Do you really want to go to that New Year’s Eve party? If you’re an introvert who experiences anxiety this might not be an easy question to answer.
First, when you experience anxiety what does it feel like in your body? Is it a tightening in your gut? A lifting across the back of your shoulders? A sensation of closing in of your whole body? Scan your body and ask what anxiety feels like to you.
If you’re an introvert who experiences anxiety do you think that means there’s something wrong with you? Introverts often assume that they shouldn’t be feeling anxious in whatever “normal” situation they’re in and therefore conclude that if they are feeling anxious then something must be wrong with them. Or they might think that the anxiety itself is what’s wrong with them, as if it weren’t related to anything else.
But what if your anxiety is right? What if those sensations of anxiety you feel in your body are trying to guide you? Your body has knowledge of which your conscious mind is unaware. What if those sensations you label “anxiety” are trying to tell you something about yourself?
If you experience anxiety on a consistent basis it can be challenging to tell when your anxiety has shifted and it could benefit you to listen. It’s a little like the story of the boy who cried wolf, but with a twist. If the boy has cried wolf so many times before without reason then why would you listen to him now? Except what if there always was a wolf those other times but you were looking in the wrong place? What if you were looking across the field so you didn’t see the wolf because this wolf was hiding in the trees? You thought wolves were only on the ground so you wouldn’t even look in the trees, nor would you believe the boy had he told you a wolf was in the trees because that didn’t fit your concept of a wolf’s behavior. So you’d assume something was wrong with the boy, or that he was lying. Except the boy knew something you didn’t. He saw the wolf even if you couldn’t and he sounded the alarm.
In a similar way the anxiety you feel might be your body’s way of sounding an alarm. Just because you don’t consciously perceive the cause doesn’t mean there isn’t one. Don’t be so quick to dismiss it and claim the alarm sounded for “no reason.” You might be looking in the wrong place. You might only be looking in the places you’ve been taught to expect. You’re looking on the ground when things are hiding in the trees. And why would you look in the trees? No one else around you has wolves in their trees! They’re going to think you’re nuts if you start looking for a wolf in a tree. Who ever heard of such a thing? Even if you find one others might not believe you. They might claim it’s your own fault that you have a wolf in your tree, as if you did something to put it there.
If you’re an introvert who experiences anxiety this might be your experience. You’ve been educated by others to believe you should feel at ease in certain situations and if you don’t feel at ease then something must be wrong with you. Perhaps you quickly assume that if you can’t find an obvious reason you’re uncomfortable or anxious then something must be wrong with you. Now is the time to listen to your body instead of what you’ve been taught to believe about yourself.
So do you want to go to that New Year’s Eve party? Introverts, particularly highly sensitive introverts (including myself), often feel anxiety at the thought of going to a party and then decide that means something must be wrong with them. Then that means the anxiety is something to conquer and control. Instead of listening to it and empathizing with it (and yourself) you try to stop it and rein it in. But there’s nothing wrong with you. That anxiety is a good friend who showed up to let you know something’s wrong, not with you, but with your logic, with what you’re trying to convince yourself of. If you’re trying to make yourself go to that party and you’re experiencing that gut wrenching, clenching, tightening sensation you call anxiety, that’s your body saying to you, “Hey, what’s going on? Something’s not right here.” Stop and listen. Introverts often try to convince themselves they should be extroverts and do the things that extroverts do. And that they should not only do the things extroverts do, they should enjoy doing them.
So while you’re trying to convince yourself you should definitely want to go to the party you’re also experiencing these sensations called anxiety. Then it can seem like the problem is the anxiety, while the real problem is that you’re trying to force yourself to do something you don’t actually want to do. Maybe there’s a little voice in your head saying, “I’d really rather stay home and chill out.” But you respond, “No! We’re going! It’s New Year’s Eve! We’re supposed to celebrate!” And then you feel more anxiety. That’s like an extrovert trying to convince themself that instead of going to a party (which they’d enjoy), what’s really best for them is to sit at home for four hours, all alone, in a totally quiet room. For most extroverts I know that would be an anxiety-inducing scenario. That would be awful for them. The difference is not many extroverts would actually spend much time trying to convince themselves that that’s what they should want to do. Most I know would say screw staying home and just go to the party. They wouldn’t experience that internal fight of what they should do vs what they want to do. That fight is often the anxiety.
So do you really want to go to that party? If you imagine going and you get a clenching, heavy, or tightening feeling in your body that you call anxiety, that’s a signal that no, you don’t want to go. It’s not a sign that something’s wrong with you. You don’t need to try to fix yourself or get it under control. You don’t have to fight it or argue with it or try to convince yourself that you enjoy something you dislike. Instead you can listen to it. It takes some skill to listen to your body, especially if you’re used to listening to the outside world. Often the answer isn’t simple either. Maybe you don’t want to be over-stimulated at a party with a ton of people but you also don’t want to be by yourself. In that case you may experience sensations of anxiety with either of those scenarios. That’s your body still telling you you’re not on the right path. For example, what you need might be connection with someone else. If that’s the case then neither being alone at home nor going to a party are good solutions. Your body is trying to help guide you.
My partner (who’s an extrovert) and I have found a solution than generally works well for both of us in this type of situation. I may want to go out with him to a gathering but know that I don’t enjoy staying as long as he does. Through listening to my body I’ve found that two hours at a party is generally my upper limit. So before we go we agree that after two hours has passed I’ll leave. He can leave or stay depending on what he wants in the moment. If he wants to stay and we drove together then he’ll drive me home and return to the party. This has helped me feel much calmer going to a party knowing that I won’t be trapped well beyond my limit. When I give myself this option my anxiety disappears.
So please stop assuming that these sensations we call anxiety mean there’s something wrong with you. They might be showing up to help guide you on your personal path to your true self. Your path, not someone else’s.