Many people think introversion and social anxiety are the same thing. However, that is not the case. Introverts tend to be quiet, observant, and need time alone to recharge their energy. By definition, they simply prefer calm, minimally stimulating environments. Social anxiety involves anxiety symptoms such as sweaty palms and racing thoughts that can be triggered by social experiences, such as attending a party or making small talk. Although not all introverts are socially anxious, it’s not uncommon for them to experience some level of either general anxiety or social anxiety.
I am one of those socially anxious introverts, and here are 13 struggles I face on a regular basis. Can you relate?
Struggles of a Socially Anxious Introvert
1. Attending a party where I only know one person
First off, parties in themselves cause the typical anxiety symptoms for me like nausea, a racing heartbeat, and sweating. I end up following the one person I know like a lost puppy, which can get annoying for both parties. For this reason, I skip parties altogether, or if I do go, I stand off to the side and try to fake like I’m enjoying myself. As much as I want to skip parties, I try not to often because I have a limited number of friends, and I don’t want them to think I’m flaking on them.
2. Crowded spaces
I hate places that can hold huge crowds. It almost feels like the more people there are, the more eyes there are to watch me. If the event involves seating, I need to sit on the end and in the back so I can leave quietly if needed. I’m always thinking, “What if I have to stand up to leave? Will everyone stare?” All that attention on me is overwhelming, making me feel those dreaded anxiety symptoms once again. I can feel the cold sweats, my eyes narrowing, my face getting hot, and the rise of panic in my mind. If I can duck out easily, it helps alleviate those symptoms a little.
3. Anything involving public speaking
As a teacher, I’m fine in front of my students — they’re so understanding, and if I mess up, they’re too young to really judge me. But I frequently have to speak publicly at assemblies and do conferences with parents. Being the center of attention is a huge no for me because of my social anxiety. To have to perform in front of a group of people — both strangers and colleagues — is terrifying. I start thinking, “What if I mess up? What if I stutter or the audience sees me sweating? I think I’m going to throw up!” I try to cope with my anxiety by giving myself plenty of time to practice (as much as I hate it). I’m trying to get over my anxiety for my students, but it’s not easy.
4. The possibility that people could see evidence of my anxiety during social situations
It’s terrible to have those “invisible” symptoms (i.e., nausea, clamminess, narrowing vision), but when there’s a possibility that people will see that I’m panicking, it can make me feel worse. Some examples are sweating, shaking, stuttering, and red cheeks. Dark shirts are a must in my wardrobe so if I do sweat, it’s harder to see. Tums or other antacids in my purse help curb the symptoms of nausea. For stuttering and shaking, I keep my hands down and try to talk slowly.
5. When people corner me for information at family gatherings
I really just want to float unnoticed at family gatherings, but some people are nosy and pushy, and they ask questions. “Have you gotten a new job yet? When are you going to get pregnant? It seems like it’s taking forever!” This puts me on overload as I try to answer and not stutter. Having so many people close to me and in my business all at once overwhelms me, because I really just want to be the introverted wallflower that I am. I try to separate myself a little, then answer their questions one at a time.
6. Anything that requires me to be the center of attention
Talk about a recipe for blushing, stuttering, and feeling like I acted dumb! Introverts don’t want to be the center of attention to begin with, but when they have social anxiety, it may cause them to shut down in these situations. One prime example would be “Back to School Night” at my job. I am the center of attention all night and have to answer lots of questions from eager parents. When it’s all over, I find myself feeling like my responses were inarticulate and jumbled. I know I’m knowledgeable in teaching since I’ve done it for ten years, but I worry that I’ll stumble over my answers — which, ironically, will lead to me doing just that.
7. When I have to open gifts in front of everyone
At both my bridal and baby showers, my family placed me in a chair at the front of the room, and I had to open gifts one by one in front of all my guests. While I did this, the stress about making sure I showed enough happiness and thankfulness for each gift took away nearly all my energy. To try to do this with a bunch of other family members and friends was exhausting. How much happiness do they need to see so they know that I truly appreciate their gifts?
8. Confrontation with people at my job
Anytime I have to have a conversation with someone regarding a problem, this will cause me to panic. I need time to rehearse what I want to say, but in some situations with my job, I do not have that opportunity. For example, the teacher in the classroom next to mine has no trouble barging into my room (once the children leave) to scold me about something random or something that wasn’t my fault. I usually end up sweating, blushing, and not giving a good response because I don’t have time to prepare.
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9. Any time people give me compliments in a group setting
The first few compliments are nice, but I’m still uncomfortable, so I blush. However, when it turns into a bunch of compliments in front of other people, I pray that the spotlight can go elsewhere as I feel my heart race and nausea overtake me. For example, at my school’s recent graduation ceremony, my principal raved about how well I did during the school year in front of parents. Well, the parents all started chiming in while their families looked on. At first, it was nice to hear how my principal viewed me, but then, as I heard more and more compliments, I was waiting for my invisibility superpower to kick in!
10. Having to make phone calls to strangers
For example, scheduling a doctors appointment. I can practice what I want to say, but I don’t know how the other person will respond. I can usually guess how a doctor’s office will respond or what questions will be asked, but I still have to mentally prepare ahead of time. Sometimes I put notecards or a calendar in front of me with the phone on speaker to ease the anxiety.
It’s even worse when I have to call someone to tell them bad news. For example, when I worked in childcare, I occasionally had to call a parent whose child had gotten injured. This wasn’t a conversation I wanted to have over the phone, but rather, in person. Often the parents would get upset, yell at me, or ask question after question without waiting for an answer. This is another scenario where I place notes in front of me so I can stay on target with what I want to say.
11. Ordering at a restaurant
I need to practice what I want to say in other situations as well. If I’m at a restaurant, I need to be the last person in the group to order so I can mentally repeat what I’m getting — otherwise I fear I will mess up. When going through a drive-thru, I need to carefully read the menu in advance so I can repeat to myself what I want. Another trick I use at drive-thrus is always getting the same thing so I have the number or drink order memorized. Sometimes I go through phases where I want to try something new, but usually I feel the anxiety creeping up, and before I know it, my mouth is repeating my usual order.
12. When I mess up my words
After social situations, sometimes I lie in bed and run through the whole event and every word spoken to see where I might have messed up. I may wonder if I chose the right words or if I came across differently than what I was trying to express. If I do mess up, it can haunt me for days — or longer.
I teach kindergarten and first grade, and sometimes students ask me hard questions. For example, last year, a girl asked, “Mrs. K, can 15-year-olds have babies? They are too young, right? So they can’t, right?” Pardon me while I try to quickly figure out an answer that will appease this curious girl and won’t anger her parents! I told her that her mom would be a better person to ask. But later, I found myself worrying, “Did I answer that right? What if my answer gets twisted around? Will the parents get mad at me for allowing a question like that during class?” This is just one of the scenarios that has caused me to panic and stay up late wondering what consequences will happen because of what I said.
13. When my child has a temper tantrum in a store
I’m still new to the mom thing. I’ve worked with kids ranging in age from 1 to 7 years old, but it’s a different ball game when the child is your own. Dealing with a screaming kid in the middle of a store while people turn and look at me — it feels like I’m going to die!
For example, I recently ran into Target to return shoes for my very extroverted daughter. As I tried to put the shoes on her, she started to fight me. I sat her down and told her to stop. Let the tantrum commence. She screamed as if I were ripping her fingernails out. I wanted to melt into the floor and vanish. The best part was while I was leaving the store, my toddler kept reaching out to other moms while saying, “Help pwease!” Excuse me while I look around for the adult to help me in this situation… oh wait… I am the adult!
Introvert, if you struggle with social anxiety, you’re not alone. I’m working to manage my symptoms and overcome my anxiety, but it’s not a quick or easy process. Here are some resources that have helped me understand and cope with my anxiety that may help you, too: