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How to Tell the Social Anxiety Symptoms from Signs of Introversion 

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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.

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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 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

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How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Warming up

If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

Stay hydrated

Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

Meditate

Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

2. Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

3. Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

4. Understand your content

Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

5. Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

6. Be authentic

There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

7. Post speech evaluation

Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

Improve your next speech

As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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  • How did I do?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • Did I sound or look stressed?
  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
  • Was I saying “um” too often?
  • How was the flow of the speech?

Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

Reference

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