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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

More by this author

Tessa Koller

Author, Motivational Public Speaker and Artist

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Last Updated on January 16, 2020

12 Simple Ways to Boost Your Confidence Right Now

12 Simple Ways to Boost Your Confidence Right Now

The way you feel about yourself greatly influences how you live and interact with others. If you are confident about yourself, you tend to see yourself positively and actually enjoy spending time with and around people. You don’t feel self-conscious or awkward around others, and that allows you to live your fullest and happiest life.

However, if you’re drowning in a sea of self-doubt, hesitancy and shyness, you often withdraw and isolate yourself from others and avoid interacting and connecting with people. That anxiety you feel in the pit of your stomach when you are around people is holding you back greatly and it is not good for your emotional health and overall well-being. You need to do something about it if you are low in self-confidence or have friends or family members who are not confident.

“Confidence isn’t walking into a room thinking you’re better than everyone, it’s walking in not having to compare yourself to anyone” – Anonymous

Here are simple, practical tips to boost your confidence right now and make you feel and act your best.

1. Stop labeling yourself as awkward, timid or shy.

When you label yourself as awkward, timid or shy, you sub-consciously tell your mind to act accordingly and psychologically feel inclined to live up to those expectations. Instead of labeling and entertaining negative self-talk, visualize and affirm yourself as confident and strong. Close your eyes for a minute and visualize yourself in different situation as you would like to be.

Be your own cheerleader. Experts believe that positive affirmation and good mental practices like picturing yourself winning or achieving a goal can lead to greater feelings of self-assurance and prepare your brain for success.[1] As the saying goes, “seeing is believing.” Picture yourself as confident and soon enough you will begin to manifest behavior that gives evidence to this new ‘fact.’

2. Recognize that the world is not focused on you (unless, of course, you are Kanye West).

That means you don’t have to be excessively sensitive about who you are or what you are doing (or not doing). You are not on the center stage; there is no need for preoccupation with self and perfectionism. As rap music star Rocko sings, “You just do you and I will do me, aight?”

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Forget about trying to please everyone or being perfect. Trying to be perfect and being a people-pleaser puts too much pressure on you and creates unnecessary anxiety. Besides, people are too preoccupied with their own issues to pay much attention to your every move unless, of course, you are a mega famous, super celebrity like Beyonce or Kanye West.

3. Focus on other people as opposed to yourself.

If you are low on confidence, self-conscious, nervous and shy in social situations, focus your attention on other people and what they are saying or doing instead of focusing on your own awkwardness.

For example, think about what it is that is interesting about the person who’s the centre of the party or the guy or girl you are talking with. Prompt them to talk more about themselves and be genuinely curious and interested in what they say. You will instantly come across as confident and warmhearted.

People generally want to talk about themselves, be heard and understood. They will love it when you’re eager and willing to listen to them and really hear what they have to say.

This habit of focusing more on what you love in others as opposed to what you dislike in yourself will not only help you become more assertive and comfortable in virtually all social situations, but also instantly make you feel great about yourself.

4. Know (and accept) yourself for who you are.

Chinese military general, strategist and philosopher Sun Tzu, author of the internationally acclaimed book The Art of War, said, “Know yourself and you will win all battles.” Even in the battle with lack of confidence, you will need to know yourself to win.

Knowing yourself starts with understanding that people are not all the same, neither are all social situation suitable for everyone. You might not be confident in large gatherings, but you could be bold and confident in one-on-one and small group interactions. We all have our own unique gifts and unique ways of expressing ourselves. Embrace yours!

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Introverts, for example, have a quiet confidence that is, unfortunately, often confused for shyness. They are naturally low key and prefer to spend time alone. However, this natural disposition affords them certain unique gifts, such as an ability to listen better than most people and notice things that others don’t.

Your uniqueness is where your strength and advantage lies. You won’t be comfortable and confident in all situations all the time. Albert Einstein said,

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

5. Crack a smile.

If there is one sure way to instantly boost your confidence, it’s cracking a smile. Christine Clapp, a public speaking expert at The George Washington University, says that flashing those pretty, pearly white teeth will immediately make you appear both confident and composed. But, the effect of smiling is not just external. Studies show that smiling can also help nix feelings of stress and pave the way for a happier and more relaxed you.[2]

Not a bad return for something seemingly so trite, wouldn’t you agree?

6. Break a sweat—with exercise.

Working out is another great way to make yourself feel amazing and confident. Science has shown that exercising increases your endorphins, helps reduce stress, tones your muscles and makes you feel happy and confident.[3]

And hey, all you have to do is take a walk a few times a week and you’ll see the benefits. What seems to matter—as far as your confidence goes—is whether you break a sweat, not how strenuous your session is, which is pretty cool. Start working out now.

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7. Groom yourself.

This might seem mundane, but it’s amazing how much of a difference a shower and shave can have on your confidence and self-image. And when you spritz on a scent, the boost on confidence and self-esteem is incredible. As it turns out, your favorite fragrance does more than make you smell oh-so-nice.

A study found that a fragrance can inspire confidence in men. Interestingly, the study also found that the more a man likes the fragrance, the more confident he might feel. Another study found that 90% of women feel more confident while wearing a scent than those who go fragrance-free.

8. Dress nicely.

Another one that might seem trite, but it works. If you dress nicely, you’ll instantly feel good about yourself and give your confidence a real boost. That is largely because you’ll feel attractive, presentable and sometimes even successful in nice clothes.

While dressing nicely means something different for everyone, it does not necessarily mean wearing $500 designer outfits. It means wearing clothes that are clean, that you are comfortable in and that are nice-looking and presentable, including casual clothes.

9. Do activities you enjoy.

Whether it is reading a book, playing a musical instrument, riding your bicycle or going fishing, do what you really enjoy and what makes you truly happy often. It will boost your self-esteem, soothe your ego and allow you to identify with your gifts and talents. That will in turn bolster your self-belief and grow your confidence exponentially.

You might not become popular for doing what you love, but you might not even want to be popular at all. Being popular doesn’t make you happy; doing what you love does.

10. Prepare for the possibility of rejection / setback.

Late World No. 1 professional tennis player Arthur Ashe said, “One important key to success is self-confidence. A key to self-confidence is preparation.” You need to prepare for the possibility of rejection and setback.

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Why?

Everybody suffers rejection and setback at one point or another. You are not exempted. The question on your mind, therefore, should not be if you will be rejected, but how you will handle rejection when it comes.

Prepare yourself adequately in every situation to minimize the risk and effect of rejection and so that your confidence is not broken. For example, learn public speaking and rehearse what you are going to say beforehand if you have landed a public speaking engagement. That way, you are sure of yourself and confident you have what it takes to hack it. If you are rejected, don’t take it personally.

Rejection and setbacks happen to the best of us. Take it as a learning experience. Learn from your mistakes and move on.

11. Face uncomfortable situations square in the face.

Don’t run away from uncomfortable situations. Running away from people or situations because you feel scared, shy or timid only confirms and reinforces your shyness. Instead, face the situation that makes you uneasy square in the face. For example, go ahead and talk to that person you are afraid to approach, or go straight to the front of your yoga class! What’s the worst that can happen?

Prepare and be ready for any eventuality. The more you face your fears, the more you realize you are stronger than you thought and the more confident you get. This simple, yet admittedly courageous, act makes you unstoppable. You get comfortable being uncomfortable and begin to feel like you can take on the world. And that is the hallmark of someone destined for great things.

12. Sit up straight and walk tall—you are awesome!

Yes, sit up straight and believe you are awesome. Don’t slump in your chair or slouch your shoulders. Experts say the right stance can not only keep your self-esteem and mood lifted, but also lead to more confidence in your own thoughts.[4]

The way to sit is to open up your chest and keep your head level so that you look and feel poised and assured. And when you get up, stand tall and walk like you’re on a mission. People who sit up straight and walk tall are more attractive and instantly feel more confident. Try it now: you’ll feel fierce and confident just by sitting up straight and walking tall.

Featured photo credit: Freshh Connection via unsplash.com

Reference

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