Anxiety vs introvert
Introversion vs. Social Anxiety | Mental Health America
Am I an introvert or socially anxious?
When you’re in college, there’s a lot of pressure to measure up to your peers with academic and professional accomplishments – but there’s also a lot of pressure to make friends and maintain an active social calendar. All of the change and newness in your social life can feel overwhelming. That’s completely normal, and it can be hard to figure out if that stress is coming from a place of introversion or anxiety. If you feel like you’re struggling to keep up (but want to), taking some time to better understand yourself can help you figure out where to start.
What is introversion?
Introversion is a personality trait, not a mental health condition. Introverts get their energy from within, meaning they need a lot of alone time to recharge. Many introverts prefer minimally stimulating environments – they often like doing solo activities or spending time in familiar spaces or with people they know well. Being in busier or more active social environments isn’t necessarily anxiety-inducing for them – they just know it will take a lot more energy to be “on.”
What is social anxiety?
Social anxiety disorder, or social phobia, is one of the five main types of anxiety disorders. It is significant nervousness, fear, or apprehension in social situations or when thinking about social situations. This anxiety generally stems from a fear of rejection or negative judgment. Individuals with social anxiety may avoid situations or environments because they worry about how they’ll be received, even if they want to join in.
Common symptoms of social anxiety disorder include:
- Blushing, sweating, trembling, rapid heart rate, nausea, or feeling your “mind going blank” when faced with a social situation
- Rigid body posture, little or no eye contact, or speaking with an overly soft voice
- Finding it scary and difficult to be with other people, especially those you don’t already know, and having a hard time talking to them even though you wish you could
- Being very self-conscious, embarrassed, and/or awkward in front of other people
- Fear of being negatively judged
- Avoiding places with other people
How can I tell the difference?
Social anxiety is not just an extreme form of introversion. Introversion is related to social energy, while social anxiety is a mental health condition related to fear of social interactions.
Here are some key ways you can identify if you are dealing with social anxiety or introversion:
- Social anxiety often makes individuals feel bad from the beginning of a social situation (even making plans) or as an immediate reaction to a comment or interaction.
- Introversion is less reactionary, and needing alone time isn’t usually caused by anything specific – you may just end up “peopled out,” and allowing yourself downtime to recharge is crucial self-care.
- With social anxiety, avoidance of social situations is rooted in fear and choosing to be alone because it’s the only way to feel safe.
- When introverts choose alone time, it’s more likely rooted in genuine enjoyment and self-care rather than self-protection.
- Individuals with social anxiety may cancel plans even if they want to go or will miss out on opportunities otherwise.
- If skipping a social event or interaction means missing out on something meaningful, introverts can often find the motivation to participate.
- Those with social anxiety may avoid meeting new people – and even when they do meet and enjoy someone, their fears may hold them back from getting closer or inviting the new person to spend time together.
- Introverts are generally open to connecting with new people, as long as they can do it on their own terms.
- For people with social anxiety, it’s not just about making it past the initial roadblock of showing up or starting an interaction – it’s common to experience anxiety throughout the situation and feel lonely among the crowd rather than enjoy it.
- Generally, introverts are able to have fun and relax when they do join social situations and are able to “turn it on.”
- For people with social anxiety, alone time doesn’t recharge them; it may provide temporary relief from their anxious feelings but doesn’t make them feel better or more able to handle a future interaction.
- For introverts, having quality time alone is an important piece of feeling rested and reenergized so that they feel better able to handle other social interactions.
Can I be both an introvert and socially anxious?
Yes, anyone can experience social anxiety. Feeling too drained for social interaction isn’t the same as feeling anxious about it – as an introvert, you might have no problem spending time with others as long as you have the energy to do so and know you can leave whenever you want. If you find that you’re spending time alone not just to recharge but because you’re worried about how others will react to you, you may be dealing with social anxiety as well – take MHA’s anxiety screen and use it to start a conversation with your doctor or a therapist.
Whether you’re introverted, living with social anxiety, or both, you can develop skills to build your resilience in draining situations and feel more relaxed around group settings. Check out the following tools:
- Thinking traps: How can I deal with negative thoughts?
- How can I improve my mental health on my own?
 National Institute of Mental Health. (2016). Social anxiety disorder: More than just shyness [Brochure]. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/sites/default/files/documents/health/publications/social-anxiety-disorder-more-than-just-shyness/19-mh-8083-socialanxietydisordermorethanjustshyness_0.pdf
How to Tell the Difference
You have a small social circle and fiercely protect your alone time. It takes a while before you feel comfortable opening up in the company of new people. At work or school, you hang back and avoid speaking up until you absolutely have to.
Parties and crowds of people tend to make you nervous, if not outright overwhelmed. You’ve elevated the act of canceling plans to an art form. Others call you reserved, quiet, or shy.
Do the above characteristics describe you to a T? If so, you quite possibly describe yourself as an introvert.
Yet maybe you’ve also spent some time considering whether something else drives your lack of interest in social situations. Does your personality simply fall toward the introverted end of the spectrum, you might wonder, or could you actually have social anxiety?
The answer depends on two things:
- the reasons why these behaviors feel most natural to you
- your feelings about spending time alone
On the surface, social anxiety and introversion can seem pretty similar. After all, they involve many of the same signs.
These two experiences aren’t one and the same, though, and they have less in common than you might think.
There’s one key difference between introversion and social anxiety: Introversion is a personality trait, not a mental health condition.
Introverted people draw energy from within. As an introvert, you probably dedicate plenty of time to solitary pursuits. Relaxing and unwinding alone appeal to you, so you might prefer, more often than not, to make plans with yourself over anyone else.
If you’re an introvert, you might:
- have strong listening skills
- carefully consider options before making a decision
- dislike confrontation
- prefer to share feelings and thoughts through writing or art
Since introversion is a personality trait, it’s part of who you are — not necessarily something you can work to change. Learning and developing certain skills can help you feel more relaxed in groups of people, but new skills can’t really change how you get your energy.
Learn more about what it means to be an introvert.
Living with social anxiety, or social phobia, typically means you experience significant nervousness and fear in social situations or when simply thinking about social situations. This fear generally stems from the idea that others will reject you or judge you negatively.
If you’re introverted, you might keep to yourself because you enjoy solitude. With social anxiety, on the other hand, you may actually want to join the crowd but feel nervous of your reception — and potential rejection.
When you do go to parties or hang out with friends, you might spend a lot of time thinking about what you’ve said or done and worrying what people think of you.
With social anxiety, you might:
- often feel anxious about doing something embarrassing in public
- avoid interacting with people you don’t know well
- fixate on the possibility of social slip-ups, like forgetting someone’s name or sneezing during a lecture
- feel frustrated or lonely because you struggle to connect with others in the way you’d like
Social anxiety is a mental health condition, so the worry and fear you experience may not improve without support from a mental health professional.
Explore the signs and symptoms of social anxiety in detail.
Introversion, in basic terms, means that you tend to feel drained by too much social interaction and need to take time for yourself to restore your energy.
Feeling drained by social interaction isn’t the same as feeling anxious about it, and introversion doesn’t automatically translate to social anxiety.
As an introvert, you might feel just fine about spending time with others — as long as you have enough energy, you can leave whenever you need to, and the setting isn’t too crowded or overwhelming.
But what if you don’t just need time alone to recharge? What if you also favor your own company because you frequently worry about how others perceive you? Perhaps one of these scenarios sounds familiar:
- When you don’t hear back from a friend right away, you start to worry that you’ve done something to annoy them and begin reviewing your last few interactions.
- During meetings at work, you sit quietly in the back corner, hoping to escape notice. Your heart pounds, your palms sweat, and you’re sure everyone can see how flushed your face is.
Keep in mind that introversion and its counterpart, extroversion, exist on a spectrum. As an introvert, you fall closer to one end, but that doesn’t mean you avoid people entirely. Most introverts enjoy spending time with friends, particularly those friends who understand their boundaries in social interactions and need for alone time.
When avoidance and fear factor into the time you spend alone, it’s worth considering whether social anxiety could play a part.
While research suggests social anxiety may be somewhat more common in introverted people, there’s still a lot of variability in individual personality traits.
If you’re more conscientious, you might feel anxious about missing important details or giving an impression of unreliability.
If you have higher levels of neuroticism, you might be more prone to general insecurity and stress and worry about all new situations.
Incidentally, you can also have social anxiety if you lie more toward the extroverted end of the spectrum. In other words: Yes, you can be an “anxious extrovert.”
Shyness is another trait that often gets mixed up with social anxiety and introversion. It’s even been suggested that social anxiety simply represents an extreme form of shyness.
Like people with social anxiety, shy people usually feel uncomfortable around strangers and hesitant to open up in social situations.
If you’re shy, you might:
- prefer to communicate through text or email
- stick close to good friends in social settings
- worry about meeting new people and wonder whether they’ll like you
- blush, get sweaty, or feel sick to your stomach before speaking in a group
Yet shyness often eases as you begin to feel comfortable. For example, you might have zero reservations about speaking your mind among close friends. Or at a party, your nervousness might begin to wear off once you feel welcomed and accepted.
Social anxiety, introversion, and shyness can occur together, making it tough to tell where one ends and the other begins. That said, many people tend toward shyness or introversion without also having social anxiety.
Older research suggests, in fact, that while shy people may experience social anxiety at slightly higher rates, plenty of shy people don’t experience the ongoing distress associated with social anxiety.
If you’re shy, introverted, and also have social anxiety, the three can potentially play off each other, making social situations even more overwhelming to contemplate.
Here’s an example:
Your best friend’s birthday party is coming up. They’ve planned a smaller, quiet night of boardgames and food, and you know that they really want you to attend.
But you also know that they’ve invited a few newer friends, mostly people you don’t know well. You feel a little anxious about playing your favorite games in a new setting.
Introversion might lead you to prepare by planning a night for yourself before and after the party.
If you’re also shy, you might have some worries about meeting new people, but you remind yourself that your friend will be there to support you.
Adding in social anxiety can complicate things quite a bit.
What if, you might wonder, you don’t understand how to play the game, or you forget a rule? What if you end up spilling your drink all over the table and ruining the night for everyone? What if you make a joke and no one laughs, not even your best friend?
These worries occupy your thoughts in the days leading up to the party until you feel sick, nervous, and ready to cancel and spend the evening safely alone.
Social anxiety can make it difficult to pursue friendships and relationships.
While you want to participate more fully in social settings, fears of criticism and rejection get in the way, preventing you from building the connections you desire.
- feel worse, not better, after spending time alone
- long to make friends and feel more comfortable in the company of others
- spend a lot of time worrying about negative feedback or judgment
- have trouble participating in daily interactions at school or work
- use alcohol to help manage your fears
Over time, social anxiety can contribute to feelings of isolation, loneliness, and even depression. Support from a therapist, however, can make a big difference.
A therapist can:
- offer support with working through fears of judgment and rejection
- teach skills to better navigate social situations
- offer guidance with managing worry in productive ways
- help you practice challenging and reframing anxious thoughts
Explore treatments and coping strategies for social anxiety.
People thrive with varying levels of social interaction. When solitude helps you recharge, and spending time alone doesn’t cause any frustration or distress, you most likely have nothing to worry about.
If you consistently find it challenging to connect with others, even when you want to open your social circle, professional support can help.
Keeping the spotlight effect in mind can also help ease some feelings of social self-consciousness. It’s very normal to worry about saying the wrong thing or doing something embarrassing.
But even if you do, chances are good it’ll go unnoticed — most people pay far less attention to what happens around them than you might imagine.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.
5 signs that you are not an introvert, but a socially anxious person
“What, another term?!” some will exclaim in horror. Alas, yes, but you need to master it, because introversion and social anxiety are two different concepts, and in practice one is often replaced by another. While socially anxious introverts do occur, you may very well be an anxious extrovert. For example, you want to go to a bar with colleagues, but you are worried that what if they are not very happy with your company. Or you want to talk, but are afraid to freeze stupidity. Let's look at what separates a socially anxious person from an introvert.
1. Introverts are born, they become socially anxious
Introversion is an innate trait, an integral part of personality. A child is not born socially anxious, although there may be a predisposition to this. Various factors influence the development of anxiety: early social rejection, which teaches the child that peers are angry and critical; attitudes inspired by parents (never ask for help, because others will condemn for it). Perhaps, being in the center of attention, the child felt so uncomfortable that he began to avoid publicity.
The good news is that you can revisit early lessons about people who are bound to judge and criticize and learn new, more uplifting "material."
2. Introverts enjoy being alone
They really enjoy being alone. Only in solitude, one-on-one with a loved one or in a very small company of people whom he trusts, such a person gets the opportunity to "charge the batteries", relax, make up for the lack of energy.
Anxiety is caused by fear, which means that loneliness makes a person prone to it less restless. Does it bring happiness? No, more like a sense of relief. Which, of course, is also not bad, but avoiding people, a person continues to be lonely or insecure. He is forced to refuse to participate in events that are interesting to him, because he is afraid that he will feel uncomfortable there, that he will get into a mess.
3. Introverts are confident in their abilities, anxious people are not.He is convinced that even if he opens his mouth, it will not end well: he will either not be understood or supported. Introverts are quite confident in their social skills and can turn them on when needed. It takes effort, but they can easily energize the next day by reading a book on the couch or having lunch with a close friend.
4. Anxious people fixate on the opinions of others
We are social beings and we care what others think of us, at least those we love and respect. Often we try to convince ourselves that we must be ourselves, we must not let someone else's opinion hold us back, but it is hardly possible to get rid of it one hundred percent. Socially anxious people worry too much about the opinions of others. They are sure that they do not meet some generally accepted standards, others think of them in a negative way, condemn, disapprove.
5. The root of social anxiety is perfectionism
Such people are sure that only if they become “perfect” will others stop judging and criticizing them. They're rehearsing what they'll say to the waiter when it's their turn to order, or contemplating an upcoming conversation with customer service. But the waiters and dispatchers in life, it seems, have heard everything, and the fact that the client was confused and stammering will be forgotten in a minute.
Social anxiety and introversion. | by Inna Gentle
For most of us, introversion and social anxiety are used interchangeably. Social anxiety is often mistaken as a radical form of introversion. In fact, both introverts and extroverts can suffer from social anxiety disorder. For example, you may really, really want to go to a bar with your co-workers, but feel anxious about whether they want to see you. Or you can really go out of your way to seek company but suffer the thought of saying something stupid.
Psychologically, anxiety and introversion are completely different concepts.
Difference 1: an introvert is born an introvert, but social anxiety is an acquired trait.
Introversion is a trait that we are born with. In the case of anxiety, you may be predisposed to this disorder, but still this is not an innate quality. Most likely, external factors played a role in the development of anxiety disorder. For example, it is possible that rejection by a social group at an early age intervened. Perhaps your parents once said that it's best to never ask for help because it will cause judgment. Perhaps, as a child, you were uncomfortable being in the center of attention, so you try to avoid such situations. The good news is that retraining is quite possible.
Difference 2: For introverts, loneliness is not a punishment, but a joy. But social anxiety is just a painful condition, not a source of strength.
There is a fine line here. Introverts gain strength in solitude or in one-on-one conversations. If you are an introvert, then moments alone with yourself help you gain strength.
But the cause of social anxiety is fear. Being alone reduces anxiety levels, which is good in itself, but brings more relief than happiness. You can say "I don't care" when you turn down another party invitation, but deep down it makes you feel insecure and lonely. You cannot do otherwise, simply because the desire to get rid of an anxiety attack is much stronger. It is the fear of rejection, the fear of awkward moments and feelings of inferiority that are the reasons why you refuse events.
Difference 3: Social anxiety makes you feel inferior. You think you have nothing to say, you don't know what to say, and you think people won't understand.
But introverts are quite confident in their communication skills and are able to "turn on" them at the right time. And although sometimes it is quite difficult to connect this skill, a day with a book or alone with a friend helps to recover.
Difference 4: Both introverts and people with social anxiety care about what people think. But these are different levels of concern.
Let's be honest. Whoever you are, you care what people think of you - at least the people you love and respect. Of course, any popular song like Shake it off or Roar teaches you to be yourself and not let the opinions of others influence your actions. But if you really didn't care what other people think, you'd be a psychopath. Humans are social creatures, so of course we care what people think of us, whether you're an introvert or an extrovert.
Social anxiety is a concern about the opinions of others, increased several hundred times. With social anxiety, the opinion of absolutely of all those around you is important to you. At the same time, you presume that most people think badly of you, although this annoying feeling is absolutely not in line with reality. The little brother of social anxiety is the desire to please people.
Difference 5: Social anxiety is based on perfectionism.
Perfectionism is often the main cause of social anxiety. You can believe that only the perfect execution of the assigned tasks will save you from harsh criticism. You may think that you will be judged only if you do not become a communication virtuoso who is able to maintain a dialogue without putting any effort into it. Social anxiety makes you mentally run an order at McDonald's while you're standing in line, or rehearse a conversation when you call a call center, although people on the other side don't care if you get lost in words or not. But with introversion, perfectionism is not involved in any way. Why? It's not about how you get things done.
When is the desire to be alone a problem?
1) How do you feel when the phone rings? Or when you're invited to a party? Look at your reaction next time. If you feel fear, if something inside you resists, or if your heart beats faster, if your breathing gets out of hand, this is an anxiety disorder. But skipping a call on purpose, or making the decision to temporarily not answer calls in general, is not avoidance.
2) How do you feel when you are alone? If the answer is “I am full of strength,” then go ahead, my introvert friend! Well, if “I feel relieved”, then here you should be wary. “Hooray, I didn’t have to go to the party - no one saw how dumb I was!” is a sign of anxiety disorder.
3) If you can only be yourself in your own thoughts, ask yourself the question - what would happen if you saw the real features around you? If the answer is "they would think I'm disgusting," then your job, your friends, your partner, or whatever person you're playing this role for may not be right for you. Perhaps you think it's not safe to show the "real" you. Perhaps you think that you are worthless and not worthy of love - most likely, in this case, the help of a qualified therapist is needed
The main question is, does the time spent alone prevent you from building your life? If you are looking for loneliness just to escape the world, this is most likely a warning sign. But if time alone helps you move on, and you want to spend time alone, simply because it helps you recuperate, then there is nothing wrong with that.
How to cope with the pressure of social situations?
1) Anticipation of an alarming situation (almost always) is much worse than reality. For example, a long-term fear of a corporate party may disappear as soon as you open the door. Our brains are programmed to come up with the most catastrophic scenarios. That is why the alarms are heard in our head much louder than necessary.
Try the following experiment. The next time you're afraid of something, just pull yourself together and just do it. Do it purely as part of the experiment. Rate your fear of the event on a scale of one to 10. Then rate how embarrassing or disturbing the actual experience was - also on a scale of one to 10. The rating before the event is likely to be higher than the rating of the event itself. Our brains are primed to anticipate disaster, but often this has nothing to do with reality. The very realization that anxiety is not related to the actual circumstances will help to cope with it next time.
2) Take on the role of a volunteer during the holiday.
If a big family event brings you continuous suffering (well, it makes you want to hide under the table), ask the person in charge of the event to take you as an assistant. Often, a well-defined role removes the awkwardness. Asking for book signings, gathering people for group photos, anything is fine. This gives your stay at the holiday a certain purpose, which will help you gradually get used to the attention of others.
3) Get out of your comfort zone very gradually. Both parts of the advice are important here. Do not aim for sudden and radical changes.
4) Ask questions. Many people feel extremely uncomfortable during communication because they think they have nothing to say. One useful technique is open-ended questions. "How did you meet? I was thinking about taking up a new hobby - what do you think? Or you can always ask for advice: what book can you recommend to me? Then, based on the answer, ask the next question.