Picture this. You’re at a party, and you think you can easily identify the introverts and extroverts in the crowd.
The extroverts are chatting it up, while the introverts are sitting more quietly, right? Well, it’s not so black-and-white.
Just because extroverts generally like to have lively conversations doesn’t mean they’re exempt from getting overwhelmed in group settings, explains Erica Sloan, associate lifestyle editor of WELL + GOOD (www.wellandgood.com).
“In fact, extroverts can have a certain kind of social anxiety all their own,” explains Sloan.
That’s because outgoing people tend to be more involved in planning and organizing events. As hosts, they also exhibit an urgency to make sure all their guests are enjoying themselves – and that conversations keep flowing.
Sound familiar? I’ve done my share of organizing and executing events — both professionally and personally. When I’m hosting, I tend to go into overdrive on preparations before the event.
And, although I’m getting better at being relaxed during the event, I still catch myself looking around the room. Does everyone have a drink? Do they have someone to talk to? Have they tried the appetizers?
I always wonder how those hosts who stand behind a kitchen counter, preparing a recipe, can still join in a conversation with those around them. Talk about multitasking! It seems that something would have to suffer – a botched recipe or major distractions with the conversations.
“Extroverts are more comfortable initiating, and they have a drive to facilitate group interactions,” says clinical psychologist Laurie Helgoe, Ph.D. Helgoe is the author of “Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life is Your Hidden Strength,” and an associate professor of behavioral sciences at the Ross University School of Medicine.
“That external-focused energy can also make them hyperaware of people’s needs and overly vigilant in satisfying them,” relays Dr. Helgoe. “There’s a part of the brain that gets activated when an extrovert seeks and achieves this kind of external award.”
Yet, it can be exhausting!
“Our current, post-quarantine world is already laden with a layer of baseline anxiety surrounding the ‘right’ way to emerge from a pandemic,” explains Sloan. “And the extra uncertainty about the rules of engagement right now could make initiating a gathering seem like an insurmountable obstacle.”
Levels of anxiety
For clarification, I’m not talking about social anxiety disorders which exhibit the following symptoms and may require clinical attention: overwhelming feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, or depression which interfere with daily lives.
The word “anxious” is defined as “experiencing worry, uneasiness or nervousness, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.”
We’ve all had situational instances in which we got nervous — worrying about a test during school days, preparing for an important presentation at work or meeting in-laws.
When you become anxious over too many things, though, and negative thoughts start taking over every waking moment of your life, that’s when this behavior can turn into a chronic problem — an anxiety disorder.
Dealing with situational anxiety
Back to our earlier example of situational social anxiety. If you’re too busy worrying about everyone else’s entertainment, you’ll miss out on your own. Take a look at these tips, developed by Dr. Helgoe, to deal with social anxiety as an extrovert.
Recognize the limits of your control
No matter how hard you try, you have limited control over the experience of others, and that’s okay.
“Yes, you can see to it that people have beverages and places to sit, for example, but there’s always going to be that person who isn’t having a good time because their friend dragged them there, or they’re in a bad mood,” says Dr. Helgoe, “and that is not your responsibility. Also, if they’re introverts, they may just be processing the situation internally.”
Adjust your expectations
“Awkwardness is bound to trickle into some of the gatherings you’re hosting or attending these days — after more than a year without much social engagement,” explains Sloan.
“Cut yourself some slack and start slow,” says Dr. Helgoe. “Not every first get-together will feel totally natural.”
Helgoe also recommends getting on the same page with potential guests about a level of social intensity that works for the group — perhaps a smaller gathering, rather than a big party. That way, expectations are clear from the beginning.
Pass the baton
The responsibility doesn’t always have to rest on your shoulders to plan and organize everything. Remember that you can ask for support.
“In my group of friends, I became the one always asking when we were going to do our call and coordinating our schedules during quarantine, and everyone started calling me the glue,” relays Dr. Helgoe. “But I got tired of that after a while and asked if we could share glue duty. So now we’ve started taking turns being ‘Elmer’ — which has been incredibly helpful.”
The most important element for successful gatherings
So, for those of you who experience situational social anxiety from time to time, what makes for a great get together? Maybe it’s the food. Or the furnishings. Wrong. Research shows the number one element is a relaxed host.
If you’ve spent days planning, shopping, cooking and cleaning — and show up frazzled – that’s what guests will remember. When it comes down to crunch time — and you have limited bandwidth — it may be better to take a hot bath to calm yourself before your gathering, rather than vacuuming that carpet again.
And be sure to end on a sweet note. Save as much of the clean up as possible until after guests have departed. This may be difficult for you control freaks out there, although it sends a strong signal if you’re in the kitchen cleaning up — and ignoring your company. Guests will always remember the vibe.
And that goes for both introverts and extroverts.