Is there a difference between being shy and socially phobic? Yes. For those who are socially phobic, social settings may be avoided altogether. Therefore, when trying to determine whether or not a person is dealing with general shyness, or they are socially phobic, determining whether social situations are avoided and why they are avoided is important. When taking these two things into consideration, you can best determine whether you live with social phobia or general shyness, and what changes you need to make, if any. For those who deal with shyness, changes rarely need to be made. However shy people often benefit from making minor changes. For those who live with social phobia, this condition can be quite debilitating, and there usually is more of a need to make some changes.

Social phobia can wreak havoc in a person’s life. Social settings are often avoided. Your throat may feel swollen so much that you can’t speak when in a setting with new people.  You may even avoid socializing in different situations. Having to attend social events can cause extreme anxiety. An out-of-context “fight or flight” type response may  be triggered by the thought of participating in such a social event.

Shyness is different in that you may not desire socializing, but you are not necessarily fearful of the circumstance. It is not nearly as debilitating. It may be your preference to not attend social events, but you are not immobilized by the idea. You don’t lose all confidence by meeting new people. You likely just do not go out of your way to meet them. Your anxiety is not nearly as high when you are dealing with shyness.

People who are shy generally are able to talk themselves out of feeling extreme anxiety, where socially phobic people are not. To overcome shyness, practice is important. If you are shy, practicing small talk skills can be extremely helpful. Small talk is often one of the social situations that is most commonly avoided. However small talk skills can be helpful in work-related social events, as well as personal events.

If you are socially phobic, you may need to take this progression in steps. Desensitizing yourself of the anxiety that you feel can help you overcome this issues. In this progression, you will slowly show yourself that the fear that you are experiencing is not necessary in the contexts that you have associated this feeling with. Starting off with the more minor circumstances, and then slowly working your way up to the more complicated ones is often effective. Seeking the help of a therapist can be helpful in walking through this progression.

Social phobia and shyness are often misunderstood. People will confuse them as being the same thing. Both can cause problems, with social phobia being much more debilitating. No matter which you may live with, there are steps that can be taken to overcome either of them.

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