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Last Updated on September 25, 2019

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 July 3, 2020

30 Small Habits To Lead A More Peaceful Life

30 Small Habits To Lead A More Peaceful Life

In today’s world, true peace must come from within us and our own actions. Here are 30 small things you can do on a regular basis to increase your overall sense of harmony, peace, and well-being:

1. Don’t go to every fight you’re invited to

Particularly when you’re around those who thrive on chaos, be willing to decline the invitation to join in on the drama.

2. Focus on your breath

Throughout the day, stop to take a few deep breaths. Keep stress at bay with techniques such as “square breathing.” Breathe in for four counts, hold for four counts, then out for four counts, and hold again for four counts. Repeat this cycle four times.

3. Get organized and purge old items

A cluttered space often creates a cluttered spirit. Take the time to get rid of anything you haven’t used in a year and invest in organizational systems that help you sustain a level of neatness.

4. Stop yourself from being judgmental

Whenever you are tempted to have an opinion about someone else’s life, check your intentions. Judging others creates and promotes negative energy.

5. Say ‘thank you’ early and often

Start and end each day with an attitude of gratitude. Look for opportunities in your daily routine and interactions to express appreciation.

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6. Smile more

Even if you have to “fake it until you make it,” there are many scientific benefits of smiling and laughing. Also, pay attention to your facial expression when you are doing neutral activities such as driving and walking. Turn that frown upside down!

7. Don’t worry about the future

As difficult as this sounds, there is a direct connection between staying in the present and living a more peaceful life. You cannot control the future. As the old proverb goes, “Worry is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it won’t get you anywhere.” Practice gently bringing your thoughts back to the present.

8. Eat real food

The closer the food is to the state from which it came from the earth, the better you will feel in eating it. Choose foods that grew from a plant over food that was made in a plant.

9. Choose being happy over being right

Too often, we sacrifice inner peace in order to make a point. It’s rarely worth it.

10. Keep technology out of the bedroom

Many studies, such as one conducted by Brigham and Women’s Hospital, have connected blue light of electronic devices before bed to adverse sleep and overall health. To make matters worse, many people report that they cannot resist checking email and social media when their cell phone is in reach of their bed, regardless of the time.

11. Make use of filtering features on social media

You may not want to “unfriend” someone completely, however you can choose whether you want to follow their posts and/or the sources of information that they share.

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12. Get comfortable with silence

When you picture someone who is the ultimate state of peace, typically they aren’t talking.

13. Listen to understand, not to respond

So often in conversations, we use our ears to give us cues about when it is our turn to say what we want to say. Practice active listening, ask questions, process, then speak.

14. Put your troubles in a bubble

Whenever you start to feel anxious, visualize the situation being wrapped in a bubble and then picture that sphere floating away.

15. Speak more slowly

Often a lack of peace manifests itself in fast or clipped speech. Take a breath, slow down, and let your thoughtful consideration drive your words.

16. Don’t procrastinate

Nothing adds stress to our lives like waiting until the last minute.

17. Buy a coloring book

Mandala coloring books for adults are becoming more popular because of their connection to creating inner peace.

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18. Prioritize yourself

You are the only person who you are guaranteed to live with 24 hours a day for the rest of your life.

19. Forgive others

Holding a grudge is hurting you exponentially more than anyone else. Let it go.

20. Check your expectations

Presumption often leads to drama. Remember the old saying, “Expectations are premeditated resentments.”

21. Engage in active play

Let your inner child come out and have some fun. Jump, dance, play, and pretend!

22. Stop criticizing yourself

The world is a hard enough place with more than enough critics. Your life is not served well by being one of them.

23. Focus your energy and attention on what you want

Thoughts, words, and actions all create energy. Energy attracts like energy. Put out what you want to get back.

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24. Assign yourself “complaint free” days.

Make a conscious decision not to complain about anything for a whole day. It might be harder than you think and the awareness will stick with you.

25. Surround yourself with people you truly enjoy being in the company of

Personalities tend to be contagious, and not everyone’s is worth catching. Be judicious in your choices.

26. Manage your money

Financial concerns rank top on the list of what causes people stress. Take the time each month to do a budget, calculate what you actually spend and sanity check that against the money you have coming in.

27. Stop trying to control everything

Not only is your inner control freak sabotaging your sense of peace, it is also likely getting in the way of external relationships as well.

28. Practice affirmations

Repeat positive phrases that depict the life and qualities you want to attract. It may not come naturally to you, but it works.

29. Get up before sunrise

Personally witnessing the dawn brings a unique sense of awe and appreciation for life.

30. Be yourself

Nothing creates more inner discord than trying to be something other than who we really are. Authenticity breeds happiness.

Featured photo credit: man watching sunrise via stokpic.com

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