Highly Sensitive and Living With Social Anxiety

Shyness, social anxiety, social phobia – one of the problems in using these labels about ourselves is they are often too unspecific and relative: shy compared with whom? How anxious, for how long, in what situations?

Many people avoid crowds or social contacts that are too anxiety producing. But if this kind of social anxiety is overly self-limiting, holding us back from expressing our talents as fully as we want to, there are ways to deal with it.

How might being a highly sensitive person (HSP) or empathic make some people more susceptible to social anxiety?


A study published in a journal of psychiatry indicates “Individuals with social phobia (SP) show sensitivity and attentiveness to other people’s states of mind.”

A post on the Spirit Science and Metaphysics site (source of the image above) comments about this research that it shows “People who are more socially anxious are able to discern the mental states of people much more accurately.

“As the study concluded: ‘Results support the hypothesis that high socially anxious individuals may demonstrate a unique social-cognitive abilities profile with elevated cognitive empathy tendencies and high accuracy in affective mental state attributions.’

“This helps shed major light on the subject, finding a hidden link between Social Anxiety and being an Empath.”

From New Study Links Social Anxiety To Being An Empath, by Amateo Ra.

Brain research

A study by Elaine Aron, PhD and colleagues provides an additional perspective:

“There were two particularly exciting finds about the brain areas that were more active for HSPs than non-HSPs during these tasks. First, this responsiveness occurred in the “mirror neuron” areas, apparently only found in primates and humans and known to facilitate empathy…

“Compared to the non-HSPs in the study, the HSPs’ brains were more responsive to expressions of emotions on the faces of others.”

From an issue of her newsletter: HSPs’ Brain Activation, Compared to Non-HSPs, Indicates More Empathy and Awareness.

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Many actors and other performers identify themselves as being shy earlier in life, or as adults.

Chris CooperFor example, according to a news story, “Shyness was an ongoing problem for Chris Cooper… While studying at the University of Missouri, he vowed to get ‘unblocked.’

“Taking dance classes at nearby Stephens College, he was one of only three men amid a roomful of women… Acting was another means of expression — ‘theater, as therapy,’ he says.

[LA Times Dec 25, 2002]

Many actors and other artists have pushed through shyness, stage fright or other kinds of fear to perform, and, like Cooper, report that it helps.

And many people make use of various kinds of therapy, anxiety relief programs, or take herbal supplements.

Author Jonathan Berent writes, “Over the years, in working with thousands of people who call themselves shy,’ I have come to realize that this word is too general to be of much help in identifying a problem and solving it.

“The actual response to the stress of interaction is called social anxiety.

“Of course, just as one person might say he is ‘a little shy around women’ and another might say she is ‘extremely shy about speaking in front of a group,’ it is also true that there is a wide spectrum of social anxiety, from mild nervousness all the way to social phobia, in which interaction-related anxiety is so extreme that a person actually avoids the specific situations that cause it.”

From his book: Beyond Shyness : How to Conquer Social Anxieties.

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Therapist Robin Bilazarian, LCSW, among others, uses Emotional Freedom Techniques or EFT – now called The Tapping Solution – for a number of issues, including social anxiety.

She describes how much impact anxiety can have: “They fear being scrutinized and judged harshly, seeing others as a social threat. They do not trust their bodies to be calm in these events.

Anxiety - Solutions Recovery“It limits casual, spontaneous interactions and prohibits them from attending social gatherings. They fear any performance situation. Even riding the bus, eating in a restaurant or attending a movie can be feared.

“The anxiety can be specific as in public speaking or pervasive — severely limiting most social interaction. They approach benign social interaction with the same trepidation as facing a firing squad.

“Limited social interactions have a cumulative effect that they do not develop competent social skills, are keenly aware of this and thus feel even more vulnerable and defenseless.”

She writes about working with clients using EFT: “Initially, I explore their first or worst memory of when they felt this early in their life. I remember working with a delightful young woman who was too shy to date and did not see herself for the beauty she was. Said with many tears, she had accepted she would always be alone.

“She remembered being rejected by a boy she liked in middle school. After quickly discussing how a young boy may not be the most stable person to obtain a lifetime opinion of one’s self, we used EFT to defuse this. Her laughing demeanor after EFT highlighted a definite and liberating shift had occurred.”

Bilazarian also helped four “petrified brides” by using EFT “to clear and calm every aspect of their wedding, i.e. walking down the aisle with EVERYONE staring at them, saying their vows aloud, the father-daughter dance, etc.

“They had wonderful times at their weddings and continue to use EFT in their lives.”

From article: Using EFT for Social Anxiety Disorder.

Image above from article: How Anxiety Can Lead to Substance Abuse, by Solutions Recovery.

[Related: Addiction and Creative People – A number of people with exceptional abilities have used drugs, alcohol and other substances – perhaps as self-medication to ease the pain and overwhelm of their sensitivity, or perhaps as a way to enhance thinking and creativity. Sometimes they risk addiction. More often, they limit their health and mental clarity needed for creative excellence.”]

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video: “The Tapping Solution” by Nick Ortner

One of many testimonials:

“I believe Nick Ortner’s teachings are easy to use and practical but work like magic. He certainly has taught me to magically release or dissolve problems of all sorts through the process of tapping. You will love this book, The Tapping Solution—I certainly do.”Louise L. Hay, author of You Can Heal Your Life

Learn more about The Tapping Solution (Emotional Freedom Techniques EFT) and get FREE Tapping ebook:

The Tapping Solution

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More resources:

Article: Sensitive to Anxiety and Depression
Being highly sensitive probably increases our vulnerability to anxiety and depression, which for many of us go together to some extent.

Social Anxiety articles.

Anxiety Relief Solutions site.

Shyness and social anxiety – as well as other forms of anxiety – may be related to low confidence.

Read more about the Natural Confidence Program by Morty Lefkoe – and see text and video testimonials by Jack Canfield and others, such as these:

Mark Watson-confidence-testimonial


Emotional Health Resources page

Emotional Health Resources
Programs, books, articles and sites to improve your emotional wellbeing.

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Originally posted 2008-01-29 21:21:43.


  1. I am so shy to attend many social events and occasions or celebrations in work or in family. I am scared to meet up with people and too shy to open a conversation. I scare most public speaking and much more. thanks..

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  3. I spent several years of my life coping with social anxiety. My problem coincided with a bout of depression also. It’s interesting how these types of disorders tend to be seen simltaneously in people.

  4. I must admit I must be battling same case with people who have social anxiety. I am so shy to attend many social events and occasions or celebrations in work or in family. I am scared to meet up with people and too shy to open a conversation. I scare most public speaking and much more.
    I must say I am so tired of being introvert. I am so tired of being alone all the time. Good thing I braved getting married.
    But still I suffer the things I have been suffering brought about by being introvert or someone having social anxiety.
    I have been praying to God that He may give me a chance to get healed.
    I turned may back on many glorious offers that could have caused me growth in my career because of fear of public speaking and social anxiety.
    Now, I am trying to overcome my shyness or social anxiety by conversing a lot and exposing myself to people and social activities and business.
    I have proven that social anxiety is one of the biggest detrimental factors to achieving success in life which needs to be overcome by those who have it.

  5. Very interesting article! I am a therapist and deal with clients that suffer from social anxiety. Very informative Thanks

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