5 Ways For Introverts To Overcome Social Anxiety

how to overcome social anxiety, introverts

Social anxiety doesn't have to get the best of you. Although it can make everyday life difficult, there are ways to overcome the tight grip of social anxiety.

I’m a lifelong introvert and overcoming my social anxiety has been an uphill battle for me since puberty (but at least that part’s over). Being in social settings feels incredibly unnatural for me and I feel like I need to meticulously plan every interaction with other people, even though most of the time that’s not possible in live conversation. This all might sound strange to the average extrovert, but we introverts make up about half of the population! So, if you’re an introvert who struggles with social anxiety, you’re far from alone. 

Social anxiety is defined as the "intense anxiety or fear of being judged, negatively evaluated, or rejected in a social or performance situation" by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. It affects about 15 million adults in the U.S. alone.

RELATED: What It's Like To Struggle With A Social Anxiety Disorder Every Day

Social anxiety affects some introverts more than others (and can affect those who test as extraverts, too). It might seem like your social anxiety is a predetermined trait that you’re destined to live with for your entire life, but that isn’t entirely true. There are steps that you can take to work toward becoming more outgoing than you feel that you are.

Nobody understands your own personality better than you do, so it is up to you to determine which methods to overcome your social anxiety will work best in your life and for your personality (keep in mind that you’ll likely be stepping outside of your comfort zone regardless). It takes tons of practice and dedication, but you’ll find yourself feeling more comfortable in social settings over time.

Here are a few steps you can take on your quest to overcome social awkwardness and introversion.

1. Educate yourself on the root causes of social anxiety.

You probably know all about introversion as a blanket personality trait. If you’ve got social anxiety attached to your introversion (or if you just plain don’t enjoy coming out of your shell), you will benefit from learning about why you can’t seem to open up and be yourself around others.

I recommend starting with the Social Anxiety episode of comedian Paul Gilmartin’s podcast, The Mental Illness Happy Hour with psychologist Dr. Ellen Hendrickson. In it, Dr. Hendrickson discusses the physiological causes of social anxiety in digestible terms.

One detail that stuck with me is a metaphor that she used; during social interactions, the amygdala (or emotion/fear center) activates as a “fire.” For those who can control it, the frontal lobe (or control center) acts as a “fire truck and crew” that can put out the fire and seamlessly slide into conversation. For those of us with social anxiety, our frontal lobes act as more of a “man with a bucket of water” that isn’t as successful at putting out the fire. In short, it’s all about being mindful of your ability to control your thoughts and reactions. Pretty informative, huh?

2. Work in the service industry.

I can almost hear your audible groan at these words, but it’s not all bad! You can do it on a part-time or temporary basis while you’re in school or between career positions. If you work a customer service-type job (or any position that requires working with people frequently), you start to build up a degree of confidence in interacting with others without even thinking about it.

While these skills don’t always transfer seamlessly to socializing with peers and potential friends, they definitely help as a stepping stone to coming out of your shell. While working with the public, your interactions with people are short and, for the most part, routine. After a while, you'll start to become more personable and allow some of your individuality to shine through. It feels more comfortable knowing that the interaction will be short and sweet and that you’ll likely never see the person again. Also, the sheer volume of interactions kind of makes you forget your presumptions about being judged by every person who interacts with you.

RELATED: 3 Signs Your Friend Isn't Being Rude — She's Dealing With Social Anxiety

3. Start fresh with a “new life.”

I put this one in quotation marks because I realize that moving to a new city or state to start with a blank slate isn’t feasible for everyone. You don’t need to make quite as bold a move in order to attain the fresh start that I’m talking about. You could join a new club or start a new job; just come into a setting with new people to interact with regularly telling yourself that you’re going to be the person who you want to be.

These people do not know you as someone quiet or awkward, so you have a chance to present yourself as the social butterfly or whatever type of person that you aspire to be. This method won’t work for everyone and in order to execute it successfully, you’ll need to overcome or repress any fear of judgment. It works best when paired with number one because knowledge and understanding is a key part of overcoming your shyness.

Personally, I did this when I moved away from home and started college. After being the shy kid throughout grade school, I was ready to leap in and make new friends without any judgment based upon my prior self. I told myself that I was the cool, outgoing girl that I always wanted to be, and it actually kind of worked! Soon, you’ll find yourself making the connections that allow you to open up and be your true self, kicking your insecurities to the curb.

4. Talk to a therapist or psychiatrist.

For some, social anxiety is just too much to deal with alone. If steps two and three sound completely undoable to you, you might benefit from some clinical help with your social anxiety.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) tends to help, and a therapist can help guide you through it and practice until you’re able to implement it without much effort. Psychiatrists can help by prescribing anxiety medication if you’re open to the idea, which works best when paired with therapy. There’s no shame in getting the help you need, and you’ll thank yourself (and your clinician) later.

5. Remember that introversion isn’t a bad thing.

There are countless benefits to being introverted. We introverts are insightful and thoughtful, taking the time to think things through before acting or speaking. Appreciate your ability to think deeply and make intimate connections with your closest friends; sometimes those shallow friendships and acquaintanceships aren’t as great as extraverts make them seem.

Also, keep in mind that the self-awareness that often keeps you in your shell is beneficial to you. You aren’t prone to being outwardly egotistical or abashedly irritating, and people appreciate that. Introverts are also more independent on average, so congratulate yourself on being self-sufficient. In all honesty, being extroverted is pretty overrated and glamorized by society and the media. Being confident in your strengths and individuality will allow you to relax and better communicate with those around you.

Being introverted or socially anxious might feel like a huge barrier in your personal and professional life, but it’s important to change the way you think of these traits. Your personality has some flexibility, and you are fully capable of overcoming these obstacles or using them to your advantage. Be patient with yourself and remember that you are your own worst critic; there are plenty of people in your life who love you as your natural self. Allow yourself to blossom into the best version of you!

RELATED: 7 Things People Don't Realize You Do Because You Have Social Anxiety

Emily Van Devender is a writer and Colorado native who writes about pop culture, news and relationship advice. She is interested in politics, feminism, and psychology and enjoys photography and outdoor activities in her spare time.