Although as an introvert I still don’t fit the mold that other adults expect, I’ve learned how to turn down the volume on the anxious voices in my head.
Introverts are prone to being anxious. Extroverts can be anxious, too, but it’s different and a bit more difficult for introverts, since the world isn’t always made for us. In a world that demands and thrives on outgoing personalities and constant smiles — even when that’s not realistic — introverts tend to get left behind.
Some introverts have what is known as high-functioning anxiety, in which the rest of the world doesn’t always see the daily uphill battle we are fighting to fit into an extroverted world. And often, our attempts at conquering the anxieties that hold us down and prevent us from accomplishing what we want from life only cause us more anxiety. So what’s a “quiet one” to do?
As an introvert, I’ve always been anxious. I’ve spent the better part of the last few years fighting my anxiety on a daily basis as the unforgiving demands of adult life have started to pile up. And while it is in fact difficult as an introvert to fit the mold that certain employers or other adults expect from everyone, I have learned how to turn down the volume on the voices in my head and survive my anxiety.
After much trial and error, and with still so much more to learn, here are six tips I’ve acquired on how to survive anxiety as an introvert.
How to Survive Anxiety as an Introvert
1. This doesn’t work for me.
You are allowed to stop and say that something doesn’t work for you, whether it’s to another person or to yourself. We introverts sometimes force ourselves to become more extroverted in order to please the rest of the world, but the ways we try to bring ourselves out of our shells aren’t always effective.
You aren’t going to magically become more outgoing and lively by going out to more parties or bars. You aren’t suddenly going to become more extroverted by mimicking other extroverts — all it’s going to do is leave you more drained. So if a friend is trying to pressure you into going out for drinks instead of staying home and reading a book, you’re allowed to say, “This doesn’t work for me.” You’re allowed to say no.
If you find that you’ve lost yourself by trying to “overcome” your introverted ways by trying to act more extroverted and therefore making yourself miserable, you’re allowed to stop and say to yourself, “This doesn’t work for me.”
2. If it hurts you, it hurts you.
Introverts and highly sensitive people are often one and the same. In other words, many introverts are sensitive. We think too much. We feel too much. So in addition to the pressure to conform to the extroverted mold of the world, there’s also often pressure to toughen up, lighten up, and let it go. That’s the definition of easier said than done, my friend!
If something hurts you, it hurts you. You might not have the same reaction to a particular event as someone else, and that’s totally fine. Everyone is different, and what you feel is valid, especially when it comes to hurt feelings and holding grudges.
I like to believe that everyone is trying their best with what they’ve been given. I have to believe that, for my soul. But someone’s best may not be good enough for you. Their best can still bring you pain. You deserve to feel that pain and anger.
But holding onto that pain and anger longer than necessary can be harmful, so when you are ready, forgive them and move on. You can acknowledge the pain and anger you deserve to feel, and then let it go when you are ready. You can do both.
3. Take a break.
When you’re an introvert, a.k.a. someone who prefers books over people and to whom human interaction does not come naturally, you might internalize the judgments of other people who say you won’t get anywhere in life by being introverted. That you’ll never accomplish anything if you don’t like talking to people, or if you don’t like going outside any more than is absolutely necessary.
And sometimes, they do have a point. As much as we introverts don’t like talking to people or leaving our houses if we don’t have to, we can’t avoid the fact that adult life does not work like that. We have to figure out how to get stuff done our own way, and that often takes work. And it’s exhausting.
When you’ve gotten so used to trying to unlearn your introverted tendencies in order to survive this world, we sometimes forget that our best is good enough. You are already trying your best, and that can be enough for today.
So take a break. Take a break from trying to fix the parts of yourself that you think don’t work just right, or ripping off band-aids on wounds that might not be ready to heal yet. Take a break from staring directly at your faults in the mirror. Sometimes trying too hard accomplishes the opposite of what we want, so just give yourself a break. You are a work in progress who is allowed to move at your own pace, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
4. Nobody cares.
Many introverts grow up not fitting in, especially when you prefer your own company over anyone else’s. And when you grow up not fitting in, you subconsciously begin to manipulate your every thought and your every action to be on guard in case of judgment from others.
What if they don’t like my clothes? What if they think I’m weird for what I’m interested in? What if I embarrass myself?
These are anxieties typically associated with youth, but we don’t realize that a lot of us carry these unnecessary weights on our shoulders into adulthood.
One thing I’ve really come to love about adult life is this: Nobody cares! It’s not that deep. Nobody is sitting around dissecting that thing you did or that thing you said, unless it was grossly inappropriate or out of bounds. Nobody is stalking your social media because of the way you said hi to them that time at the pharmacy.
Free yourself of the burden that other people care about your every action and every word. They’re too worried about their own lives and their own interactions with the woman at the grocery store to think for more than thirty seconds about a potentially awkward interaction with you.
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5. Forgive your past self.
It doesn’t matter that you’ve pushed people away in the past because of your introversion, and you ended up losing them as a friend. It doesn’t matter that people have simply abandoned you as a friend because they didn’t understand your introversion. It doesn’t matter that you used to be insufferable to be around in certain social situations because you were so uncomfortable that it caused you to be bitter and rude.
That’s who you were in the past, and that doesn’t have to be who you are today or tomorrow. In the immortal words of Alice from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, “It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”
Whether we realize it or not, we are growing and changing every minute of every day — and we never stop, no matter how old we are. So forgive your past self, because that person doesn’t have to be who you are in the present or who you will be in the future. You’ve grown and changed so much since then.
Introverts are often plagued by overthinking and remembering something awkward we said once five years ago, but the past can’t haunt us if we don’t let it. You’ve lived, you’ve learned, and that’s more than enough.
6. Be your own ally.
One of the consequences of introverts living in an extroverted world that we don’t talk about is even though we prefer our own company over that of other people, we’ve internalized the cultural notion that in order to be fulfilled, we need lots of friends and people who will validate us. So we tell ourselves that, one day, we’ll find someone who will understand us wholeheartedly, and it will fill the unexplainable void we have within ourselves — and finally, everything will be fine.
It took me a long time to learn that you need to be your own friend — your own ally. I’ve gone through periods of having virtually no friends, where I felt miserable. I’ve also gone through periods of having way too many friends, and guess what? I found no fulfillment there, either.
I wanted someone to validate me, to appreciate the little parts of myself that an extroverted world often tosses aside. But I needed to learn how to validate myself — how to love myself as I am, introversion and all, in order to finally feel fulfilled.
All along, it was in me. And it’s in you, too. You just have to take the time to find it.