Does the thought of talking to strangers make your heart race? If so, you may have social anxiety, which is common among introverts.
Do you often find yourself feeling uneasy in social situations? Do you fear everyone can tell? And does the thought of conversing with strangers make your heart race? If so, you may grapple with social anxiety, which can be common among introverts.
As an introvert with social anxiety, my anxiety can push me further into solitude beyond what is healthy. But what if I told you that your introverted traits could be the key to overcoming social anxiety? This article will explore how embracing, and leveraging, your introverted nature can empower you to navigate and mitigate social anxiety.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Is it really possible? Can I actually conquer this monster called social anxiety?”
The answer is a resounding yes, you can. Here’s how.
How Introversion and Social Anxiety Are Different
First, let’s look at the misconceptions around social anxiety, and how people often confuse social anxiety and introversion. These misconceptions create barriers to understanding and acceptance – and they can keep people from seeking the help they may need to overcome their social anxiety.
As an introvert with social anxiety, I prefer staying home to going out, avoiding anything that could trigger anxiety attacks. My family is aware of this, but they still call me a “homebody.” It hurts when they say that. It ends up pushing me further into my inner world.
So let’s set the record straight and understand what these terms truly mean.
Being an introvert is a personality trait where you find energy and fulfillment in solitude and reflection. It doesn’t mean you’re shy or lacking social skills.
Social anxiety, on the other hand, is an excessive fear of social interactions. It goes beyond the usual nervousness most people feel in social settings. It can make innocuous social situations feel terrifying. Those feelings of terror might trigger your survival instinct, resulting in panic attacks and dissociation, and making you avoid your relationships, work, or other activities. According to the Mayo Clinic, physical symptoms may be present, too, including sweating, dizziness, a fast heartbeat, muscle tension, an upset stomach, and the inability to focus.
I look at social anxiety and being an introvert like this: Social anxiety stops me in my tracks, unable to move forward, whereas being an introvert gives me a moment of pause, and then I move forward.
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5 Ways Introverts Can Overcome Social Anxiety
1. Use the power of observation to your advantage.
Introverts are often skilled observers, attuned to the subtleties of their environment and the emotions of others. We pay close attention to verbal and nonverbal cues, like body language, and this enables us to observe on a deeper level. (Many introverts are also highly sensitive people.) You can leverage your heightened awareness to overcome social anxiety by focusing on your surroundings instead of getting caught up in anxious thoughts.
One way to do this is to use a grounding technique called the 5-4-3-2-1 technique. Focus on things around you and name five things you see, four things you physically touch, three things you hear, two things you smell, and one thing you can taste. This technique has brought me out of a social anxiety spiral many times.
2. Strengthen and embrace one-on-one connections.
As introverts, we don’t usually enjoy large social gatherings, and instead, we often thrive in one-on-one interactions or small groups. By recognizing this preference and focusing on quality over quantity, we can forge deeper connections and overcome social anxiety.
Instead of pressuring yourself to be the life of the party, invest your energy in cultivating genuine relationships based on shared interests and values. For example, I used to attend large networking events with hundreds of people, where it was a challenge to manage my social anxiety. One day I realized I only spoke with a handful of people at those events, so I pulled those people together and created a small group, where I felt more comfortable. It turns out they appreciated the more intimate setting, too.
This encouraged me to continue surrounding myself with small groups of people who uplift and inspire me. I now know those people exist everywhere, and I seek them out wherever I go.
Is social anxiety holding you back?
Although social anxiety is not the same thing as introversion, many introverts experience this painful and isolating condition. The truth is you can beat social anxiety, and our partner Natasha Daniels can show you how. This means more relaxed conversations, more enjoyable work/school days, and more social invitations that you don’t immediately decline (unless you want to, of course!). Click here to check out her online class for kids and adults, How to Crush Social Anxiety.
3. Use your listening skills to engage more actively with others.
Introverts are naturally inclined to listen. It’s one of our superpowers. Through active listening, you give yourself time to process information and respond thoughtfully. This approach fosters deeper, more meaningful connections and minimizes the pressure of constant self-expression, which can cause social anxiety.
For instance, during a group conversation, you might observe the body language and tone of others. Much like the old advice of imagining the crowd naked (which never worked to reduce my anxiety), focus on what others say through their body language.
Focusing on others will help minimize any overwhelming noise that is happening at the event. Your anxiety brain won’t have the energy or capacity to come up with all the reasons and scenarios you should be anxious about. In turn, that healthy distraction will help keep the social anxiety monster at bay.
4. Boost your confidence through thoughtful planning and preparation.
Harness your planning strengths by preparing for social situations in advance. Before an event, research and familiarize yourself with the location and attendees. You might even think of a few topics you can discuss or answers to common small talk questions, like what you do for work or what you did on the weekend. By planning ahead, you can anticipate potential challenges, craft insightful questions, and mentally rehearse your responses.
However, be careful not to overplan. I set a timer for how long I’m “allowed” to prepare for social events. Otherwise, my anxiety brain takes over, and I dig so deeply into every little detail that I can’t breathe.
5. After social interactions, reflect on what went right — and what you’ll do differently next time.
After social interactions, take a moment to reflect on what went well and what could be improved. This self-reflection can be a valuable learning process, helping you grow and gain more confidence over time.
But — this moment of reflection can also quickly become a social anxiety spiral. Our social anxiety brain loves to tell us everything we did incorrectly. However, we have an opportunity to teach our brain to acknowledge improvement, but not hyper-focus on that as a means to keep us in survival mode, which is where social anxiety resides.
One way to teach your brain to focus on the positives is to write a list of everything you did well. What are you proud of? For each of the five things you did well, write only one area for improvement. For example, perhaps a couple of your positives would be: stayed for an hour and met two new people. Next time, perhaps you would want to try telling a story or approach a group of people you don’t know well. Your pros and cons will probably vary each time. But the important thing is you learn from each experience — and, trust me, the social anxiety will start to dissipate.
Taking those steps teaches your brain to seek out the positive. If your brain tries to move your thoughts to the negative things too much, you have a list of the positives you can pull up to remind your brain of everything you did right.
Embracing Introvert Strengths to Overcome Social Anxiety
Remember, overcoming your social anxiety won’t happen overnight, but every small step forward matters. Each moment of courage, connection, and boundary-setting brings you closer to your goal.
Though we are at the end of this journey, you may still think, “This all sounds great, but can I really overcome my social anxiety?”
My answer is the same now as it was in the beginning:
Yes, you can… And you will.
You might like:
- What It’s Like Being an Introvert With Social Anxiety
- How Introverts Can Combat Social Anxiety, According to a Therapist
- 10 Weird Things I Do as a Socially Anxious Introvert
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