What’s the Difference?
Although Social Anxiety and Introversion may seem similar on the surface, the deeper you dive,the more you see how different they really are. Because both affect how people behave in a social manner, and the results are occasionally similar, it can be difficult to discern which is which, but the motivations and feelings caused by them are incredibly different. According to the American Psychological Association, introversion is defined as an “orientation toward the internal private world of one’s self and one’s inner thoughts and feelings, rather than toward the outer world of people and things” and social anxiety is defined as the “fear of social situations in which embarrassment may occur (e.g., making conversation, meeting strangers, dating) or there is a risk of being negatively evaluated by others (e.g., seen as stupid, weak, or anxious).” As you can see, the definitions are incredibly different, and if you are wondering if you have social anxiety or are just an introvert, there are ways to tell below.
1.You find yourself obsessing over certain social situations
Although some introverts may be uncomfortable with social situations occasionally, for someone with social anxiety, the fear is much more powerful. If you find yourself thinking about a speech you will have to give, for hours and hours on end, or you can’t keep worrying about how stupid you must have looked when you made a mistake, you just might have social anxiety. While introversion is merely a social preference, anxiety causes strong fear that can take over your everyday thoughts and impact your daily life without you wanting it to.
2. You find yourself unable to engage in certain social activities, even if you really want to participate
While introverts prefer alone time and recharge better by themselves, sometimes people with social anxiety are unable to engage in certain activities that they want to participate in. For example, someone with social anxiety might be dying to go talk to a group of people who seem nice, but find that every time they try, they feel frozen, like they can’t force themselves to go up and say hello. An introvert may be shy, but they won’t have the strong physical and mental reaction that someone with social anxiety would, which makes a huge difference.
3. You have strong, negative physical reactions for social situations outside of your comfort zone
Introverts may often avoid social environments for a quiet evening in, however, if they do end up at a party, it doesn’t seem like the end of the world. For an individual with social anxiety however, this can be exactly how they feel. If you find your heart racing hours before a speech, have an upset stomach because of something embarrassing you did hours after a party has ended, or even experience a panic attack, there’s a good chance you are suffering from social anxiety. While everyone can experience discomfort when they are put in situation that makes them uncomfortable, having social anxiety amplifies the feeling considerably.
4. Your personal, work, or school life is negatively impacted by fear
Introversion on its own isn’t something that will inherently be a negative aspect on your life, social anxiety however will be. If you find yourself consistently using negative coping strategies in stressful social situations, such as avoiding problems instead of facing them, you may have social anxiety. For example, if you know you have a vacation coming up in a couple of months and you need to request off from work, instead of letting your employer know as soon as possible, you may hold off until it’s too late because you’re nervous about disappointing them. This creates an even bigger issue, because the closer you get to the deadline the more nervous you become, which creates a destructive loop. In extreme cases, a person may even just leave for vacation without informing anyone, which obviously creates a worse situation than the one they were fearing. Introversion often doesn’t interfere with a person’s life this drastically, and if this is happening to you, you could have social anxiety.
5. You don’t gain energy from, or particularly enjoy, solitude
One of the problems that come along with identifying social anxiety, is that people often mistake it for introversion. However, there is a chance you could have social anxiety and are not an introvert at all. If you find that you feel lonely whenever you are by yourself, or that you feel more drained in solitude than you do around your close friends, you are most likely just someone who has social anxiety, not an introvert. While the two of them often seem to go hand in hand, and they often do, they are both very different, and the more people are educated on that fact, the more people are going to understand themselves.
APA Dictionary of Psychology. Retrieved from https://dictionary.apa.org/introversion
APA Dictionary of Psychology. Retrieved from https://dictionary.apa.org/social-anxiety