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  • Writer's pictureKeri Pinelli

Strategies for Managing Social Anxiety and Shyness

The terms social anxiety and shyness share some similarities but are different in terms of persistence, intensity, and overall impact on a person’s life. So, let’s look at those differences more closely.

Shyness is part of an individual’s personality, and many people experience forms of shyness to varying degrees throughout their lives. Shyness causes feelings of discomfort in social situations, especially when meeting new people or being introduced to new social situations. People who are shy are often uncomfortable being the center of attention and may struggle with feelings of self-consciousness. Typically, being shy does not cause serious impairments to an individual’s ability to function in social situations, rather, it just takes those individuals more time to become comfortable and interact socially with others.


Social anxiety differs from shyness because it is a mental health disorder and causes individuals to have an intense and persistent fear of social situations or performance situations where the person is exposed to possible scrutiny or judgment by others. Avoidance of social situations is driven by anxiety, fear of embarrassment and extreme self-consciousness. Social anxiety can significantly impact various areas of a person's life, including work, school, relationships, and overall quality of life. 

Environmental factors can certainly affect an individual’s social interactions and the COVID-19 pandemic is a perfect example of that. Some might look back and think that the pandemic was, in a way, positive for those who are shy or struggle with social anxiety. We were literally told to isolate and limit social interaction. But the truth of the matter is, the pandemic brought unique challenges for individuals who struggle socially and led to the emergence of new forms of anxiety for many people. For those already living with social anxiety, the pandemic exacerbated their symptoms. Lockdowns and social isolation led to increased feelings of loneliness. The lack of opportunities for face-to-face socialization intensified the feeling of fear and discomfort in social situations. In addition, the change in routine, such as going to work, school or social events caused an interference with some of the coping skills individuals who suffer from social anxiety used to manage their symptoms. These setbacks are seen and felt by those individuals who struggle with social anxiety, however, there are strategies that can help!

  1. Practice Mindfulness Techniques: Learning and practicing mindfulness or relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or mindfulness meditation can help calm the mind and body when feeling anxious.

  2. Challenge Negative Thoughts: Paying attention to negative or intrusive thoughts about social situations and then replacing those thoughts with more realistic and positive ones can help change the narrative in your head. 

  3. Gradual Exposure: Gradual exposure to social situations that may trigger anxiety will allow an individual to become more comfortable, but it is important to start with “baby steps”. 

  4. Set Realistic Goals: Set small goals for social situations, such as introducing yourself to someone new. Celebrate these successes, no matter how small they may seem.

  5. Learn Social Skills: Improving social skills such as active listening, maintaining eye contact, and asking open-ended questions can help to create more confidence in social situations.

  6. Seek Professional Help: Professional help from a therapist or counselor may be necessary if the anxiety is affecting an individual’s daily life. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and medications can be effective treatments for social anxiety disorder. 

Remember, overcoming social anxiety takes time and patience. Be kind to yourself and celebrate your progress along the way.

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