My heart was racing, my thoughts jumping around like pinballs, my palms sweating. No, I wasn’t headed to a party or being forced into mingling with strangers — I was alone in my room. I sat down on my bed, picked up my book, and determinedly stared at the page. Within a minute, I was pacing my room, my thoughts spinning once again. When had I even gotten up?
After a long day of socializing, I’d retreated to my bedroom for some introvert time. But as much as I’d been fantasizing about my book and a cup of tea, I couldn’t calm down. The solitude was sending my anxiety into overdrive. I worried about what my friends were doing, overanalyzed interactions from the day, and panicked over whether they even liked me.
As an INTJ personality type, I’ve always possessed a natural sense of independence and confidence. I’ve never been one to worry over others’ approval — and that’s exactly what made my battle with anxiety so unexpected. To make matters more complicated, I struggle with two particular types of anxiety that enjoy having standoffs in my brain: relationship anxiety and social anxiety.
Whether it’s a normal level of anxiety or something more severe brought on by stress, attachment style, or an anxiety disorder, relationship anxiety is so common it’s almost universal. Though “relationship anxiety” typically refers to romantic relationships, it can also refer to relationships in general (that’s how I’ll be using it).
For me, having an anxiety disorder affects most aspects of my life, but the way it affects my relationships is definitely the most complex. It’s also the most frustrating because it can make being alone intolerable, even when all I want is a break from “people-ing.”
Relationship anxiety sounds kind of like this: “Where are my friends right now? Are they hanging out without me? Did they exclude me on purpose? I wonder if they’re talking about me. I bet they secretly don’t even like me. Should I text them? No, don’t be needy. Did she say that thing earlier because she was mad at me?”
I also struggle with social anxiety, a type of anxiety very common among introverts. In the past, my social anxiety made it impossible for me to leave the house out of the absolute terror that I would have to interact with another human. This often means that, even when I seek out company to quell the fear of being alone, I trap myself in another form of anxiety by doing so.
Social anxiety is similar to relationship anxiety, but it sounds a little more like this: “What should I say? Come on, say something. No, not that, you’ll sound stupid. Stop trying to make jokes; you’re not funny. Why did you bring that up? They’re going to think you’re weird. What’s wrong with you? No one wants you here anyway. You should just leave.”
How to Fight Anxiety Like An Introvert
Over the years, my anxiety has developed, morphed, increased, and decreased. If you’re just beginning your battle in overcoming anxiety, I can’t promise that it will be brief or easy.
But I will say this: Seeking professional help is definitely worth it. If you’re struggling with social anxiety, the idea of having to talk to someone about it can feel like a twisted joke (If I could talk to people, I wouldn’t be having this problem!), but the effort will pay off.
In addition to seeking professional help, here are five ways I fight anxiety that might help you, too.
1. Never act on your anxiety.
I once heard the advice that the best way to overcome anxiety is to try to pretend you don’t have it. Personally, I’ve found this to be true. Sometimes the best thing I can do is imagine how I would react to a situation if I were someone who didn’t have anxiety — and I try to do just that. I imagine myself the way I want to be one day, fully recovered and free to be myself, and to the extent that it’s possible, I do now what I hope to be able to do then — even if my anxiety is screaming at me.
For me, this means not saying yes to plans just because I’m afraid of being alone, not stalking my friends or significant other on social media, and not incessantly texting my friends to find out where they are. I’ve found that acting on my anxiety only strains my relationships further.
2. Leverage your personality type.
The INTJ personality type is sometimes called “the architect” — and for a good reason. We love method and strategy in just about everything we do, and, for me, that includes the ways I manage my anxiety. Nothing calms me down like a well-strategized plan. If that’s your thing, too, try getting a notebook or sheet of paper and coming up with a plan for how to deal with anxiety in different areas of your life. Identify certain times when your anxiety is triggered and what seems to trigger it, then develop a plan for each scenario.
If that’s not your thing, re-read your personality type description and see what might fit you. More artistic types, for example, might enjoy creative pursuits as a cathartic way to release their anxiety.
(What’s your personality type? Take a free personality assessment.)
3. Get a CBT workbook.
CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) is a primary treatment for anxiety disorders, and it changed my life! Though it can be especially helpful when done with a therapist, you can buy a CBT workbook online and do it yourself. The tools in CBT can also be helpful for people who don’t have a diagnosed anxiety disorder but still struggle with nervous thinking.
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4. When you’re going to be alone, pre-plan anxiety distractions.
My anxiety hits hardest when I’m alone with nothing to focus on. Figure out what best helps you distract yourself from your anxious thoughts and have a plan ready for when you’ll be by yourself. This might include reading a book, listening to a podcast, cooking, taking a bath, going for a run, coloring, writing, or any other activity you enjoy.
It’s important to remember that not everything you enjoy will be able to distract you from your anxiety. For example, I love to read, but I just can’t focus on a book when I’m anxious. Instead, I watch a talk online and take notes, or go for a run. Find what works for you.
5. Re-wire your imagination.
Introverts are more prone to anxiety and depression than extroverts, and one of the main causes is likely our knack for dwelling in our inner worlds. When that inner world betrays you, becoming an anxiety-infested nightmare, it can feel devastating. I’ve found it absolutely necessary in recovering from anxiety to take back ownership of my imagination.
This usually looks like stopping to question why my brain is inventing the catastrophic scenario that it is, then countering those assumptions with facts. For example, if I’m imagining that my friends are probably relieved to escape me because they don’t like me, I have to force myself to remember the good times we’ve shared and the meaningful conversations we’ve had to counter that lie.
Anxiety can sometimes feel impossible to overcome, and being an introvert can make recovery seem all the more unattainable. But when anxiety attacks, there are ways to fight back and reclaim your introvert superpowers once again.
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.
More Anxiety Resources
- 15 Signs That You’re an Introvert With High-Functioning Anxiety
- Help for Introverts Who Have High-Functioning Anxiety
- The Difference Between Introversion and Anxiety (and Why It Matters)
- How to Survive a Job Interview When You’re an Introvert With Crippling Social Anxiety
- 14 Things Introverts With Social Anxiety Wish You Knew
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