Fortunately, in the last few years, anxiety has become more accepted and normalized. However, there’s still a stereotype out there that attempts to put all people with Anxiety Disorders in one small box: that those with anxiety are all shy, quiet, reserved, and introverted. However, I am living proof that that’s not always true.
I have always been a loud outgoing person. I grew up on the stage and never met a stranger. And yet, I have an anxiety disorder. Most of the time when I tell people this, they can’t believe it because I seem too confident and gregarious to have anxiety. Whelp, ladies and gents, that’s why stereotypes suck. People often stop seeing each individual person and only see the box they’ve created.
If the following relates to you, then you might be an extrovert with anxiety, as well:
1. You talk too much
There are a lot of people with anxiety who have a hard time speaking in front of crowds, talking to new people, being on the phone…basically anything around talking to people who aren’t in a small inner circle. For me, it’s far easier to
talk to strangers than people I know kinda well. I can go up on stage and play any character, never missing a beat, but ask me to speak as myself and I’m riddled with anxiety. The worst part is that the more nervous I get, the more I talk. I accidentally overshare way more often than I’d like to admit, mainly because my anxiety kicks in and I start babbling about whatever comes to mind.
This has led people to believe that I’m wildly confident, open about all my flaws, and fearless of judgement. Ha! The truth is I’m anxious and terrified the entire time, but I just can’t stop myself from talking. And the more I talk, the more anxious I get as I recognize that I’m rambling on and oversharing, which only leads to me rambling and oversharing even more. I have spent many a night cursing myself for something horrifying I said when anxious, even years and years after the original conversation took place.
So, people who told me my entire life “you talk too much,” I would have to say I agree. But sometimes, I just can’t stop myself.
2. You have “resting nice face”
This Buzzfeed article sums up the problems of the little recognized “Resting Nice Face” pretty well. Add in anxiety and you’ve got a frustrating combo of conflicting ideas.
I smile at people all the time. I wish I could say that I’m always smiling because I’m always happy and confident or that I’m just trying to bring cheer to everyone I meet, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes I smile because I think I might know you and I’m anxious that if I don’t smile you’ll think that I’m a horrible human being and run off to tell everyone just how much of a monster I am until everyone hates me. Sometimes I smile because I was zoned out when you suddenly glanced at me and smiling is the first thing I can think of to make you think that I’m not a creeper or in the midst of a breakdown. Sometimes I smile because I’m scared and I truly hope that, if I smile, you’ll like me and therefore be less likely to hurt me. Yep, anxiety takes you from 0-60 pretty damn fast.
This is another habit of mine that has tricked people into thinking I am confident, friendly, and sure of myself. Little do they realize how much anxiety drives it. It has also led to uncomfortable situations where strangers are taken in by my welcoming attitude and will share things that I am not prepared to hear, but I’m too anxious to tell them to stop or to walk away so I just sit there, smiling, while waiting for the conversation to end or death to come.
3. The FOMO is real
“FOMO,” aka “Fear of Missing Out,” is another strange dilemma in outgoing people with anxiety where two opposing ideas wrestle for attention. Before going out and socializing, particularly with people I don’t know or don’t know well, I’m riddled with the anxiety of what might be. I play over possible conversations in my head, plan out for worst-case scenarios, and rehearse important things ahead of time like pronouncing names correctly or remembering how we met. Once at the social event, I am consumed with the anxiety that everyone is going to discover what an awkward mess I truly am. Did I laugh enough at that joke? Or did I laugh too much? I don’t know what that word means, did they notice that I don’t know what it means?? Will they see how much I’m sweating?! These questions, and more, race through my mind for most of the event and lead to the over-talking, oversharing, and over-smiling mentioned above.
And yet, as much as I stress about going to, and getting through, an event, I’m filled with a whole different kind of anxiety around not going. I start to worry that someone will be mad that I didn’t show up, that I’ve let people down, that people will realize they’re better off without me, that my friends will stop inviting me places, or that something amazing will happen and I’ll miss it. I mean, what if it turned out to be the best night of my life? How can I not go?? I struggle to leave an event, especially if I’m having fun, because I worry that I’ll end up regretting it.
I get this little recognized type of anxiety I like to call the “carpe diem anxiety.” It’s where I frantically worry that I am not seizing each day enough, that I’m not savoring each breath like I’m supposed to, that life is going by fast and maybe I haven’t done enough with it. I spiral into stressing about how there are things I’ve done that I’ll never be able to experience in the same way again, and what if I didn’t enjoy them enough the first time around? Am I just forever ruined? Is my life just passing me by, or am I really living it?? Existential crisis are common place for me.
4. You’re a social chameleon
For my entire life, I’ve had the ability to fit in, at least partially, with most groups I socialized with. While this is sometimes a good thing, it can also come at the expense of me ignoring my own personal or moral boundaries. If I’m in a group and someone brings up an idea or says something that I don’t agree with, my anxiety kicks in. I worry about what will happen if I tell them ‘no,’ or walk away, or disagree? I become terrified that they won’t like me, that they’ll hate me, even, and I become anxious of what might happen if they do. That includes letting people treat me poorly, make fun of me, and take advantage of me. I’ve been part of multiple “friend” groups where I was basically the punching bag for cruel jokes, but my anxiety around being alone or being hated led me to put up with it for far longer than I should have.
To an outsider, I looked like a vivacious social butterfly who gets along with everybody, but they couldn’t see how few genuine connections I had because I would only let most people see the bits of myself that they found agreeable. Very few people saw the whole me. I use past tense here because this is one problem that I have made great improvements on in the past few years. Maintaining healthy boundaries and asserting my needs is still difficult, but I continue to get better at it each and every day.
Now, you may find yourself saying, “why is she complaining? A type of anxiety where you appear confident? I’ll take it!” There are definitely some benefits of this type of anxiety, but there are also a lot of downsides. The most important downside being that it is much harder to get people to take your anxiety seriously. For a long time, I didn’t even recognize these symptoms as being anxiety related, because they looked so different from what I was told most anxious people looked like.
Just as there is no one way to be disabled, there is no one way to have an Anxiety Disorder. Most of my anxiety stems from my PTSD and the abuse I’ve endured, which has left me with inappropriate ‘life or death’ feelings around people liking me or, at least, being happy. Anxiety comes from multiple sources and shows itself in many different ways. Don’t discount someone else’s experience just because it doesn’t look the way you think it should. Bottom line: you have no idea what someone else is living through, so start listening more than judging.
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