plus how each of these things is not like the other
by brittany taylor | November 26, 2017
My brain is my greatest asset and my fiercest enemy. As a creative person, if my brain isn’t on board, I can’t do my best work. That’s the thing about creativity, right? It ebbs and flows with your mental and emotional states.
There are all sorts of reasons behind these ebbs and flows. Some of us battle depression. Others with fatigue. Still others with a host of mental and physical quirks and illnesses. While I can check each of these boxes from time to time, I also struggle to balance my work with my shyness, introversion, and social anxiety.
(And yes, Dad, they’re all different things.)
It doesn’t matter if you’re an employee, a boss, a freelancer, or an entrepreneur. It doesn’t matter if you’re dealing with one or all three. Shyness, introversion, and social anxiety all have the ability to tank our creativity, our motivation, our productivity, and our ambition—if we don’t manage them well.
I won’t pretend to be perfect. Sometimes, I slip up. Here’s what I do to keep my shyness, introversion, and social anxiety under control most of the time.
The difference between shyness, introversion, and social anxiety
As a word person, I like to get my phrasing right. It particularly annoys me when people conflate shyness, introversion, and social anxiety because they don’t mean the same thing.
Each one is a unique mental quirk and must be managed in a different way. When we equate them, we’re communicating that you can treat them all together with a single plan of attack. That’s just not true.
A shy person is someone who is afraid of meeting new people or interacting with them socially. Shyness is not a crippling fear, meaning that someone who is “just shy” generally doesn’t let that fear interfere with living their life. Shy people can acknowledge their fear and move past it in most situations.
An introvert is someone who is drained by social interaction. They might enjoy it, they might not—that doesn’t matter. The opposite of an introvert is an extrovert. Extroverts gain energy from social interaction. There’s also a fence-sitter, called an ambivert. Ambiverts are drained by some social situations and energized by others.
Anxiety is a diagnosable condition that affects how you live your life. Social anxious people tend to face overwhelming fears about everything surrounding a social event. They deal with worries like these continually, all at once:
Is what I’m wearing appropriate? What if I get lost? Where will I park? Should I have brought a gift? What if I’m the first one there? Should I wait outside? Why isn’t she texting me back? Is she bailing on me? What if Jake is there? What will I say to Ali? What’s a good excuse in case I need to leave early? Does my phone have enough juice in case I have to call an Uber? What if there’s only one bathroom? Will I be able to eat the food? What will I order if they’re only serving beer? Will anybody mind if I just drink Coke?
Anxiety is an escalating panic. Sometimes it’s tolerable. Sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it can turn into physical pain and illness.
How to deal with shyness, introversion, and social anxiety
I rag on my dad, but he’s a role model for perseverance and hard work for me, too.
He’s also Mr. Shy—or, he used to be. When he was a kid (or so he says), he hated making friends and talking to people. Today, though, he’s the Chatty Cathy in the elevator who engages you in conversation even when you’re actively staring at the wall.
My point is that these struggles ebb and flow, just like our creativity.
I deal with shyness, introversion, and social anxiety constantly, but they don’t all impact my life the same way from day to day or week to week.
Sometimes, the phone call I need to make to my dentist sounds like the most painful task in the world. That’s the shyness kicking in.
Sometimes, I’m bubbly all weekend and need three days off to restore my energy level. That’s the introversion at work.
Sometimes, I’m driving to dinner with friends and I have to turn around and go home because I am freaking the fuck out. That’s the social anxiety.
Sometimes, they join forces and gang up on me. Sometimes, I’m golden. Sometimes, I just can’t deal with the world, and sometimes, I have to figure out a way to suck it up and get through the day, anyway.
My shyness is a fear I can swallow if I have to, but it can still coax me into diversionary tactics like procrastination. Whether I’m dealing with shyness on a personal or a professional level, I like to have a few management methods in my back pocket to ensure that I’m going about my day productively:
The older I become, the more impact introversion has on my life. I can be spending time with strangers or with family, and I’ll still experience what’s called an “introversion hangover.” I feel exhausted. My limbs are heavy and my mind is blank. Here’s how I handle it:
When my ulcerative colitis flared up, my social anxiety sky-rocketed. I can be sitting in my comfy chair in my pajamas and feel it curled up at the base of my spine, cueing worries that something is wrong. There’s no defeating social anxiety. While I do take medication for it, I also rely on coping mechanisms to get me through the worst of it: