introverted, shy, or socially anxious?Introversion, shyness, and social anxiety are all terms that get intermingled and used to describe a person’s personality. While they may have similar characteristics, the three terms mean different things. Someone who is introverted, may not be shy for example. And shyness does not always mean that someone has Social Anxiety Disorder. The purpose of this article is to shed some light on the meaning and differences of each construct.

Someone who is introverted may label themselves or may be seen by others as shy or vice versa. Likewise, someone who is shy may think they suffer from Social Anxiety Disorder, when the symptoms may not reach that level of anxiety. While these beliefs may be incorrect, it can be somewhat confusing to clearly distinguish between the three. This article breaks down the three constructs of introversion, shyness, and Social Anxiety Disorder by providing more definition and examples.


Introversion goes back to the 1920s and the psychologist Carl Jung. Today it is a mainstay of personality tests, including the widely used Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Introverts are not shy, rather they find other people tiring along with environments that are over stimulating. Introverts may seem shy, because they tend to be more quiet and reserved. They would rather observe than join in a group discussion, are very thoughtful, and tend to keep emotions private. They think before they speak, and tend to be more introspective. Introverts also need their alone-time to decompress and re-energize.


Shyness refers to feelings of tension and discomfort when around other people. Shyness indicates a fear during social situations. Shy people feel awkward and may display physical signs of this such as sweating or blushing. They do not want to approach or be approached by others. While they do want to connect with others, they feel unsure about how to interact because they are nervous or timid. So, when does shyness escalate to Social Anxiety Disorder?

Social Anxiety

Social Anxiety Disorder is characterized by overwhelming anxiety and excessive self-consciousness in everyday social situations. The anxiety is more intense and persistent than shyness. It escalates to a more chronic fear of being watched and judged by others, and one tends to be very cautious about by their behavior in public. This can even interfere with school or work productivity. While shyness tends to occur during social situations, those who have Social Anxiety Disorder fear a social situation before they even happen and may find ways to avoid them all costs.

People with Social Anxiety Disorder can even experience panic attacks. A panic attack is a period of intense fear that suddenly erupts with symptoms like an an accelerated heart rate, trembling, shortness of breath, dizziness, and nausea.


So while it is easy to see how the three constructs of introversion, shyness, and Social Anxiety Disorder can easily get confused, and one term may be used to describe another, they are very different from one another. If you feel like you might have Social Anxiety Disorder, the best advice is to have a psychiatric diagnosis, as several treatment options are available.

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