Learning about my introverted personality was a huge relief. I read books like Susan Cain’s Quiet or Marti Olsen Laney’s The Introvert Advantage and marveled that there are other people like me. I’m not alone anymore — my weirdness finally made sense.
Except, introversion didn’t explain everything about my personality. The authors were careful to point out that it isn’t the same thing as shyness. I was shy, though, so how did I fit in? Similarly, learning that I’m a highly sensitive person helped explain why certain environments and situations feel overwhelming, but it didn’t explain the racing heart, sweaty palms, and anxious thoughts that followed me into interactions with people.
About 15 years after my first panic attack, I found out that I struggle with generalized anxiety, social anxiety, and depression. One of the good things that has come out of all this is that I can now write about introversion, social anxiety, and what it means to have both. Not all introverts have social anxiety, nor can I speak for everyone, but there are commonalities in how it shows up. So, here are 10 honest confessions about me as a socially anxious introvert. Can you relate?
Confessions of a Socially Anxious Introvert
1. It makes me angry.
I’ve come a long way in learning to embrace my introversion and love my personality quirks. I no longer think of introversion or sensitivity as something that holds me back.
But I do get angry at my social anxiety. It’s frustrating when I want to share something important with a group of people and my heart races, palms sweat, and my voice shakes. It makes me mad that my brain tells me people will think I’m stupid and boring if I share my real self.
I’ve also learned it’s okay to feel this anger. As my counselor said, sometimes your brain is a dirty rotten liar — and you’re allowed to be mad about that.
2. It’s hard not to isolate myself.
One of the lies my social anxiety tells me is no one really wants to be around me. I might want to reach out to someone, but I think I shouldn’t bother them. Or maybe I’ll turn down an invitation because I think I’ll be so anxious and overwhelmed that they’ll label me a “party pooper,” so why bother going?
Introverts tend to have smaller friend circles anyway, but we do need people. Without human connections, loneliness affects mental and physical health in a number of negative ways. In the past, I felt guilty about this isolation because I knew it wasn’t healthy, but I rarely did anything about it. Now I make a conscious effort to find or create small groups that I’m comfortable spending time with and commit to meeting with them regularly, even when it’s hard.
3. I’m always prepared.
One of the ways some people with anxiety try to cope is by always being prepared. The more I can prepare for all the things that might happen, the less worried I feel about all of them. Some of my friends joke that I have a “mom purse,” because if anyone needs a band-aid, nail clippers, safety pins, pen, piece of paper, etc., I usually have it with me. I also over-pack for trips, write out what I want to say before making a phone call, and over-prepare by making and bringing several pages of notes whenever I’m filling a leadership role in a group. This sort of preparation is often useful, but it is tied to my anxiety.
4. I see more threats.
Socially anxious people have different triggers that might spark an anxious response. One of my big ones is raised voices. Even if someone isn’t shouting at me, loud voices typically make me feel threatened. There’s actually a scientific reason for this, since anxious people have a harder time than others distinguishing between safe and threatening stimuli. My default reaction to something new or loud is to assume it’s a threat, investigate it, and then try to talk myself down if it’s not a threat. This often leads to people seeing me as “jumpy,” and it can make it even harder for me to relax in social situations.
5. I feel anxiety in my body.
One thing I didn’t understand about anxiety until I started seeing a counselor is how much of a physical effect it has. Anxiety can show up in your body as tense muscles, digestive distress, weakened immune system, and exhaustion. I often feel anxiety in my gut before I have other symptoms like a racing heartbeat or shaking hands. I also feel tired even when I get enough sleep because my nervous system spends so much time in a heightened state of awareness that it drains my energy. I’m guessing this exhaustion is most noticeable for socially anxious introverts, since “outer-world” activities drain our energy even without anxiety.
6. I don’t mean to look aloof.
Or stuck-up, or bored, or irritated, or however else people choose to misinterpret my anxiety. Trying to manage how people perceive me is one of the weirder things about anxiety (at least for me). Either I let them see how much I’m freaking out (which rarely seems like a good idea), or I try to hide it.
Unfortunately, trying to hide my nervousness can make me seem irritated (if I’m already freaking out about something) or detached because I’m not fully engaging with the social group. Even if I’m not very nervous, I often spend time near the edge of groups watching instead of joining in, and I’ve had people ask if I’m “too good for them” or why I’m not enjoying myself. Those questions only make social anxiety worse.
7. I don’t know how people really see me.
My Myers-Briggs personality type is INFJ, which means I’m supposed to be good at reading other people. My social anxiety blocks part of this trait, though, because it’s hard to read people when your brain is imagining worst-case scenarios related to how they perceive you.
Social anxiety tends to tell you things are worse than they really are, especially when it comes to social situations and how people perceive you. I was shocked to receive feedback from people I worked with that they saw me as a “calming presence.” Perhaps even more shocking was when people said, “You didn’t seem that nervous” after I did some public speaking.
8. I didn’t want to talk about it or seek help.
There’s so much stigma against mental health issues that admitting I had social anxiety was a real struggle. I didn’t even want to admit it to myself and was scared to ask whether I was just shy or actually had an anxiety disorder.
I think a lot of people with mental health struggles (not just anxiety) can relate to this. Even when you see others fighting to end the stigma, and you know it’s no worse to ask for help with your depression (or whatever it is) than for help with cancer, it can still be difficult to share your struggle or seek help.
9. But I had to talk about it.
In the last few years, I’ve learned that I have to talk about my social anxiety if I want to stop it. Pretending I didn’t have anxiety only made me plan my life around avoiding anxiety triggers so I didn’t have to deal with the fact that everything wasn’t okay. Once I started talking about it with a counselor, trusted friends, and my blog readers I finally started healing. It also opened up opportunities to connect with others struggling in similar ways.
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10. It took me a long time to ask for help.
As I mentioned earlier, well over 10 years passed between my first panic attack and my first meeting with a counselor. This isn’t unusual. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “fewer than 5% of people with social anxiety disorder seek treatment in the year following initial onset and more than a third of people report symptoms for 10 or more years before seeking help.”
I’m a big fan of cognitive behavioral therapy, and I’m so thankful that my first counselor and I connected so well. My year of working with her through schema therapy and other methods for retraining my mind to cope with anxiety was life-changing.
If you’re struggling with social anxiety (or any other mental health issue), I encourage you to seek help from a mental health professional. To help you get started, check out Psychology Today’s directory of therapists in your area.
You might like:
- How to Get Out of Social Anxiety Hell
- You Get More Introverted With Age, According to Science
- What Each Introverted Myers-Briggs Personality Type Is Lying About
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