As an introvert, you might have heard this before:
“You’re just shy.”
A lot of introverts are shy. Some introverts have social anxiety, which is similar to shyness, but more intense. So, you might be wondering, introversion vs. social anxiety – what’s the difference?
Web MD defines social anxiety as “an anxiety disorder in which a person has an excessive and unreasonable fear of social situations.”
Introversion vs. Social Anxiety – The Real Story
Both introverts and extroverts can have social anxiety. One of my most bubbly and extroverted salsa dancing friends has told me repeatedly that she has social anxiety. I didn’t really believe her until I noticed how she tenses up around new people. She also shies away from performing and speaking in public.
Once, after a dance instructor pulled her up on stage to do a demonstration with him, she said to me, “Oh my God, Michaela, I’m so mad he made me do that! Could you tell how nervous I was?” I couldn’t, but I took her word for it.
Then there’s me. I’m a diehard introvert through and through and have no qualms about public speaking or performing. In fact, I have performed in front of hundreds of people as a competitive salsa dancer.
I’ve heard from several other introverts who are actually MORE comfortable on stage than they are at a party. Go figure.
So, you see, social anxiety has nothing to do with introversion … except when it does.
Most introverts have negative associations with socializing. We associate it with energy drain and overwhelm. Sometimes, we fear judgement in social situations. We have painful memories of people calling us out at family gatherings and parties for being too quiet or serious.
Unfortunately, it’s all too easy for the pain associations with socializing to override any potential pleasure. This is when social anxiety can take hold.
How To Overcome Social Anxiety
The steps below are for less severe forms of social anxiety. For extreme cases, it’s always a good idea to consult a mental health practitioner.
1. Baby steps, dearest. There are some people that believe you should overcome your fear by facing it head on. These are the same people who tell you to “just put yourself out there,” and “get out of your comfort zone”. It sounds simple enough. But similar to diving straight into freezing cold water, jumping into a social situation that scares you can be a shock to your system.
Instead, start with small, achievable goals that stretch your comfort zone rather than obliterate it. Begin with 10 minutes of socializing, instead of forcing yourself to endure two hours. Instead of approaching new people right away, start with a smile. Leave it at that until you feel ready to try a new challenge.
Another idea is to make a list of the situations that make you feel anxious, and start by exposing yourself to the least scary environments.
2. Train your brain. People with social anxiety tend to focus on themselves and their own thoughts. For introverts with a very busy and imaginative brain, fearful thoughts can proliferate quickly.
To prevent a negative thought spiral, train your mind to focus on constructive thoughts. Meditation helps with this. As does keeping a journal. The key is to actively choose which thought you give your attention to. You always have a choice when it comes to your thoughts.
3. Do confidence building exercises. Confidence in social situations can be cultivated with conscious effort and practice. The first step is self-awareness, which is something we introverts tend to be good at. The next step is to gently uproot your insecurities, and replace them with self-compassion and core confidence.
P.S. I would love to be your guide on your journey towards true confidence. In my Unbreakable Confidence For Introverts course, I teach you how to say goodbye to your fears, and build core confidence that lasts. Learn more >>