While the population generally divides into extroverts, introverts, and ambiverts, your social inclination doesn't usually have much — if anything — to do with whether or not you experience anxiety. Still, it can be hard to tell the
difference between introversion and social anxiety when you're experiencing it first hand. Therapists, however, have some concrete ways to tell the difference.
Perhaps the largest distinguishing factor between
introversion and social anxiety is the element of fear. "Social anxiety is driven by fear and gets in the way of living your life," licensed professional counselor Laura Albers, the owner of Albers Mind and Body Wellness, tells Bustle. "You will avoid or leave social situations for fear of judgment by others or desire to avoid possible embarrassment or feeling awkward. With introversion, there is simply a preference to unwind in more solo, often quiet activities." If you think your motivations for spending time alone may be fear-based, then it is entirely possible you're dealing with anxiety, not introversion.
It is possible for introverts to have social anxiety, too. "Of course, since
close to half the population is introverted, both social anxiety and introversion can exist in one person," Dr. Russell Morfitt, the chief psychology officer and co-founder of Learn to Live, tells Bustle. However, there are distinctive ways you can differentiate between the two.
Here are 11 signs your introversion may actually be social anxiety, according to experts.
You Want To Go Out, But Feel Unable To
While an introvert may avoid social situations in order to relax and recharge, a person dealing with social anxiety may do the same thing out of fear.
"Introverted individuals are often able to go out into social settings, however they are unable to maintain the socialization for an extended period of time," licensed clinical social worker
Ginger Poag, MSW, CEMDR, tells Bustle. On the other hand, Poag notes, those with social anxiety may want to go out, but feel they can't, even for an hour or two. If you feel that fear may be keeping you out of social situations, talking to a friend or professional may help.
You're Scared Of Being Judged
Introverts may not be that concerned about what others think. For those with social anxiety, this concern is often a pretty major motivating factor when it comes to avoiding social interactions.
"The fear is generally around being scrutinized by others," licensed marriage and family therapist
Merriam S. Saunders, tells Bustle. "So, in a party situation, [for example, the person with social anxiety] will be concerned about meeting unfamiliar people and what they'll think of [them]." If you have these fears before going out, then you may want to consider finding ways to treat your possible anxiety.
You Worry About Getting To Know People
Introverts may be totally happy meeting new people — but want to do things on their own terms. If you avoid meeting new people, instead, because you're scared, then you may actually be socially anxious.
"[If you have social anxiety you may] meet people who you like and would like to get to know better, but you avoid getting to know them or inviting them to do things out of fear,"
Thomas Rodebaugh, an associate professor of psychology who studies social anxiety at Washington University in St. Louis, tells Bustle. To work on this fear, Rodebaugh suggests cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), or self-help books if you're not quite ready to take that leap.
You Avoid Situations Even If You'll Miss Out On Opportunities
When missing out on a social situation means missing out on a particularly fulfilling professional or personal opportunity, introverts are generally able to find the motivation to participate. Social anxiety, however, may be a roadblock.
"[If you have social anxiety you may be] required to give a speech for a class or your work, but you find a way not to do it, even though it sets you back," Rodebaugh says. "Many people dislike speeches and find them difficult, but if you are getting in your own way by avoiding them, it might be time to consider working on your social anxiety." If you find you've skipped networking events, dinners, or other opportunities out of fear, then you may want to check in with a professional.
You Cancel Plans All The Time
While the idea of cancelling plans to make yourself feel better is common among introverts, a similar habit can be experienced out of social anxiety. There's a small difference, however.
"Everyone sits out a social event from time to time, but if you frequently avoid social events due to fear, even though you would like to go, you might consider working on your social anxiety," Rodebaugh says. An introvert may genuinely prefer a night to themselves, but if you have social anxiety, you may be cancelling plans for more negative reasons.
You Still Don't Enjoy Yourself When You Choose To Go Out
Generally, introverts are able to have fun and relax in social settings. If you think you're simply introverted, but find it very hard to feel relaxed around other people, then you may have social anxiety.
"Whereas an introvert will typically enjoy [themself if [they] chooses to attend [an event], an anxious person may spend a significant part of the event feeling nervous, self-conscious, fidgety, or otherwise having an unpleasant time," Dr. Acacia Parks, chief scientist at
Happify Health, tells Bustle. Anxiety may make you feel too distracted to enjoy yourself, so things like mindfulness and grounding can help you feel more relaxed in these situations.
You Feel The Need To Drink
While introverts may or may not drink in social settings, feeling the need to have a drink in order to socialize is a key symptom of anxiety.
"An introverted or non-anxious person may drink alcohol to enhance their enjoyment of the cocktail hour, but could have a good time without alcohol," Dr. Parks says. "An anxious person might feel they need alcohol in order to have a good time at all." If you feel that you're struggling with alcohol consumption, it's important that you reach out to your doctor or a mental health professional as soon as possible.
Editor's Note: If you or someone you know is seeking help for substance use, call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357).
You Don't Feel Like You Can "Turn It On" When You Need To
Miss. Maneerat junlobun/Shutterstock
When an introvert is able to feel comfortable and relaxed in a social situation, they are generally still able to be themselves. With social anxiety, this little switch can be more difficult to achieve.
"Introverts generally feel comfortable or even confident in social situations," Albers says. "They can 'turn it on' when they need to. This becomes easier when they build in some solo recharging before [or] after social events. Social anxiety sufferers, on the other hand, often feel inept in social situations, fearing judgment and awkwardness during conversations." If you notice yourself feeling more like the latter than the former, then you may have social anxiety.
Alone Time Doesn't Really Recharge You
One of the most concrete signs that you may not be an introvert, but instead have social anxiety, is if you find that alone time doesn't actually recharge you.
"Introverts often feel more energized and recharged after some solitude, whereas with social anxiety, solitude allows the sufferer to feel less anxious than they would in a social situation, but they never really feel better [...] or recharged afterwards," Albers says. Luckily, Albers also notes that this is totally possible to overcome with treatment and support.
You Only Feel Comfortable With Specific People
While it may feel like a sign of introversion to want to hang out only around a specific friend group, this is actually a pretty common symptom of social anxiety.
"Socially anxious people often find themselves connecting with other people much more actively in situations where they have compelling evidence that the group likes and accepts them," Dr. Morfitt says. If you find it difficult to make connections outside your close group of friends, then you may want to seek the support of a professional.
You Have Very Specific Places You Like To Go Out
When you have social anxiety, the places you feel most comfortable can be as important as the people you feel most comfortable with. While this may feel like a preference of introversion, if it's done out of fear of going elsewhere, it could be a symptom of anxiety.
"Signs of someone suffering from social anxiety include their geographical circle becoming increasing smaller as they attempt to stay in 'safe zones' where they don't have a spike in anxiety,"
licensed therapist Shannon Thomas, author of , tells Bustle. If you realize that you don't just choose where to go out of comfort, but are actively avoiding other places out of fear, then you may want to check in about possibly treating your anxiety. Healing From Hidden Abuse
While it may feel daunting to realize that some of your most seemingly-comforting habits could be caused by something like anxiety, experts want you to know that overcoming these habits is totally doable. "It is important to note, that if you are concerned about having social anxiety, there is treatment and support to overcome it," Albers says. Counselors, therapists, and even supportive friends and family, can all provide different levels of support. If you've been missing out on social interaction out of fear, then you may be relieved to realize you may not be an introvert after all.