Introversion and Social Anxiety

You find yourself marking ‘Decline with regrets’ on a wedding invitation. Staying home from the office Christmas party. Being terrified at the thought of the wait staff singing “Happy Birthday” to you at a restaurant. And saying things like, “You go in, I’ll wait in the car.”

A quick google search defines Social Anxiety as “some amount of fear in one or more social situations, causing distress and impaired ability to function in at least some parts of life.” (paraphrased from Wikipedia).

Given my title, it’s important to note that not all introverts have social anxiety and one can’t assume that social anxiety is a facet of being introverted. With that being said, I’ve noticed that a lot of people who write blogs on the topics of mental health mention how they have social anxiety. They share how they have a hard time connecting with people due to the debilitating symptoms of social anxiety. Blogging seems to be a great way to express themselves but from a safe vantage point.

As I was reading some of these blogs today, I started thinking about how social anxiety originates for people like me; that is, an introvert who occasionally struggles with social anxiety personally. People assume that because I’m a mental health worker, that I’m an extrovert and that meeting new people comes naturally. In reality, I use all my extroversion to serve the agency employees and clients. I do this to make connections, to build rapport, to foster change, and hopefully make an impact. When the day ends, when I get in the car and pop the sunroof and shift into drive, I’m drained. For an introvert, being around others depletes energy. We recharge in solitude or in smaller settings.

Social anxiety can be at it’s worst when there are lots of unknown variables. Those prone to anxiety spend a lot of energy trying to minimize unpredictability. We love our routines and comfort zones. We’re uncomfortable when life calls us to step out of our bubble of perceived safety.

Where does social anxiety start? It’s not just a part of being an introvert, right? The two traits exist separately but can coexist as well, right? No, there’s gotta be something or many things that culminate to produce social anxiety, whether it be clinically diagnosed or just a moment of discomfort for someone not prone to anxiety.

Using my own experiences and those of the clients I’ve worked with, I can think of several possible instances or scenarios that can result in a person having social anxiety. Being shy as a kid, being the victim of bullying in school, having experienced a traumatic event, having a pattern of betrayal or abandonment by those you considered friends, a secondary struggle with generalized anxiety, depression, or panic attacks. The list can go on.

In school, they teach about the nurture vs. nature debate. From working in the mental health field and from doing some reflection on my own upbringing, I’ve come to notice that nurture; that is, one’s environment, has a lot more influence on the people we become than do genetics. With that being said, my purpose for writing this was not to provide an exhaustive definition or to cover all angles of this issue; rather, I wanted to inform and raise awareness. Our experiences matter and often change us and how we relate to the world.

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