anxious, push yourself to do it anyways. We know that is hard. But, each time you push through your tendency to avoid situations that you feel anxious, you will reduce the influence that your reactions have over your behaviour.
#4. Get some help with it. If you are not able to tackle your reactions as much as you would like, consider getting some professional help dealing with it. A mental health professional can help you acquire the skills that will help you manage your anxiety in social situations.
How screening tests work:
Screening tests, whether for social anxiety, depression or ADHD, are not designed to diagnose mental illness. Screening tests are an important tool that can help a physician, psychiatrist, or psychologist reach a decision about whether or not you have a mental disorder or illness. But, the results of a screening test are not enough.
To be diagnosed with a mental illness you must experience (a) some kind of distress or elevated symptoms (e.g., some sadness, inattentiveness, anxiety, etc.), (b) which last for a number of weeks (or more), which (c) cause you some impairment (i.e., these symptoms get in the way of you living your life. It is a complicated and sometimes difficult decision, which is why the results of a screening test are never enough on their own to diagnose a mental illness.
The screening quiz you are about to take is NOT designed to diagnose social anxiety but to help you determine if you are at risk for a social anxiety disorder, and should ask for help. Only a healthcare professional, such as a physician, psychiatrist, or psychologist can diagnose clinical depression.
The test says I have symptoms but no diagnosis. What now?
Many, many more people will experience difficulties with shyness or social anxiety that are not severe enough to be diagnosed as social anxiety. In fact, social anxiety that only happens occasionally and doesn’t keep you from doing things or enjoying activities is quite common. Still, there are a number of things you can do to reduce and manage symptoms of social anxiety, whether or not they are severe, such as
Relaxation breathing and mindfulness.
Fact-checking (coming soon).
1. Chavira, D. A., Stein, M. B., & Malcarne, V. L. (2002). Scrutinizing the relationship between shyness and social phobia. Journal of anxiety disorders, 16(6), 585–598.
2. Burstein, M., Ameli-Grillon, L., & Merikangas, K. R. (2011). Shyness versus social phobia in US youth. Pediatrics, 128(5), 917–925.
3. Poole, K. L., & Schmidt, L. A. (2019). Smiling through the shyness: The adaptive function of positive affect in shy children. Emotion, 19(1), 160–170.