PSA: Extroverts Can Have Social Anxiety, Too—Here’s How To Deal if That’s You
It stems from the fact that outgoing people tend to handle the planning and hosting of gatherings more often than not—which may be part of their fun, but can sometimes feel like a burden. “Extroverts are more comfortable initiating, and they have a drive to facilitate group interactions,” says clinical psychologist Laurie Helgoe, PhD, author of Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life Is Your Hidden Strength and an associate professor of behavioral sciences at the Ross University School of Medicine in Florida. “But that external-focused energy can also make them hyper-aware of people’s needs and overly vigilant in satisfying them.”
Essentially, there’s a fine line between an extrovert leaning into their host duties—for example, making sure everyone has a drink, everyone has someone to talk to—and developing anxiety about these same responsibilities, as they work to ensure that everyone around them is happy at all times. In fact, there’s a part of the brain that gets activated when an extrovert seeks and achieves this kind of external reward, says Dr. Helgoe.
"Extroverts may have more social anxiety about getting everyone around them to be upbeat right now given that their introvert friends may be even more reluctant than usual to go out." —Laurie Helgoe, PhD
But, of course, unanimous happiness in any social setting is a lofty goal in general, and particularly so in our current, post-quarantine world, which is laden with a layer of baseline anxiety surrounding the ‘right’ way to emerge from a pandemic. "Extroverts may have more social anxiety about getting everyone around them to be upbeat right now given that their introvert friends may be even more reluctant than usual to go out," says Dr. Helgoe.
This could be a double challenge for extroverts who are also shy (because, yes, you can be a shy extrovert). For these particular folks—who are energized by quality social time, but also feel insecure in those settings—the extra uncertainty about the rules of engagement right now could make initiating a gathering seem like an insurmountable obstacle—no matter how much they crave one. “There’s a push-pull internally,” says Dr. Helgoe. “They want to get together, but they’re also overwhelmed by the prospect of how to make that happen.”
Whether you’re a shy or outgoing extrovert, however, the anxiety that can come from wanting everyone around you to be having a good time can certainly backfire. Part of the reason why you threw the party or encouraged all your friends to attend the concert or dinner in the first place was to have fun yourself—so, if you’re too busy worrying about everyone else’s entertainment, you’ll most definitely miss out on your own. To help you avoid that fate, Dr. Helgoe shares tips below for releasing yourself of the extrovert’s burden.
How to mitigate social anxiety as an extrovert
Recognize the limits of your control
Your first step is to acknowledge that no matter how valiant your efforts may be, you have limited control over the experience of others—and that’s okay. “Yes, you can see to it that people have beverages and places to sit, for example, but there’s always going to be that person who isn’t having a good time because their friend dragged them there, or they’re in a bad mood,” says Dr. Helgoe, “and that is not your responsibility.”
It’s also very possible that some of the folks who you may assume are having a bad time just have a different way of expressing themselves. “The ones who you’re caring for as the extroverted host, paradoxically, may not always need or want what you’re offering,” says Dr. Helgoe. “If they’re introverts, they may just be processing the situation internally.” In that case, lightening up on your duties could actually serve your overall everyone-having-fun goal more effectively.
Adjust your expectations
Awkwardness is bound to trickle into some of the gatherings you’re hosting or attending these days after more than a year without much social engagement. “Cut yourself some slack, and start slow,” says Dr. Helgoe. “Not every first get-together will feel totally natural.” Allow some time for things to pick up speed, rather than rushing to return to whatever you once considered normal.
In that same vein, Dr. Helgoe recommends being a bit choosy about the outings you agree to, in order to avoid the type of extrovert burnout that can worsen anxiety. “While social stimulation generally energizes the extrovert, part of the reason why that happens is because they receive rewards,” says Dr. Helgoe, describing that positive feeling that happens whenever you’re at your most comfortable and surrounded by people who are, too. As a result, it makes sense to pick and choose the group settings where you really thrive—as opposed to attempting to do all the things (and potentially finding yourself anxious or frustrated in some of those settings).
Communicate your feelings
Without expressing the anxiety you’re experiencing, your friends—and particularly, your introverted ones—likely won’t be aware of it or understand it, says Dr. Helgoe.
“You can say something like, ‘Hey, the quarantine was really difficult for me, and I’m eager to get back out there. I know you have some anxieties about that, but are you willing to put on your extrovert hat to help me out?’” And then be open to negotiating in order to figure out a level of social intensity that works for everyone in your group—perhaps, not a big party or a concert, but a smaller gathering, for example. That way, expectations are clear from the jump, and your introverted friends will be aware of (and able to help mitigate) the stress you may feel about hosting again.
Pass the baton
Even if you are the "token extroverted friend" of your group, the responsibility to initiate and host need not always rest on your shoulders. Just as you can communicate the stress you may be feeling with your friends, you can also ask kindly for their support in sharing the weight of organizing gatherings.
“In my group of friends, I became the one always asking when we were going to do our call and coordinating our schedules during quarantine, and everyone started calling me the glue,” says Dr. Helgoe. “But I got tired of that after awhile and asked if we could share glue duty. So now we’ve started taking turns being Elmer—which has been incredibly helpful.”
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