The word anxiety immediately brings to mind an image of a person standing in front of an audience, nervous and not able to speak. This image of anxiety has been promoted by media and has become the layman’s interpretation of what anxiety is. In reality, that is only one aspect of what anxiety looks like. Generalized Anxiety Disorder is very commonly confused with Social Anxiety, which leads people to believe that only shy people have anxiety. So when someone with Generalized Anxiety Disorder talks about anxiety, people start giving them confidence building tips. WebMD defines GAD as excessive, exaggerated anxiety and worries about everyday life events with no obvious reasons for worry. Symptoms of anxiety may range from mild to crippling, based on the person. But unlike physical ailments, people with anxiety don’t stand out in a crowd.
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) lists down a few symptoms of GAD on their official website. These include excessive worrying, nervousness, difficulty in concentration, troubled sleep schedules, etc. People with anxiety tend to overthink situations more than the average person and worry about future scenarios that may seem implausible to other people. They may sometimes experience anxiety attacks which aren’t the same as panic attacks, although the terms are used interchangeably. Anxiety attacks are usually caused by a particular event and have a cause and origin. During anxiety attacks, people with anxiety may be extra sensitive to stimuli such as repetitive sounds, actions, etc. Trouble going to sleep or staying asleep is another symptom of anxiety if the person is being kept awake by their thoughts. They find it tough to relax or fully immerse themselves in any activity. But anxiety isn’t simply a feeling, anxiety triggers the body’s fight or flight response which results in the manifestation of physical symptoms such as shortness of breath, muscle pain or tightening of muscles, teeth grinding, sweating, nauseousness, etc. This causes people to sometimes confuse it for a physical ailment and not consider a mental aspect to it.
Social Anxiety Disorder is a medically diagnosable condition that is one step further than introversion and shyness. It is extremely common and causes people to have trouble going on dates, talking to new people, public speaking, attending parties, etc. These issues originate from a fear of being publicly humiliated or snubbed or being judged for any of their actions. Social anxiety can be dealt with by self-soothing methods but it causes a person to be crippled when it comes to socialising. Thus naturally, people with social anxiety tend to avoid large gatherings or even any places where they might meet new people. They choose to stay home and decline invitations as soon as they come in. This behaviour may sound familiar as is stereotypically assumed for introverts. So it is not a surprise that introversion and social anxiety are used interchangeably, but that isn’t correct.
Introverts are basically people who are more concerned with their inner world than the outside world. Unlike extroverts, who get energized and feel connected to people while socialising, it is only a tedious task to introverts, who would if given the choice, choose to stay at home alone. But contrary to popular belief, being an introvert does not equate shyness or a lack of social skills. Introverts could be master people pleasers and could charm their way around a room whole wishing they were at home watching a movie instead. So while some introverts may have social anxiety and some people with social anxiety may be introverted, these two qualities do not necessarily go hand in hand.
Extroverts and Social Anxiety
On a completely opposite note, extroverts are seen as loud, funny and dynamic personalities who cannot possibly know how to stay quiet. So the idea of an extrovert having social anxiety seems entirely impossible. And even if it does seem possible, it is assumed that it would be very easy to observe. But as definitely as they exist, it is also extra tough for them to handle both extraversion and social anxiety at the same time. While some of them may simply choose to stay home and avoid putting themselves in positions where they would have to socialize, others try to force themselves to get out there and end up making themselves miserable. The ones who stay at home, end up convincing themselves and people around them that they’re an introvert when in reality they have much more fun going outside and hanging out with people. The ones who do force themselves to go outside, live in constant fear where they question every single step they take or every sentence they speak. They might replay conversations and try to figure out if they did something wrong and overthink themselves into a frenzy of worry and nervousness over future interactions.
Thus, extroverts with social anxiety find themselves in a unique conundrum. While they need social interactions to thrive, those very interactions also cause them immense amounts of worry.
Tips to Work Through Social Anxiety
Be mindful. Anxiety makes you worry about the future or the past so it is important to keep reminding yourself that the present is all that matters.
Give yourself time. Allow yourself space to get comfortable with the idea of a situation before putting yourself in it. For example, do not immediately force yourself to go for tryouts in a huge club without some time to wrap your mind around the idea.
Start small. Take small steps towards what you want to achieve while constantly showing your inner critic that you’re doing well. For example, instead of going to a huge party full of strangers, go to a small lunch with friends and maybe 1 or 2 mutual friends that you have never talked to.
Remember that you’re not alone and chances are there may be a lot more people around you who are dealing with social anxiety that isn’t obvious to you.