When I read the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain, I was blown away by my new understanding of introverts and extroverts.
Previously, I’d thought introverts were shy and extroverts liked to talk. To be honest, I couldn’t figure out where I was on the spectrum. I could be shy in some social situations, but I liked talking in others. I knew I liked my alone time, but I also really enjoyed being with friends.
Quiet defined the two personalities in a way that was utterly clear: introverts get their energy from being alone. Extroverts get their energy from being with other people.
Someone might be known as the life of the party, an easeful socializer, yet find those experiences draining, and recharge by being alone. Conversely, someone might be quiet and a bit shy in social situations, yet are fed by them.
This new definition accommodates the spectrum of introverts and extroverts – they come in all shapes and sizes. Previously, I might have thought it impossible that an extrovert could feel anxious in social situations. Confidence was part of their make-up, I thought. The truth is, being an introvert or extrovert doesn’t describe someone’s mental landscape, it only describes their personality. And those are two very different things.
What is Social Anxiety?
Social anxiety is “the fear of interactions with other people that brings on self-consciousness, feelings of being negatively judged and evaluated, and, as a result, leads to avoidance.” (1)
It may seem at odds that an extrovert – someone who gets their energy from being in social situations – might simultaneously find social experiences uncomfortable and want to avoid them, but it’s true.
Alyssa Marie writes about her struggles being an extrovert with social anxiety in Thought Catalogue: she’s often lonely, no matter if she’s alone or with other people; she’s just as anxious in both situations; she’ll make plans when she’s feeling good, then cancel them as they get closer because of her anxiety. (2)
Anyone, introverts and extroverts, can have ruminating inner dialogues about whether or not others are judging them. Extroverts might have the added challenge of people not believing they both love hanging out, and also dread it. The thing that gives them energy is also the thing that triggers their anxiety. It’s an unrelenting cycle.
What Can You Do?
Here are some tips for both introverts and extroverts with social anxiety. (3)
Choose Safe Social Situations
Make plans with people with whom you already feel comfortable. You might hang out with them, or go to engagements they’re also attending. This will help you feel more comfortable as you experience something new outside your comfort zone.
Let Your Friends Know
Talk to some of your close friends about this intimate, personal experience. Let them know what you feel in new social situations, and let them know how they might support you. Having someone as your confidant when you’re feeling anxious can help you feel less alone. Most likely, they won’t need to do anything beyond checking in with you and understanding your not being rude if you need to step away for a bit.
Set Consistent Small Goals
Set a goal to chat with one new person, or stay at a gathering for at least one hour. Choose something manageable that will push you, but won’t increase your anxiety. Every time you accomplish one of your goals, find a way to celebrate. Each victory represents a time when anxiety did not win. That’s worth recognizing.
Our 30 Days of Brave Challenge will help you do just that. It gives you small, actionable steps every day that take you to the edge of your fears/anxiety and then gently nudges you to explore what's on the other side. The small victories that it helps you achieve every day build momentum and soon you're doing things you didn't think were possible. It's helped over 200,000 people overcome anxiety and so much more. You can take the new updated version 3 of the challenge here with your subscription to Compass:
Know You Aren’t Alone
You might feel like the only one in the world who experiences anxiety, but I promise you, you’re not. Anxiety is the number one mental illness in the U.S., affecting some estimated 40 millions adults. (4)
Find a community of friends who support you. Read about the experiences of others online. (5,6,7,8) Find a doctor or therapist with whom you can work – anxiety disorders are highly treatable. Create your own personal practices that will encourage self-love, even in the midst of anxiety.
No matter if you’re an introvert or extrovert, male or female, no matter where you’re from, everyone deserves to be happy and peaceful, and free of chronic anxiety. It might take time, but every step of the journey takes you towards greater peace and love, and it will be worth the effort.