If the thought of staying in on a Saturday night gives you more JOMO, joy of missing out, than FOMO, fear of missing out, then you'd probably consider yourself an introvert. While a social gathering can be nerve-racking for anyone, extroverts included, some people are more prone to experiencing social anxiety than others. To learn more about this social phenomenon, we tapped psychotherapist Jeremy Bergen, MS, LCPC, for an expert's take on how to be more social when we'd rather stay at home and watch Netflix.
Before diving into the topic of social anxiety, we had to ask Bergen how your personality types can affect your level of comfort in social interactions. "Our concept of introversion versus extroversion has increased in recent years," he explains. "Instead of two categories, we now use the spectrum model to understand personality."
"Introversion and extroversion are on two opposite sides of a spectrum, and individuals fall somewhere along that spectrum," he elaborates. "People closer to the introversion poll on the spectrum don't necessarily have an increased level of anxiety, but social interactions consume more energy and are typically less fulfilling."
Calling all introverts—here is everything you need to know about how to be more social, including a seven-step guide to help you overcome social anxiety.
What is Social Anxiety?
According to Bergen, "Social anxiety is the fear of being negatively judged, embarrassed, or humiliated in some fashion during a social interaction."
As you'd expect, "some amount of anxiety, stress, or tension can be normal to experience, either in anticipation of or during social events," explains Bergen. "Typically this tension will decrease dramatically once the social interaction evolves."
So how do you know when your social anxiety has reached an extreme level? "Clinically significant social anxiety typically involves social avoidance, debilitating anxiety, panic attacks, speech issues, and difficulty concentrating, among other distressing symptoms," says Bergen.
What are some things introverts can do to become more social?
If you're shy, you shouldn't "try to be someone you are not," advises Bergen. "You don't have to convince yourself to love social interactions." The goal is to break out of your shell, not "necessarily to be the person in the center of the room making everyone laugh," he says.
The first step to becoming more outgoing is to "ask yourself which social situations you find most enjoyable and focus on spending the social energy you do have in social situations you enjoy," Bergen advises.
"Engage in social activities you enjoy and accept that you may not ever be the person who lights up the room, but also accept that you do need more social interaction than you will be naturally motivated to engage in at times," he says.
What can you do to overcome social anxiety?
No matter how extroverted you are, everyone experiences a certain level of social anxiety from time to time. If you start to feel butterflies in your stomach prior to a social gathering, Bergen advises that you take the following steps to try to overcome it:
- Raise awareness of when you first experience the anxiety.
- If possible, identify where in your body you typically experience stress symptoms.
- Practice deep breathing.
- Challenge catastrophic thinking about social outcomes.
- Definite a realistic "worst case" scenario and develop a game plan.
- Identify potential positive outcomes.
- Accept that you cannot read minds and, in reality, do not know what people are thinking at any given moment. Any feelings of judgment are your own feelings projecting into someone else's mind.
Ed. note: This is in no way a complete answer, nor should it be taken as a substitute for talking with a mental health professional.