Extroverts are often described as bubbly, outgoing, charming. They seem confident and fearless. But that isn’t always the case. Extroverts can and do live with anxiety disorders. In a study completed in 2009, researchers indicated their surprise that “multiple extroverts ranked high” on the scale measuring anxiety and fear levels, although they were less likely to have feelings of anxiety than those who were introverted. Another study, completed in 2016, found similar results.
We often think about people with anxiety as being shy, fearful, jumpy or high-strung. We don’t see those who seem comfortable in social settings or in front of an audience as anxious. But if you are an extrovert with anxiety, you certainly aren’t alone. Emma Stone, the actress who starred in La La Land, talked about her debilitating panic attacks in an interview with Rolling Stone. Amanda Seyfried told Allure magazine she has taken medication for obsessive compulsive disorder for years and expects to take it for the rest of her life. Rachel Bloom, star and co-producer of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend wrote an essay for Glamour magazine about living with anxiety and depression.
Extroverts get their energy from being around people and activity. Their idea of recharging after a hard day might be meeting friends for dinner and going out dancing. Introverts are the opposite: they recharge by spending time alone, often in a calm and serene environment. While extroverts feel emotionally drained after spending too much time alone, introverts feel this way after being in social situations for extended times.
But these are personality traits and don’t reflect levels of nervousness, fear or anxiety. For example, an extrovert might love entertaining friends at home but the preparations could cause severe anxiety. Will they like the dinner? Will they judge my house as being messy or think I have terrible taste in decorating? Extroverts might enjoy the company, even need the company, but could also have spent the entire afternoon panicking over their guests’ possible reactions.
Other examples of how someone who is extroverted might experience anxiety include:
At her job, Susan routinely gave presentations to audiences of 50 to 100 people. During the presentation, she was confident and self-assured. But when Susan got a speeding ticket, the idea of talking to a judge completely threw her into a state of anxiety. Even though she thought she was in the right, she paid the ticket to avoid the court appearance.
David was always the life of the party. He talked, laughed and joked with ease. But once David arrived home, he overanalyzed every minute of the party. Did he say something stupid? Did he laugh too loudly? Were other people simply being polite or did they like talking to him?
Joanne was the person everyone went to when they needed help. She was always busy doing something: making cupcakes for the class party, helping a friend raise money for a cause, cooking dinner for a friend who wasn’t feeling well. Whatever someone asked her to do, Joanne said “yes.” People talked about her generosity and kindness. And while Joanne generally enjoyed helping others, she secretly worried that if she said “no” that other people wouldn’t like her or would be angry that she didn’t help.
If you are an extrovert and have anxiety, the following might help:
Practice self-care. Make sure you are eating right, getting enough sleep, drinking plenty of water and exercising on a regular basis.
Build a support system. Tell a few close friends, family members or your partner how you feel. It helps to have someone close by that will understand and be supportive when you are feeling anxious.
Be mindful. Anxiety is usually the result of focusing on either what happened in the past or what may happen in the future. Focus on thinking about the present moment.
Create a safe space. While extroverts often feel drained spending long periods alone, it might help to set 10 minutes aside to spend by yourself. Use this time to breathe deeply, focus on the present moment and calm your anxious thoughts.
Make sure you seek treatment. Talk to a doctor or therapist about your symptoms and discuss treatment options. There is help. You aren’t alone.
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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.