Social anxiety affects approximately 5% of the world’s population. While it’s true that social anxiety might be expected more in introverts, it is still possible for an extrovert to develop this condition as well.
Being an extrovert and socially anxious sounds like they are polar opposites; however, the truth is that personality traits do not make someone immune to experiencing anxiety.
Extroverts who have social anxiety can experience the same physical and emotional symptoms in the same way that introverts do. Extroverts with social anxiety face a unique problem that introverts are less likely to face – that they become energized by being around people – the very thing that causes them anxiety.
This can cause a lot of distress if the socially anxious extrovert needs to be around others but is fearful about doing so.
Frequently, people may think they are introverts, but they may actually be extroverts with social anxiety.
The easiest way to differentiate between an introvert and an extrovert with social anxiety is that introverts prefer being in their own company, whilst extroverts with social anxiety have a need for social interaction, but their anxiety gets in the way.
Is there an ongoing increase in socially anxious extroverts?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that between August 2020 and February 2021, there was an increase in the number of adults who experienced recent symptoms of a depressive or anxiety disorder – from 36.4% to 41.5%.
It is likely that the COVID-19 pandemic has heightened the levels of societal depression and anxiety about socialization.
Since extroverts have likely not been able to socialize as much as they wanted during the pandemic, it’s possible that more extroverts have consequently developed social anxiety.
Likewise, extroverts with social anxiety may have found it harder to cope with their symptoms during this time.
Signs of social anxiety in extroverts
While extroverts and introverts can both experience social anxiety and share some of the emotional and physical symptoms that come along with that (e.g., shaking, sweating, and rapid heart rate), extroverts are thought to experience social anxiety in different ways than introverts.
They feel judged by others
Socially anxious extroverts care so much about being accepted by others that they will spend most of their time in social situations thinking others are judging them.
They may find it hard to stay calm or fully enjoy their time with others because they have made up their mind about being disapproved and rejected by everyone around them.
They can be shy
Shyness is not exclusive to those who are introverted – extroverts can be shy too. Shy extroverts are energized by quality social time but also feel insecure in those social settings.
They can feel awkward and tense in social settings despite having a need to be social. They may also be hyper-aware of how shy they feel, making them feel even more uncomfortable.
They want everyone around them to have a good time
Socially anxious extroverts may feel a lot of pressure to constantly entertain other people at social events, especially if they arrange the event. They may become focused on others’ needs and on ensuring everyone is having a good time and enjoying themselves.
If they notice one person not looking like they are having fun, the socially anxious extrovert may become more anxious.
Part of the reason to throw social events like parties is for them to have fun, but if they are too busy worrying about everyone else’s entertainment, they may miss out on their own.
They feel down when not being social
It may feel easier for extroverts with social anxiety to avoid social situations altogether if it brings them too much anxiety.
However, avoiding socialization can cause additional stress since they are not getting energized in the way that they want. In turn, avoiding socialization can lead to feelings of depression, detachment, and isolation.
They are overthinkers
Extroverts often greatly value being liked by others, so they may be prone to overthinking and ruminating about how they are perceived.
They may worry that others will find faults with them and fixate on a perceived negative interaction for a long time, which can cause them more distress.
They have a fear of being left out
Extroverts often like to be involved in as many social situations as possible. However, if they do not get invited to an event, this could cause them anxiety.
They may have a fear of being left out and want to be invited, even if they decide not to attend in the end.
They may cancel plans
Socially anxious extroverts may make many social plans with people, then when the time comes, they may become so anxious about going through with the plans that they cancel at the last minute.
Likewise, they may not like impulsive plans since they cannot dedicate time to prepare for the social situation, so they may not be likely to go through with these plans either.
This could result in their friends becoming frustrated if the socially anxious extrovert appears to not commit to plans or if they give the impression they don’t want to see their friends.
They may not want to go anywhere alone
To help cope with anxiety in social situations, the socially anxious extrovert may only attend social events if they bring a close friend along.
They may not want to go to social settings alone for fear of being judged, so having a safe person with them can take away a lot of that anxiety for them.
They feel overwhelmed
Being extroverted, the individual may want to go out and socialize, yet being socially anxious; they might dread the very interaction they crave.
The internal back and forth between what they want and need and how they feel can overwhelm them. They may also force themselves to socialize, which can result in experiencing heightened physical reactions.
What does the research say?
One of the facets of extroversion – positive emotionality – is considered to be linked to social anxiety disorder. This facet is the tendency towards positive moods, such as happiness, excitement, confidence, and joy.
People who frequently experience these moods generally have lower levels of social anxiety and depression.
Studies have suggested that extroverted individuals are less likely to develop social anxiety disorder if they score highly in the positive emotionality facet (Cabello & Fernandez-Berrocal, 2015). Thus, positive emotionality may protect people by reducing their risk of developing social anxiety (Spinhoven et al., 2014).
How to cope
Below are some ways in which an extrovert with social anxiety can manage:
Communicate your feelings
Without expressing the anxiety, your friends will likely be unaware of it. Letting those you trust know about your social anxiety can help them understand, and they can help you navigate tough moments.
Be open to negotiating in order to figure out a level of social intensity that works for the whole group. That way, expectations are clear, and you do not get to a point where you are too overwhelmed by anxiety.
Adjust your expectations
You may have to accept that there may be some awkwardness in every social situation that cannot be controlled.
It makes sense to pick and choose the group settings where you thrive instead of trying to do it all and finding yourself anxious or frustrated in those settings.
Recognize the limits of your control
It is important to accept that you have limited control over the experiences of others. At a social event, there may always be someone who is not having a good time, but it is not your responsibility to make them have a good time.
It could be that the person is in a bad mood that day or is experiencing some issues external to the social event which you cannot control.
Replace unhelpful thoughts
Social anxiety is known for distorting your thoughts, usually making thought negative and unhelpful. To deal with these thoughts, you first need to notice them and replace them with an alternative thought that is more useful.
For instance, social anxiety may make you believe that you are annoying to others.
However, this could be replaced with a constructive thought such as ‘when other people act in the same way I do, I am not annoyed.’
As you practice identifying your anxious thoughts, you will find it easier to restructure them into healthier thoughts with time.
Educating yourself on social anxiety and learning to spot the symptoms when they arise can be key to managing anxiety.
If you enter a social situation with an understanding of social anxiety, you will likely be better equipped to handle it. You can watch yourself and manage your behaviors in a way that encourages your confidence and enjoyment of socializing.
With knowledge, you can also set small goals for yourself. When you achieve them, no matter how small, they are still steps towards overcoming anxiety.
Focus on safe socialization
If you desire social interaction but fear it simultaneously, be strategic about which social activities you participate in.
You could only surround yourself with people you trust or gather in a small group. This way, you get the socialization you need without the fear of such intense negative judgment.
Smaller groups also mean there are fewer people to focus on if your anxiety can stem from worrying about everyone else having a good time.
Being mindful involves paying attention to the present moment and what is happening around you.
Focusing on the present rather than worrying about what might happen in future social situations can help relieve some of the anxious feelings.
Seek therapeutic help
If you find that social anxiety is getting worse or it is significantly interfering with your daily functioning, you should consider getting help from a therapist or other mental health professional who specializes in treating social anxiety disorder.
A popular therapeutic approach is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) which helps to identify unhelpful thought patterns and behaviors.
Once identified, these thoughts and behaviors can be challenged to produce healthier, more realistic thinking and behavior.
Exposure therapy is a technique of CBT that involves gradually putting yourself in stressful situations and learning to overcome them. A common theme with anxiety is to avoid stressful situations altogether.
While this may bring short-term relief, it can cause more anxiety in the long term.
Gradually exposing yourself to what makes you anxious can help break this anxiety cycle and realize that the situations are not as catastrophic as you may make them out to be.
Do you need mental health help?
If you or a loved one are struggling with symptoms of an anxiety disorder, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.
Contact the Samaritans for support and assistance from a trained counselor: https://www.samaritans.org/; email email@example.com .
Available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year (this number is FREE to call):
Rethink Mental Illness: rethink.org
0300 5000 927
Cabello, R., & Fernandez-Berrocal, P. (2015). Under which conditions can introverts achieve happiness? Mediation and moderation effects of the quality of social relationships and emotion regulation ability on happiness. PeerJ, 3, e1300.
Spinhoven, P., Elzinga, B. M., van Hemert, A. M., de Rooij, M., & Penninx, B. W. (2014). A longitudinal study of facets of extraversion in depression and social anxiety. Personality and Individual Differences, 71, 39-44.
Vahratian A, Blumberg S, Terlizzi E, & Schiller J. (2021) Symptoms of Anxiety or Depressive Disorder and Use of Mental Health Care Among Adults During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, August 2020–February 2021. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/70/wr/mm7013e2.htm