Mental Health

Is it social anxiety or introversion? Why does it matter?

I used to think something was wrong with me... Never feeling comfortable around other people I prefered solitude. My fear of loneliness was nothing in comparison with awkwardness I experienced trying to socialize. And the hardest part was probably being judged, being perceived as always unhappy, not friendly enough, boring or shy. 

Understanding, that I am an introvert, brought me sense of relief, because I finally realized there was nothing wrong with me, that I am simply different, and I am not alone. However, even though I found it incredibly hard to be surrounded by people, I could feel that it was much harder for me to actually go ahead and talk to them. And the reason to it was fear.

Perhaps not so many people like to dig deep into their past or look for the answers inside themselves, but I do. One of my favorite things to do is to walk in nature (surrounded by trees) and think... I strongly belief, that my ability to introspect has brought me to where I am today.

What is social anxiety

When you are socially anxious, you suffer from a very strong fear of judgement. Perhaps, it's one of those fears, that we start developing in childhood, when we are not accepted by our family or/and friends. It was when I first started to be afraid to "make mistakes".

In childhood, and later on in adulthood, we let our actions and reactions of other people to that actions define us. If people get mad at what we are doing or saying, we often automatically take it as "I must be wrong". Especially if it's authoritative figures, such as our parents and teachers. At the same time "being wrong" often comes with "I should not say it or do it again in order not to upset them", because oftentimes them being upset can be quite painful, depending on how they choose to punish us or "teach us a lesson". Here comes anxiety. We learn to "overthink" our actions and words in order to avoid "punishment". At least that's how it was for me.

Am I an introvert or am I socially anxious?

An introvert without social anxiety can be ok around people. He or she doesn't necessarily care, what other people think about them, therefore they don't get anxious communicating with them. But they do get tired of crowded places and overall prefer silence and solitude.

Socially anxious person, on the other hand, has a fear of judgement. It's hard for them to be around people without overthinking and suffering from fear of being negatively evaluated, misunderstood and rejected[1].

Anxious people are not necessarily introverts, they can be longing for friendships and connection, but fear stands on the way. As a result they can feel lonely and isolated.

Why does it matter?

If introversion doesn't cause social anxiety (according to studies, social phobia can be significantly related to low extraversion[2]), it doesn't need any corrections. Social phopia, on the other side, is the third largest mental health care problem in the world today[1], and it requires treatment.

It would be easier for me to simply tell people I am an introvert without admitting I have a mental health condition. But I am what I call an "anxious introvert". I know, that social anxiety and anxiety in general can be very hard to live with, so I am open about my mental illness in order to help myself and others. 

Suffering from anxiety disorder doesn’t make you better or worse than an introvert, it simply makes your life slightly more difficult (just being honest).

I do prefer to spend time alone or have a deep conversation with one person instead of being surrounded by people talking about last night’s events, but I want to change my fear of judgement, my insecurity and anxiety about what people think of me and the way they perceive me. Writing for this blog is stepping outside my comfort zone and letting myself know it is ok to open up and share my struggles with the world. Some of them I was able to overcome, and some are still there...

How to treat social anxiety disorder?

Cognitive-behavioral therapy has been proven to be effective in permanently alleviating anxiety disorders and depression[1]. So if social anxiety is something, that really bothers you, you can try it and see if it works for you. 

I personally like self-analysis, which is evaluation of my own thoughts and behaviours. I am going to talk about it more in my future posts, but it is something I have been doing for many years now. 

Social anxiety is just like any other illness, you can seek help of a medical provider, if it's something you find you can't deal on your own. There are prescription medications that can help as well.

It’s important to develop empathy and love for yourself, just as like you’d do that for anyone else in your situation. Many times, we can be more empathetic and supportive towards others than to ourselves, and in order to get better we must change it. It took me a long time to start loving myself, I am not going to lie...

If you are an anxious introvert you might still be more comfortable being alone, the goal is to just ease the fear of social interactions and judgement by developing self-love and acceptance, by descovering options for recovery.


References

[1] Thomas A. Richards, Ph.D., What is Social Anxiety Disorder? Symptoms, Treatment, Prevalence, Medications, Insight, Prognosis, article, <https://socialphobia.org/social-anxiety-disorder-definition-symptoms-treatment-therapy-medications-insight-prognosis>

[2] National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health (UK), Social Anxiety Disorder: Recognition, Assessment and Treatment. Leicester (UK): British Psychological Society; 2013. (NICE Clinical Guidelines, No. 159.) 2, Social anxiety disorder, <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK327674/>