It would seem that extroverts and social anxiety are opposites. Social anxiety is defined as having an “unreasonable fear” of social situations. Those with social anxiety are intensely self-conscious. They fear that others are making fun of them or judging them. They may avoid social situations in an effort to avoid the fear.
Extroverts vs introverts
Extroverts are energized when they are around other people. They crave social connections and are often good conversationalists, friendly and outgoing. They are often the life of the party. Introverts are people who get their energy from being alone. Although they appear shy, they might not be; they might not be apprehensive about being around other people, instead they may simply prefer to spend more time alone. After being in a social situation, they may need time alone to recharge.
Whether you are an extrovert or introvert is considered a personality trait. One is not better or worse than the other. One misconception is that introverts have poor social skills and extroverts have good social skills. One reason for this is that extroverts, because of their need to be around other people, have more opportunities to practice and develop social skills. But this doesn’t mean that all introverts lack social skills.
Social anxiety and extroverts
Social anxiety is an anxiety disorder and whether or not you have social anxiety is not dependent on your personality traits. Both introverts and extroverts can develop social anxiety and worry that others are silently judging them. Imagine you are standing in a group talking. You join in the conversation and laugh along with the others. Two people break away from the group and walk away, talking quietly to each other. If you have social anxiety, you might worry that they are whispering about you. You might start going over everything you said during the conversation, dissecting each word. The more you think about it, the more you are sure you made a fool of yourself.
Extroverts with social anxiety disorder face a unique problem. They become energized by being around people - the very thing that causes them anxiety. When extroverts avoid social connections because of their anxiety, they can feel lethargic and depressed. They need the social connections and at the same time fear them. When extroverts participate in social situations, they can spend their energy looking for disapproval from others rather than enjoying their time. Either way, extroverts worry about being accepted. They worry that others will find fault with them and secretly judge them.
Tips for extroverts with social anxiety
Look for safe social situations. Surround yourself with people you trust and make you feel secure. Plan or attend social functions with at least some of these people, giving you the opportunity to be around people but still feel safe.
Talk to a few close friends about your social anxiety. Letting those you trust know about your social anxiety can help, especially when you are in a social situation. If they know how you are feeling they can help you navigate rough moments. If you are going to a social situation alone, ask if you can bring a friend along, then bring someone who understands and will be on the lookout for signs of anxiety
Be mindful. Pay attention to the present moment and what is going on around you - right now. Anxiety fears often deal with what might happen in the future. If you focus on the present moment, rather than worrying about what might (or might not) happen later, you can free yourself to interact with those around you.
Set goals for yourself. You might have a goal of speaking to one new person during an event or your goal might be to get out of the house and be around people. Start with small goals. Each time you reach a goal, no matter how small, give yourself a pat on the back.
Remember, you are not alone. Anxiety is one of the most prevalent mental illnesses. Chances are, wherever you are, there are others that are just as nervous and scared as you. It might help to join a support group (online or in-person) to talk to others who understand exactly what you are going through.
For more information on social anxiety disorder:
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.