Unpacking Social Anxiety (Because, ya know, that shit gets heavy after awhile)

We – my husband, kids, and I – just finished up a phenomenal visit with my in-laws. We enjoyed great weather – the best we’ve had this summer, honestly – fantastic food, and plenty of fun activities on the river (if, by “fun,” you mean careening down a sizable waterfall in a flimsy 2-person inner tube).

Still, toward the end of the weekend, I began to feel not quite myself.

I didn’t notice it, at first. My husband was the one to point out that I was “sharper” than usual about small things that usually left me calm and unruffled. I became easily irritated. I couldn’t make insignificant decisions (like which picnic table to choose at the lake) without breaking a sweat.

What was wrong with me? Was it PMS? Was it the result of not having eaten enough? Was I simply hangry?

Nope. It was nothin’ but good, old-fashioned social anxiety – one of the exciting realities of life as a semi-introvert.

Most folks in my life probably wouldn’t guess that I’m an introvert. This is largely because I’m almost an equal split, 50/50 ambivert. If I had to guess, I’d say I’m about 60/40 introvert/ extrovert, and this proportion allows me to manage the demands of an extroverted world fairly well.

Most days, I can navigate society without a hiccup, making confident eye contact, greeting strangers, and sparking up mild banter with any grocery store clerk who comes my way.

But I have to be careful. After a lifetime spent testing my limits, I know what can happen when I lean too heavily on my extroverted nature and neglect the needs of my inner introvert.

Which is what happened this weekend.

As much as I adore making conversation with my in-laws, I reached a point when my brain was trying to signal that it had enough social interaction.

At about the 48-hour mark, I began feeling like a caged animal.

Suddenly, my husband’s totally innocuous questions about what to make for dinner and my son’s incessant need for me to watch him throw a paper airplane across the yard made me want to set this whole place on fire while I sped away toward the horizon.

Now, that’s not something I’d actually follow through on… I’m just illustrating what it can feel like to hit that emotional boiling point – the one that makes me come out swinging every time.

So, what can ya do about it? Fortunately, my social anxiety is relatively mild. I know this because I’ve got relatives who suffer from a full-blown, can’t-leave-the-house-for-days, won’t-stop-obsessing-over-every-tiny-social-interaction form of social anxiety. It’s debilitating.

These days, when everyone is so focused on social media and practically everything we do is up for public scrutiny, I wonder whether there’s a single person in this country who doesn’t experience some form of social anxiety…

Mine is manageable, as long as I know and respect my limits. This means acknowledging that, although I may be bursting with excitement about an upcoming camping trip with friends or impending visits from family, I’ll need plenty of personal space…

… something nobody should ever feel embarrassed about. Knowing (and asking for) what you need is part of being a responsible adult. Advocating for yourself in these situations is absolutely key and totally necessary for personal health (and, let’s be honest, the health of your relationships).

And it’s something I’m still very much learning to do, even into my thirties.

At 22, I’d never dare tell my roommates I was going on a walk alone, or heading up to bed early.

The social pressure to allllllllllways be together far outweighed my need for solitude and quiet.

Now, though, I’m a mom. I’m married. I’m finally allowed to be boring. In some ways, this benefits me, because nobody blinks an eye if I bow out to be alone. And, for the moments I feel self-conscious about my need for space, I can always use work as an excuse.

Some other good coping skills I’ve learned are to take my own mode of transportation (when possible) on group trips, try to make sure I have my own room/ tent, and build in blocks of time to do solo activities (like going for a morning run).

Tips like these help me manage my social anxiety a little bit better, so I can avoid becoming a wild-eyed goblin hiding the corner mad-dogging everyone.

And they’re tips I hope to share with and model for my son, who is just beginning his life journey as an introverted-extrovert. My hope is that he doesn’t have to go through the nonsensical experience of denying his inner introvert (and periodically throwing “I’ve had too much stimulation” tantrums) in order to build meaningful, respectful relationships with others and himself.

What about you? Any tips you can offer for giving your introverted side what it needs? Share them below!

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