I’m an introvert. I also have an anxiety disorder. While those two things are related for me, that’s not the case for everyone. It’s a common misconception that anxiety and introversion always go hand in hand, but that’s not true! I can’t tell you the number of times someone who knows I’m an introvert heard I have anxiety and said, “Oh, that makes sense.” Let’s dig into this stereotype and debunk it.
Anxiety is a mental illness. Introversion is not.
The definition of an introvert is someone who “prefers calm, minimally stimulating environments.” The definition of an anxiety disorder is someone who “displays excessive anxiety or worry, most days for at least 6 months, about a number of things such as personal health, work, social interactions, and everyday routine life circumstances.”
Being an introvert means you are the most comfortable under certain circumstances, while anxiety means you are rarely comfortable at all, depending on the level of severity. While you can certainly experience both at the same time (like me!), I want to make it clear that introversion and anxiety are two very different life experiences.
I can see where some of the confusion can come from. Introverts thrive in calm situations and need alone time to recharge. Many people with anxiety also thrive in calm situations and need alone time to recharge. But that’s not always the case for someone with anxiety — some people may feel trapped in their mind when they are alone or would rather move around and stay busy. It all depends on the person and their feelings should be validated.
Extroverts can have anxiety too.
Assuming anxiety and introversion go hand in hand can even further the stereotype that outgoing extroverted people don’t have anxiety. Again, this is simply not true. An anxiety disorder can affect someone no matter what their personality type looks like.
It can be harder for people to imagine the bubbly person at the frat party with an anxiety disorder, but their (and everyone else’s) mental health experience is just as valid as someone who better “fits” a stereotype. Many extroverted people have a hard time admitting to their anxiety and seeking help for it because of these stereotypes.
Mental illness doesn’t fit into a box, nor does introversion.
Any sort of stereotype about mental illness is at best ignorant and at worst incredibly damaging to the people involved. No one should feel like their mental illness isn’t as “real” or “difficult” as someone else’s because they don’t fit into a tiny box of what anxiety “should” look like.
Personality types are very similar — while introversion and extroversion fit a certain classification (just like mental illnesses), there is no “right” or “wrong” way to be an introvert. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been told “I never would have thought you were an introvert!” by friends and coworkers. Maybe my solo travels around the world and my bubbliness at parties with friends is what throws people off.
But while sometimes I fit an extroverted stereotype, I am absolutely and unequivocally an introvert. I need alone time from even the people I love the most and I’m the most comfortable by myself cozying up with a good book. Heck, I even need space from my dog sometimes.
How can introverts help debunk this stereotype?
I know being an introvert and speaking out about things doesn’t sound great to everyone reading this, but if you feel comfortable talking about being an introvert, go for it! Sharing experiences is the best way for people to connect and break down walls of misunderstanding.
The same goes for people with anxiety (again, if you feel comfortable). Writing about my introversion and anxiety has been a great way for me to speak out about things I don’t feel comfortable saying in front of a crowd or in person.
Everyone has at least one introverted friend and everyone knows at least one person with anxiety. (Okay, I don’t know if that’s true for sure, but it’s probably a good guess.) My point is, many people won’t take the time to learn about something or someone different from them until they have a reason. But many people do have that reason, they just don’t realize it yet!
Never assume people are going to live the same experience as the one you’ve been taught by the media, family, or even your own experiences. Negative stereotypes don’t always come from a bad place — it’s often just not having enough information to make a rational and compassionate thought.
Just because someone is an introvert, it doesn’t mean they have anxiety. Just because someone has anxiety, it doesn’t mean they’re an introvert. Everyone is doing their best to work through their own life experience and stereotypes like these don’t make that any easier. Be compassionate and stay open-minded about everyone.