Outreach: A Take on Introversion, Extroversion and Social Anxiety

Male teen looking anxious with other teens in the background.

Winter is here and along with the chill in the air, activities such as ice skating, shopping, family gatherings, hot chocolate, holiday movies and more take center stage. While some of us thrive on the many social activities of the season, others are more intrigued by the idea of snuggling up on the couch with a cup of hot tea and a good book. Take a moment to review the following statements and reflect on the question, “Which person are you?”

I feel most fulfilled through socialization.

I feel isolated by spending too much time alone.

I prefer to work/problem-solve in a group.

I am generally an outgoing person.

Others would describe me as having a big personality.

If your personality aligns with the above statements, you are most likely an extroverted person. You enjoy the festivities and thrive on being a part of the group. For those of you thinking “No way, not me,” check out this list:

I feel most fulfilled through spending time alone.

I feel depleted by spending too much time socializing.

I prefer to work individually or in a small group.

I am, generally, a very reflective person.

Others would describe me as quiet and reserved.

Are these characteristics more fitting for you? If so, you are most likely an introverted person. Extroverts gain energy and happiness through socializing, whereas introverts drain energy through socializing and need time away to recharge.

Whether you are introverted or extroverted, there is the possibility you might struggle with social anxiety. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “Social anxiety is an intense, persistent fear of being watched and judged by others.” Don’t mistake social anxiety for introversion; introversion is a personality type with a preference for spending time away to recharge. Social anxiety is an anxiety disorder with an intense avoidance of social outings due to fear of ridicule by others.

Avoidance of social outings is one of many symptoms of social anxiety. Other symptoms include physical responses to crowds (blushing, sweating, shaking, rapid heartbeat), planning conversations prior to a social outing, replaying and judging yourself for past conversations, difficulty maintaining eye contact, fear of judgment by others, etc. If you struggle with the above symptoms, it is possible that you are experiencing social anxiety.

If you struggle with social anxiety, you are not alone! Although it may not be easy, there are ways to manage and overcome this anxiety disorder. Below you will find three tips for managing social anxiety:

Use a relaxation technique, such as 7-11 breathing. To help manage physical symptoms of anxiety, inhale through your nose for a count of 7 and exhale through your mouth for a count of 11.

Reframe negative self-talk with a more positive message. For example, reframe “I can’t do this” to “It will take a lot of practice, but I can do this.” The internalized message is much more compassionate, which can lead to higher levels of motivation.

Gradually introduce yourself to situations where you may feel socially anxious. Avoiding anxieties may feel good in the short term but will amplify anxiety in the long term, making it a more difficult cycle to break.

In more severe cases, you may want to consider working with a professional mental health counselor.

Outreach Teen & Family Services is a nonprofit, confidential counseling service. We offer programs to youth ages 5 to 21, parents and families in a welcoming environment.
 412-561-5405. This column is partially underwritten by the Mt. Lebanon Police Association.