Difference Between Social Anxiety Disorder and Shyness

1917 words (8 pages) Essay in Psychology

09/01/18 Psychology Reference this

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Millions of people struggle daily with social anxiety disorder and shyness. The lasting effects of both can affect an individual psychologically, socially and emotionally. Human beings have struggled with social anxiety and shyness for centuries, in this paper I will be explore the truth about Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) verses shyness and we will examine a few reasons why some people suffer in silence and others publicly.

Myers, (2005). in his book Exploring Psychology), said anxiety is part of life. Speaking in front of a class, peering down from a ledge, or waiting to play in a big game, any one might feel anxious (p. 476. If anxiety- as Myers noted – is part of everyday life, then why do people make it seems like a disease that is incurable?

Mike Nicholas (2008). noted that Social Phobia is an anxiety disorder characterized by an overwhelming anxiety and excessive self consciousness in everyday social situations. He also noted that people with Social Phobia have a persistent, intense, chronic fear of being watched or judged by others and of being embarrassed or humiliated by their own actions.

Whereas shyness is diagnosable as social phobia only if it is severe enough to adversely affect social or occupational functioning. Although it is common for many people to experience some form of anxiety before or during a public appearance, the anxiety levels in people with social phobia can become so high that they begin to avoid all social situations. Nicholas noted they may have reactions resembling a panic attack. He noted that this type of fear may become so severe that it interferes with work, school, and ordinary activities and can make it hard to build friendships and keep friends. People with Social Phobia often suffer “anticipatory” anxiety – the fear of a situation before it even happens, for days or weeks before the event occurs.

The difference between Social Phobia and Shyness lies in the severe effects that Social Phobia can have on everyday functioning. People with Social Phobia are not just a little nervous. Their lives are dictated by the need to either avoid certain situations or endure them with extreme anxiety. In my observation, shy people always seem to be uneasy around other people but they never seem to suffer from the anticipatory fear and usually they don’t avoid circumstances that make them feel self conscious.

Thomas A. Richards, (2011), Definition of Social Anxiety Disorder, defined SAD as the “fear of social situations and the interaction with other people that can automatically bring on feelings of self-consciousness, judgment, evaluation, and inferiority.”

The Effects of SAD

Goldin, (2010). (p.84 ), noted that Social Anxiety Disorder is a very common psychiatric condition that is characterized by intense fear of evaluation in social or performance situations (Jefferys, 1997). Patients with SAD have a strong tendency to focus on both internal cues (e.g., negative thoughts and self-imagery and external cues (e.g., other’s facial expressions) during social situations (Schultz & Heimberg, 2008). This attention focus serves to maintain social anxiety symptoms by interfering with habituation processes that lead to corrective learning in vivo and during cognitive-behavioral therapy (Heimberg & Becker, 2002).

Any person who has experienced a clinical anxiety disorder can attest to the effects it can take on one’s physical body overtime.

As noted by researchers, SAD can interfere with so many aspects of a person’s daily life, such as their sleeping habits, eating, shopping, the ability to meet other people and to perform personal responsibilities, participating in meetings and presentations at work, meeting deadlines, coping with social events and other health problems. The simplest and most essentials task can become overwhelming for a person struggling Social Anxiety Disorder.

The Causes of SAD

Genetic Predisposition

Based on research conducted by Jerome Kagan, Ph.D., at Harvard University, evidence of this genetic predisposition was found. He studied children from infancy through early adolescence and found that 10-15% of children to be irritable infants who become shy, fearful and behaviorally inhibited as toddlers, and then remains cautious, quite and introverted in their early grade school years. In adolescence, they had a much higher than expected rate of social anxiety disorder

Kagan also found a physiological accompaniment of anxious temperament in these children: a high resting heart rate. Their resting heart rates rose even higher in the presence of mild stresses. Additionally, when exposed to new situations, these children exhibited substantial behavioral restraint, becoming quiet, avoiding interaction and even retreating from the scene. Parents of these children have increased rates of Social Anxiety Disorder and other anxiety disorders.

There are other biological factors and chemical imbalances I believe that has influenced individuals struggling with Social Anxiety Disorder.

Based on article found at www.thehealthcenter.info, it is noted that individuals with Social Anxiety Disorder and other emotional disorders probably have abnormalities in the functioning of some parts of their anxiety response system. Most often, the symptoms of long-term social anxiety disorder can be attributed to an improper chemical balance in the brain.

There are several key neurotransmitters, namely serotonin, norepinephrine and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which are produced in the brain and directly affect the way we feel about a given thought or situation.

Scientists believe according to this article that at least four brain areas are critical to our anxiety-response system:

  • brain stem (cardiovascular and respiratory functions)
  • limbic system (mood and anxiety)
  • prefrontal cortex (appraisals of risk and danger)
  • motor cortex (control of muscles)

These structure are richly supplied with these three important neurotransmitters: norepinephrine (NE), found in neurons arising primarily from a part of the brain stem called the locus ceruleus; serotonin (5-HT), found in neurons beginning in the neurons that re widespread throughout the brain.

Co-relations between S.A.D and Trauma

Based on studies conducted by the African Journal of Psychiatry (Nov. 2010), “The studies have focused on the role of various forms of childhood adversity in adult morbidity. Specifically childhood emotional abuse, more so than physical or sexual abuse, has been associated with diagnoses of major depression and SAD.

The various types of emotional abuse that have been implicated in the development of Social Anxiety and SAD include excessive teasing, criticism, bullying, rejection, ridicule, humiliation, and exclusion by significant others. It is noted that the association between emotional abuse and neglect in childhood and adult PD has also been suggested.

Neglect may also play a role in SAD. In a study done by Chartier et al it is reported

that, amongst other things, a lack of close personal relationships. With adults was significantly associated with a diagnosis of SAD in young adulthood. Stein and colleagues found higher rates of retrospectively recalled childhood physical and sexual abuse in patients with SAD, PD and obsessive-compulsive disorder than in controls. Safren et al. found significantly lower rates of recalled childhood physical or sexual abuse in patients with PD than in patients with SAD.

In contrast, a study by Mancini et al. found no difference in reported sexual abuse across all of the Anxiety Disorders that were investigated. Similarly, neither the number nor the types of past traumatic events (which included assault, rape witnessing injury or death, and natural or man-made disasters), were found to differentiate patients with PD from those with other anxiety disorders in a study by Hofmann et al. Findings on the possible associations between various forms of recalled childhood maltreatment and subsequent anxiety disorder specifically, have been inconclusive.

Based on previous research we can agree that negative youth experiences such as maltreatment, sexual abuse, and emotional neglect are all risk factors for the development of depression and social anxiety disorders. Even though researchers intended with new study to find which type of youth trauma was related to a specific type of psychological disorder.

With this information therapists can develop more purpose-built treatment and intervene at a much earlier stage.

Alternative Medicine

Cure and Treatments’

According to WebMD.com, it is noted that treatment for Social Anxiety Disorder involves psychological counseling and sometimes medicines (such as antidepressants) to reduce associated anxiety and depression. A combination of medicines and professional counseling may be effective for long-term treatment for people who have generalized anxiety and fear over many social situations. For those who fear only one or a few social situations (such as public speaking or eating in front of others), professional counseling to overcome the fear may be all that is needed.

Unfortunately, many people don’t seek treatment for anxiety disorders. They may not seek treatment because they think the symptoms are not so bad or they can work things out on your own. But getting treatment is important.

Psychotherapy Treatment

According to the Mayo Foundation of Medical Education, psychotherapy is a cognitive behavioral therapy which improves symptoms in up to 75 percent of people with social anxiety disorder. This type of therapy is based on the idea that your own thoughts – not other people or situations – determine how you behave or react. Even if an unwanted situation won’t change – you still have to give a presentation to management, for instance – you can change the way you think and behave, in a positive way. In therapy, you learn how to recognize and change negative thoughts about yourself.

Cognitive behavior therapy may also include exposure therapy. In this type of therapy, a person gradually works up to facing the situations you fear most.

This allows the individual to become better skilled at coping with these anxiety-inducing situations and to develop the confidence to face them. They may also participate in skills training or role-playing to practice their social skills and gain comfort and confidence relating to others. Relaxation or stress management techniques may be included in your treatment plan.


Researchers have concluded that SAD can be treated through medicine and psychotherapy. According Myers, (2005), preventive mental health is upstream work. It seems to prevent psychological casualties by identifying and alleviating the conditions that cause them. George Albee (1986), believes there is abundant evidence that poverty, meaningless work, constant criticism, unemployment, racism, and sexism undermine people’s sense of competence, personal control, and self-esteem. Such stresses increase their risk of depression, alcoholism, and suicide.

Albee contends that we who care about preventing psychological casualties should therefore support programs that alleviate poverty, discrimination, and other demoralizing situations. We eliminate smallpox not by treating the affected but by inoculating the unafflicted. We conquered yellow fever by controlling mosquitos.

Prevention of psychological problems mean empowering those who have learned an attitude of helplessness, changing environments that breed loneliness, renewing the disintegrating family, and bolstering parents’ teachers’ skills at nurturing children’s achievements and resulting self-esteem. Indeed, “Everything aimed at improving the human condition, at making life more fulfilling and meaningful, may be considered part of primary prevention of mental or emotional disturbance” (Kessler & Albee, p. 557).


In conclusion SAD is normal, but is highly subjectiveto the human emotion. While some anxiety serves a beneficial and adaptive purpose, SAD can become the cause of tremendous suffering for millions of people who is struggling with this disorder.

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