There is a common misconception that being an introvert means you must have some form of social anxiety; the two terms are not interchangeable nor mutually exclusive. Introversion and social anxiety share some commonalities, but they do not necessarily go hand-in-hand. Being an introvert is a personality trait, while social anxiety is considered a mental health disorder. Extroverts, as social as they are known to be, may also experience social anxiety. I understand that it can be hard to see where one ends and the other begins, as there is some serious overlap. I thought it would be nice to share my experience as an introvert with social anxiety would help differentiate the two.
Being an introvert is defined by several common characteristics, a few are:
- Preference for a quiet environment
- Being more of a thinker and observer
- Not a fan of small talk
- Uninterested in being the center of attention
- Enjoys socializing in small groups, partying is not a priority
- Large crowds are overwhelming
- Being around too many people is draining
- Sufficient alone time is needed to recharge
- Having a small, close-knit group of friends
- Being a relatively private person
Raise a hand of this sounds like you? Yeah, me too. This is not an exhaustive list, there are several nuances to being an introvert. Introverts can have very social lives or have thriving careers in the public eye. Naturally being an introvert is not a limiting life to live; it can be a quiet, peaceful one.
I am noticing many bloggers seem to be introverts, which makes sense. One, it allows an opportunity to put a lot of thought into your words. Two, though there are still people involved, there’s a barrier that offers a sense of comfort and safety. An added bonus is that you can connect with people without leaving your home!
Now let’s talk about social anxiety, a daily chokehold I try to pry away. Rather than simply not looking forward to social situations or preferring to be alone, social anxiety comes with an overwhelming feeling of dread or fear. I am usually on ten, which translates to having no chill.
For me, social anxiety manifests in the form of behaviors, physical symptoms, and mental health dilemmas. The following our physical symptoms that may accompany the action or thought of going to a party, delivering a presentation, participating in a meeting, or going to the supermarket:
- Loss of sleep
- Stomach cramps
- Quaking voice
- Racing heartbeat
Mentally or socially, I experience the following:
- Excessive worrying about social situations
- I overthink almost all of my actions
- I overact to surprise guests or friends bringing along strangers.
- I come off very cold or rude
- I feel like I am in trouble or I am going to fail
- I think too long about responses that I miss out on engaging in conversations
- Sometimes I have trouble summoning simple responses
- I cannot answer too many questions or comments at one time because I am easily overwhelmed
- My energy is not just drained from social interactions, my whole state of being is depleted. It can take days for me to feel like an actual person again.
- I become angry or irritable
- Long bouts of sadness.
- I feel like something is wrong with me and I feel like there is something wrong with everyone else for wanting to be around me.
- I am extremely private, it can take years for me to let someone in.
- Even if I know I am going to do something fun, I still feel fear and anxiety.
If you follow me on Twitter, you may have come across this tweet.
Anxiety hangover is real!
After that weekend, I had a killer headache for the first two days. I was unable to focus on my job. I was emotionally and physically exhausted. I didn’t shower for the week because I couldn’t muster up the energy. Lastly, I was easily agitated and snarky which meant a tense couple of days. I really do become someone else and I don’t like it.
It’s really an exhausting state of being. Most days I can keep it together, though I do not really want to. I take breaks throughout the day and I cherish my weekends. Other days, you can find me on the floor, in the dark, in moderate to severe distress.
Social anxiety varies from person to person, it is also comorbid with others types of mental health conditions. As always, you never know what’s going on with a person, sometimes suggestions of “chill out” or ” if you pretend to have fun, then it might actually happen” are unhelpful.
If this sounds like you, give yourself some props because it is really tough.