Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Picture this: you’re at a party and you feel uncomfortable.
Your palms are sweaty, your stomach feels funny, you simply don’t like being around this many people.
It’s hard for you to get a word in. Now you’re wondering, “What’s wrong with me?” “Am I an introvert, or is this something else?”
If this sounds all too familiar, here are 5 signs your introversion may actually be social anxiety.
Social Anxiety (also known as social phobia) is an anxiety disorder that is characterized by excessive fear of social situations. Usually, it is a fear of being judged or negatively evaluated by others.
Introversion on the other hand is a personality trait, you’re born with it.
Social anxiety does not have one single cause. Certain people may be more predisposed to develop social anxiety. This is where the question of “heritability” comes in.
While studies differ on the exact number, it is estimated that between 30-40% of underlying causes of social anxiety come from genetic predispositions. Also, individuals with social anxiety have been shown to have some neurotransmitter imbalances in the brain (e.g., serotonin, dopamine, GABA, norepinephrine).
On the other hand, a big component of social anxiety is learned. Maybe your parents were anxious and taught you to stay away from people. Perhaps you were rejected early on and taught yourself to avoid situations in which this could happen again.
Whatever the case may be, here are…
5 Signs Your Introversion May Actually Be Social Anxiety:
- You avoid going out but feel lonely when alone. Introverts recharge by spending time alone but are able to go out and enjoy themselves (on their own terms). An introvert may decide to stay home or cancel plans in an effort to recharge, they enjoy this time. Someone with social anxiety may convince themselves that they are better off staying home, but in reality they feel lonely and deep down may want to go out. They find themselves bored at home or unable to sit with their own company and feelings of loneliness creep in.
- Introverts feel drained by social interaction, someone with social anxiety feels anxious about it. If you find that you are feeling anticipatory anxiety leading up to a social event, you may have social anxiety. A person with social anxiety may be unable to say anything, not because they don’t want to, but because they feel they’re unable to. An introvert may come off as quiet or shy, but they have no trouble socializing (again, on their own terms).
- Avoidance is your go-to. You’ve convinced yourself that you are a “loner” and that you don’t need anyone to feel happy when in reality, you crave human connection. You avoid making plans when they involve unfamiliar people or places, you avoid large groups, making eye contact, or making small talk with the cashier at the grocery store. This is avoidance; by minimizing social interaction you actively make yourself feel better. The problem with this is that it reinforces the idea that social situations are “dangerous” or “scary” which means you are less likely to engage in them in the future.
- You have to drink to feel comfortable in social settings. If you find that you need to have some “liquid courage” before or during a social event just to get you through it, you may have social anxiety. Of course an introvert may drink alcohol at a party but they aren’t drinking to cope. Someone with social anxiety on the other hand may need the alcohol as a crutch, they may end up drinking too much or too often. This is not only a health hazard, it also tends to make it obvious to others that something is off, especially if this is a common occurrence. This inadvertently draws attention to the problem which is a socially anxious person’s nightmare. It also robs the person of the opportunity to improve their anxiety through exposure exercises. Alcohol may numb the discomfort but it also dulls the sense of mastery of facing a challenge; therefore it does not allow for confidence in one’s ability to overcome to take root.
- You experience a slew of physical symptoms when faced with social situations. Anxiety doesn’t just affect our thoughts and the way we feel, it also affects our bodies. We all have physiological reactions when we feel nervous, these may be more pronounced in people with social anxiety. Physical symptoms include flushed face, perspiration, sweaty palms, increased heart rate, feeling nauseous or upset stomach, and difficulty breathing. Here are some other signs of social anxiety.
Now, you may be asking, “Can a person be both an introvert and have social anxiety?”
The short answer is yes, a person can have both. Typically introversion is a common trait in people who have social anxiety. However, social anxiety is multifaceted in the sense that there are several contributing factors and it does not all depend on personality.
A person can be diagnosed with social anxiety whether or not they fall on the “introverted” side of the personality spectrum. In fact, research shows that while it is more common for introverts to be diagnosed with social anxiety, this single personality trait is not an accurate predictor of whether a person will develop social anxiety. People with other personality traits may also develop social anxiety which as this study suggests may make social anxiety more of a spectrum.
If after reading this you are questioning whether your introversion may actually be social anxiety disorder, there is help out there.
Cognitive-behavior therapy is one of the most effective forms of treatment. You will learn how to modify anxious thoughts that get in the way of you thriving in social situations. You will participate in exposure exercises to gradually face the fears/worries you have and teach yourself that social situations are not dangerous.
Other treatments include support groups, groups meant to increase skills (toastmasters), and medication to help with anxiety symptoms.
In conclusion, it may be possible that something you always wrote off as being introversion is actually social anxiety. People who suffer from social anxiety usually want to do the things that are so difficult for them but their anxiety does not allow it.
People who are true introverts may not engage in social situations purposefully, not out of avoidance, but to take time for themselves and recharge.
The main question to ask yourself is, “does being in social situations make me uncomfortable to the point that it is impairing?” If the answer is yes, it may be time to reach out to a professional who can help you determine what exactly is going on and how you can overcome it. The therapists at The Psychology Group are happy to help. Reach out anytime!
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