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How to Tell the Social Anxiety Symptoms from Signs of Introversion 

How to Tell the Social Anxiety Symptoms from Signs of Introversion 

The symptoms of social anxiety can be misinterpreted as introversion but they are very different.

Social anxiety is self-induced while introversion is a personality trait. In terms of behaviors and reactions, the two are similar. But, there are also some very big key differences.

A person with social anxiety may feel mentally drained in a crowd full of people and unable to function, yet so can someone who is an introvert given the right circumstances. Both, at times, may feel hindered when it comes time to perform a task or talk with others, but the reasoning behind these feelings is very different.

With both social anxiety and introversion, a person may willingly trying to vanish into the background to escape a party or make excuses to cancel plans.

Communicating and dealing with others can seemingly present the same set of challenges on both sides of the spectrum, but only one of them is an actual issue. It can be easy to jump to a conclusion and give it all the same label, but it’s important to note that they are not the same.

Maybe you have asked yourself why it’s so difficult being with peers or to attend social events without a cluster of symptoms interfering.

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In this case, you could be either an introvert or have social anxiety. In this article, I’ll break down the differences between the two.

The Symptoms of Social Anxiety

Social anxiety stems from incessant thoughts and unnecessary worries upon entering a room filled with people.

The moment your presence is acknowledged, symptoms begin to wreak their havoc—the sweaty palms, heart racing, and thoughts racing.

A feeling of doom about screwing something up or botching it with an important contact can be enough to make you want to hide under a table.

You might characterize the discomfort as stress or high stakes and not recognize that it’s anxiety driving your symptoms. The biggest difficulty someone with social anxiety faces is communicating with peers, especially if they have speech delays.

You might feel the need to measure up and have more pressure to act normal. You might worry that you’re overdoing everything or over compensating to fit in and get on the same level platform as everybody else. Fears of keeping up with conversation may be plaguing. Mental exhaustion takes its toll and already, you’re drained before anything has started.

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Many people with social anxiety feel as if they are constantly being judged. You may think that someone is rolling their eyes at every word you say. Everyone is opposed to your ideas and your contributions to a conversation, so you end the dialogue or look for excuses to leave the room.

You may also fear that you’ll offend somebody somehow. There are topics you’ll avoid like you would the flu and when the panic comes on, you may experience moments of paralysis. Not to mention that dreaded silence or what I like to call, white noise.

A group of people surrounding you can feel similar to a deer frozen in the headlights. In your mind, simply talking to somebody is the same as over-exerting yourself while exercising. Simply talking to more than one individual is like you’re singing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl when all you’re doing is exchanging thoughts and ideas. Still, you’re nerve-wracked and it’s enough to enter the fight or flight response (but really, you just want to flee, now).

According to Psychology Today, when anxiety was first discovered in the seventies and eighties, it was called, phobia. Social anxiety would have been called social phobia. Even if you have it, that doesn’t mean you hate being around people. It also doesn’t mean that you’re afraid to socialize. However, the symptoms can leave you with unnecessary fears and insecurities.

According to the DSM-5, (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition), there are 10 diagnostic criteria for Social Anxiety disorder. These include:

  1. fear or anxiety specific to social settings, in which a person feels noticed, observed, or scrutinized. In a adult, this could include a first date, a job interview, meeting someone for the first time, delivering an oral presentation, or speaking in a class or meeting. In children, the phobic/avoidant behaviors must occur in settings with peers, rather than adult interactions, and will be expressed in terms of age appropriate distress, such as cringing, crying, or otherwise displaying obvious fear or discomfort.
  2. typically the individual will fear that they will display their anxiety and experience social rejection,
  3. social interaction will consistently provoke distress,
  4. social interactions are either avoided, or painfully and reluctantly endured,
  5. the fear and anxiety will be grossly disproportionate to the actual situation,
  6. the fear, anxiety or other distress around social situations will persist for six months or longer and
  7. cause personal distress and impairment of functioning in one or more domains, such as interpersonal or occupational functioning,
  8. the fear or anxiety cannot be attributed to a medical disorder, substance use, or adverse medication effects or
  9. another mental disorder, and
  10. if another medical condition is present which may cause the individual to be excessively self conscious- e.g., prominent facial scar, the fear and anxiety are either unrelated, or disproportionate. The clinician may also include the specifier that the social anxiety is performance situation specific – e.g., oral presentations (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).

As you can see, social anxiety can cause quite a significant disruption in someone’s life. Quite different from simply being an introvert.

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Signs You’re an Introvert

Introverts make up about 50% of the population; while the remainder are extraverts. There is also a term called ambivert, which describes people who fall in the middle of the two. The main differences between introverts and extraverts is the way that they recharge. For example, if an extravert is feeling drained, they may get energized by being around others. If an introvert is drained, they most likely prefer to recharge alone.

Introversion is deeply rooted in someone’s personality. If a child is an introvert, a parent or sibling might also be one. An introvert turns within themselves, their thoughts, and does not generally need to seek stimulation from social interaction.

For many introverts, it’s easy to get overwhelmed in work environments if there is too much commotion. This is also true for someone with social anxiety, which is why you might be having a difficult time distinguishing the two.

An anxious person finds the stimulation mentally exhausting and avoids going to social gatherings at all costs or as less often as possible. An introvert wouldn’t avoid social interaction, but they need time to themselves to unwind, relax, and get to a place where they can shake off stress from their day. Even if you aren’t an introvert, this fact might apply to almost everybody.

Instead of going from work right to a social gathering, introverts may need an hour or two to clear their heads. Or, they may feel drained from a happy hour outing (even if they had fun!) and need to recharge by being alone. Oftentimes, they do still want to socialize, but might be better in smaller groups.

Introverts are often detail oriented, mostly analyzers and are hyper aware of themselves or of others. If critical thinking on a situation is involved, introverts work best alone.

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Other people will often be the ones coming to you for advice or opinions on topics or issues in their lives. If you’re an introvert, you’re also a solutions-oriented person meaning you are your own problem solver, which is a great quality to have.

It’s important to mention that you can, in fact, be an introverted person with social anxiety; but, if you don’t meet the DSM-5 criteria above, then there is a good chance that you’re simply an introvert. And that’s totally okay.

Final Thoughts

Whether you have social anxiety or are an introvert, you possess the abilities to relate and connect with others. You can overcome social anxiety by being out with friends or peers on a more regular basis. Keep a journal and track your trigger symptoms after an afternoon or night out.

Many therapists suggest that the socially anxious individual challenges themselves with questions to ease nerves before leaving the house. Ask yourself if you have in fact ever messed up something so monumental that it ruined your life. You’ll probably find that a lot of other people share the same kind of anxiety as you.

You don’t need to live in fear and skip out on opportunities to avoid humiliation or embarrassment. Anxiety obscures your thinking and judgment and it’s imperative to address and treat the symptoms in a way that is best for you. The brain and mind thrive on routines for a reason—to help you overcome these hurdles and branch out. This also applies to introverts. Try implementing lifestyle practices to minimize stress long before social or work outings.

You can also overcome the anxiety by practicing mindfulness and meditations to ease the symptoms. Affirmations before you go out can rewire the brain and keep you from worrying needlessly. It might be worthwhile to take a theater class to get yourself out of your comfort zone. Enrichment classes might be another useful resource to get you to a better mindset and a way to regularly work on your anxiety. There are many ways to alleviate stress and find balance so you can be successful in future pursuits.

Featured photo credit: mvp via unsplash.com

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Tessa Koller

Author, Motivational Public Speaker and Artist

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Last Updated on November 4, 2020

15 Simple Ways To Make Self Improvement That Will Change Your Life

15 Simple Ways To Make Self Improvement That Will Change Your Life

Self-improvement doesn’t have to be big mind-blowing changes; it can actually be simple steps to improve upon what you already have to get you where you want to be.  However, what you will need is consistency, determination and wiliness to try some things that will stretch and challenge you.

Rather than setting your sights way off into the future, which leaves you feeling like you’ll never make it, you can start following these simple and effective self-improvement steps today.  So if you want to make an immediate impact on your life and are willing to take action, then keep reading— you’ll going to love these!

1. Be willing to work hard.

As with anything in life, if you want something, you’ve got to work hard to get it.  This doesn’t mean you burn the candle at both ends, leaving you exhausted and leaving your personal life in ruins.  It merely means that when you want something badly enough, you’ll put in the time to get there.  Action is what’s important here and the more ‘inspired’ the action is, the better the results in the end.

2. Make sure you have friends who you can talk to.

Sharing the load is important as with any self-improvement. If you can communicate with others and get feedback on how you are doing then that’s great.  We all need ‘cheerleaders’ in our corner to keep us going when times get hard, but you also need to have people who will tell you how it is even when you don’t want to hear it.  So make sure you have a good support network around you, especially those people whose opinions you respect.

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3. Adapt to your circumstances rather than over-thinking them.

Sometimes, we can hit a hard period. Perhaps you’ve lost your job or your partner has left you.  Instead of over analyzing the situation, learn to adapt to your circumstances and accept them as they are.  It’s not about making your circumstances into some kind of a drama; remember, what you focus on expands which means you’ll get more of it.  You then don’t become your problems and you’ll feel a lot less burdened by them.

4. Ensure that you use your time wisely.

Time is of the essence, some might say; whilst others will say that time is an illusion.  One thing we do know is that you have one life on this planet, so how you use that time is of the utmost importance.  So how can you use your time wisely? Only you know how to do that, but look at how you currently spend your days: do you sit working all day, get home, eat and then sit slumped in front of the TV for the rest of the evening?  Your time on this earth is precious, so isn’t it time to make use of the time you have left? Try something new, go for a walk, learn a new language or meditate but make sure it’s something you absolutely love.

5. Always be consistent.

A wonderful way to self-improvement is to make changes to how you do things.  For example, with your friends, are you always the unreliable one who bows out of an arrangement just before it happens? Or are you someone who starts a new exercise routine and then stops doing it 3 weeks into it?  Whatever it is and whatever you do, always be consistent. When you make a commitment, stick to it. It will improve your life immeasurably you’ll feel more confident and happier with yourself, especially because you’ll know that whatever you tackle, you’ll be able to consistently do it!

6. Go and find your happy place.

No, I’m not saying “place” as in popping to your local bar or restaurant and gorging yourself on your favorite drinks or food. What I’m saying is to find out what you love to do, what makes you happy and go there.  Your happy place is a place where you find peace, where you lose yourself and feel contented.  Meditation is a great way to find your happy place; it brings you back to you and ensures that you are always living in the present moment.

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7. Make sure you embrace all your emotions.

In life you are going to find that it throws you some difficult challenges, sometimes it will bring out your fears and lead you into uncertainty, and other times it will be joyful.  It’s important to embrace all emotions that come up in your life, embrace them wholeheartedly and understand why they are there and then let them go.  Try not to dismiss or resist them because remember “what you resist, persists,” so embrace them each and every time.

8. Always be prepared to step out of your comfort zone.

The idea of stepping out of your comfort zone for some people can leave you paralyzed with fear; however for any changing in your life, your comfort zone will always have to be stepped out of.  It doesn’t have to be something big, like doing a sky-dive or something just as crazy. However, it’s worthwhile to change something that you’d once have feared, like going to the cinema on your own or eating at a sushi restaurant when the thought of trying raw fish which would normally mean you running for the hills.

So try something new—it doesn’t have to be wacky, but it has to challenge you!

9. Be on hand to help others.

Whether it’s helping a stranger on the street or a family member or a friend helping someone else either in their time of need, lending a helping hand is a wonderful and simple self-improvement to make.  Giving to others is not only beneficial to those you are helping but also to yourself; it can give you a sense of purpose, of contribution and also takes your mind of your own troubles and worries.

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10. Live in the present moment.

A wonderful self-improvement tool is to live in the present moment, to live in the now.  It is within this moment that you’ll appreciate all that you have and see the beauty in the simplest of things.  Being mindful of your current circumstances and bringing your mind back to where it belongs will bring about a happier way of life instead of constant worry or stressing about the past or future—both of which do not exist. Only the present moment exists. When you get used to living that way, you’ll never want to go back!

11. Learn something new.

There is nothing so liberating as learning something new; it can lift both your confidence and self-esteem and give you a great reason to meet new people.  If you continually top up your brain activity by learning something new all the time, you’ll feel on top of your game and want to share the knowledge you have learned. There is nothing quite so empowering as learning a new tool in life that can either improve your circle of friends or raise confidence levels—or both!

Reading is also a great way to help you learn something new:

12. Exercise daily.

This seems an obvious one, but exercise is so important not only to your health but also to your spirit.  We all know that after exercise, the world can feel a brighter and more positive place, so why don’t we do it more often?  Exercise isn’t about getting the perfect body or losing weight; it’s more about feeling good inside and out!  With a healthy body comes a healthy mind—so start something today. Even if it’s just a daily walk, it’s better than staying on that couch, again.

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13. Go to new places, travel a bit.

I’m not saying go fly off to some far away distant forgotten land—although you can if you so wish. It’s more about going to new places and experiencing life outside of your own back yard.  Too many of us stay in one place too often. We only see the same people, the same streets and do the same things each and every day.  If you want to improve your life, get out there and see the world and what it can offer.  You can start by going to a town or city you’ve never been to in your own country and checking out the architecture, the landscapes and the people.  Anything new is good, so get out there!

14. Listen to uplifting music and dance.

If there’s one thing that can really improve your life and get you excited about it, it’s listening to great uplifting music and dancing.  When was the last time you really let go?  Let it all hang loose and got into a piece of music and let yourself go?  Dancing, like exercise, makes you feel great. It releases all kinds of emotions and can make you feel unbelievably good.  Self-improvement isn’t all about the serious stuff; it can be something as simple as finding new music, music that inspires you and makes you dance and have fun!

15. Get up earlier than normal.

This is the last one, and it’s last because it’s one of those self-improvement tips that we all know is a good thing, yet we seem to avoid it at all costs!  If you think about it, the earliest part of the day is when your brain is most active because it’s been turned off for the last 7 hours or so.  So don’t you think it’s best to get all those things above done in the morning?  Things like exercise, meditation and dancing, which can all be done in the first part of the day.  Take it from me: this early morning stuff can really get your day started with a bang!

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Featured photo credit: Laura Chouette via unsplash.com

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