As an introvert, ordinary “mom” things — like going to the playground or breastfeeding — can trigger my social anxiety.
I never learned how to build a sandcastle. In fact, growing up, my family and I only went on vacation once at the beach (we lived in Canada). From what I can remember, we spent the whole time at the pool. So I was never in a position to build a sandcastle before.
Now, as a mom living in Florida, I made sure to buy my 4-year-old son a whole set of beach toys the moment he figured out how to walk on his own. I wanted him to dig in the sand, and build his own Elsa castle. It just never dawned on me that he would ask me to sit with him and build it. I just assumed that he would manage and figure it out on his own.
Alas, that was not the case.
So there I was a few weeks ago, sitting in the sand with a shovel in my hands, trying to figure out how to build a sandcastle on the spot. I put myself in this position willingly so I could spend some quality time with my son. I thought, “This is my chance! I’m going to sit down and play with my son!” Except it never dawned on me that I didn’t know how to build a sandcastle. (Is that even a thing?)
Cue the social anxiety…
See, I was sitting in front of a whole row of lounge chairs filled with people who were staring at me. As an introvert, I tend to shy away from the spotlight, but even more so when I feel unsure of myself. While all the onlookers were probably staring at the ocean, it felt like they were staring at me and judging my incompetence. I felt so silly. My face flushed, my hands started to shake, and my heart skipped beats.
And that’s when I realized that my social anxiety had increased ever since I became a mom four years ago. I’m finding myself in situations such as this one over and over again, without having a say in them. Normally, I’d know exactly when and how social anxiety would strike (at work, during a coffee date, or at a party), so I’d prepare for it in advance. I’d mentally write out a script so that I’d know what to say to someone I’m about to meet, like having conversation topics ready for that date. But with a kid, I never know when it’s going to hit me.
And lately, it’s been hitting me really hard.
There’s not much talk in the Momsphere about having social anxiety as a mom or being an introverted mom — or both — which is why I’m writing about my experience with it. It’s real, and it’s here to stay, even though I continually try to perfect managing it.
The scary part is, I have no idea how long it will last. Will it dissipate or strengthen when my children are teenagers? But what I do know is that I’m not alone in feeling this way.
Some Places I’ve Experienced Social Anxiety as a Mom
Aside from the beach scenario, I get social anxiety in other places, too. It’s hard enough being a mom, but being a socially anxious introvert adds a whole other layer to things.
- On the playground. When my son deals with conflict on the playground — especially when he’s the one creating the conflict and I have to smooth things over with someone else’s kid — I have to intervene. I never know if I’m reacting properly (or not reacting, for that matter, because let’s face it: I’d rather not intervene at all) and what the other parent thinks of me and my kid. Honestly, the playground gives me the most anxiety because I can’t control anything that happens there. I find myself in situations where I have to awkwardly talk to a parent because they’re in close proximity to me (and we introverts don’t like small talk to begin with, but especially if we have social anxiety, too!), or I have to respond to a babbling toddler (What am I supposed to say? Small talk with adults is hard enough!). If I could, I’d never set foot on a playground.
- While breastfeeding. I know breastfeeding is a perfectly natural thing to do, and I’m grateful for the fact that I’m able to provide my nine-month-old daughter with the food and comfort that she seeks, but I cringe every time I sit down and lift my shirt up. (Again, we introverts hate being the center of attention — and this definitely is the epitome of it!) I have this constant worry that someone is going to say something. And while I’m prepared for the confrontation, and to stand my ground for my right to breastfeed, it’s honestly the last thing I want to face. I know I’m going to get flustered, and my baby will pull away, exposing my breast, and then everything will just implode.
- When my son fights back. My son’s at that age where everything is a fight. Everything is “no.” (Or “NOOOOOOO!”) There have been plenty of times when he literally screams at the top of his lungs in the middle of the street. Or he hits me or my husband because we pick him up and walk away. A whole scene unfolds and everyone is just staring. I know it’s nothing to be embarrassed about because every parent goes through this, but it’s the most unpleasant feeling when I don’t know how to calm my son down and I have eyes on my back. It makes me judge my own parenting skills because I know everyone else around me is. I hate facing the stares of the people in the “Oh, they’re so not raising him right” camp. They make me question my every move, which only makes me more anxious.
And while I haven’t exactly found a way to get rid of my social anxiety in the context of motherhood, there are a few things I’m doing to alleviate the sting of it.
5 Ways to Manage Social Anxiety as an Introverted Mom
1. Focus on your child instead of anyone who may be staring at you.
Similar to being in the present moment so that your thoughts don’t wander off into worry territory, keep your focus steady on your child. Whether that’s sitting down with him in the sandbox or consoling her in the middle of a grocery store, keep your eyes on them the whole time and focus on what you can do for them at that moment. That takes your gaze away from passersby and your mind away from what they could possibly be thinking about you (even though they’re probably not even thinking about you!), and it puts all your attention on this little being that needs you. Having a focus puts social anxiety in a corner because you’re not giving it any fuel.
2. Use your sixth sense and expect that the social anxiety will show up.
I can’t tell you how many times social anxiety caught me off-guard because I didn’t prepare for it beforehand. Now that I know it’s going to come for me (in whatever shape or form), I have a game plan in place. Let me give you an example of a game plan for going to the playground. First, I expect social anxiety to pay a visit (which helps a lot), so I prepare myself for the hit. Then, I make sure to follow and keep a close eye on what’s happening so that I can prevent things. If I notice a conflict brewing, I’m going to cut it short by removing my son from the play area for a heart-to-heart.
3. Bring a backup with you, like a friend, your partner, or a family member.
I know it’s easier said than done, but if you’re able to, bring someone else with you — whether you’re going to the store, the playground, a parent-teacher meeting, or what have you. If you’re really deep in anxiety, let them handle the situation for you. I’ve definitely pushed my husband into the bullpen plenty of times to rectify the given problem. Being an extrovert who loves confrontation, he doesn’t mind dealing with other parents. Or with our son’s antics in front of everyone. Not only does this help in the moment, but it helps me take a step back and see how someone else deals with a particular situation. And honestly, most of the time, I end up getting up so that I can fix it my way because I’m not too happy with how he’s handling it. Funny how that works, huh?
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4. Identify your triggers, like your child’s full-blown tantrums in public.
I know exactly what triggers my anxiety the most as a mom — full-blown tantrums in public, other parents disciplining my child — so I’m now one step ahead of it. I’ve figured out some parent hacks and how to manage my child’s emotions and behavior (positively) so that I reduce the number of times I’m running around putting out fires. If I know my kid is tired or hungry, I won’t push him to go to the playground, or take him to the store, because chances are that he’s going to have a breakdown. Which means I’ll probably have one, too. It does take time to identify the triggers, though, so have patience with yourself. Once you know them, you’ll be able to put them in their place and avoid them.
5. This, too, shall pass.
Lastly, I remind myself that I can handle anything. Whether that’s another parent trying to chit-chat, or someone reprimanding my child in front of me, I know that whatever it is, I’ll get through it. And that this moment in time is so fleeting, I’m going to forget all about it tomorrow… just in time for the next socially anxious episode to hit. In general, though, it helps me to remember that nothing is permanent, and that there are good days and bad days — for both parents and the ones who happen to be socially anxious introverts.
Social Anxiety or Not, I’m Doing My Best to Be the Best Mom Possible
Like every other mom out there, I’m doing my best with the skills that I have. And because my personality type clashes with my son’s, sometimes it makes it that much more difficult for me to handle the situations he finds himself in. But, every day, I’m learning new strategies on how to raise him better. I’m more aware (than ever before) of what I need to do for him to grow with confidence, like not imposing my own limitations on him. I know that I’ll find myself in less-than-great situations where I have to face my own demons, on top of his (and who knows what my daughter will do to me when she’s old enough; she’s not even one yet, so there’s time!). But as long as I’m kind to myself about how I handle it, I’ll be OK.
And you’ll be OK, too — I promise. If you have social anxiety as an introvert (mom or not), you’re not alone. (Feel free to reach out to me and we can talk about how much fun we’re having!)
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.