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