Social anxiety is a mental health condition where you can feel an overwhelming fear of social situations. It’s a common and distressing problem that can often start in the teenage years and continue through adult life. It is also thought to affect people more introverted by nature more often than extroverts. This may sometimes be the case, but extroverts can also suffer from social anxiety and the intense fear that others are watching and judging.
Social anxiety can affect people of all ages. A young person might avoid after school clubs and study groups while an adult suffering might avoid work outings or giving presentations. In all cases, social anxiety interferes with regular activities, daily life, relationships and can ultimately affect a person’s self-confidence.
Some people may choose to live alone as a method of coping with their anxiety, particularly if they regard themselves as an introvert. Others find themselves living alone because of circumstances outwith their control. Either way, living alone can have a profound impact on how you experience social anxiety.
This article will explore some of the different ways living alone can influence social anxiety.
Living alone – a curse or a choice?
Living alone can affect you quite differently depending on whether or not it was your personal choice to do so.
For example, many introverts choose to live alone and do so because it can minimise their contact with other people, resulting in fewer instances of social anxiety. Solitude in this instance is a personal choice and can produce more perceived benefits than one might expect if they were forced into solitude.
On the other hand, some people find themselves living alone despite a strong desire to live with others. This can occur for a number of reasons. Separation and divorce are two of the main drivers leading to living alone without having chosen to do so.
Being forced to live alone can create a number of problems for people who suffer from social anxiety but at the same time, living alone can also provide a number of opportunities for personal growth. In fact, whether living solo is intentional or unintentional, both can provide opportunities for learning and growth.
At the same time, both will also profoundly impact how a person experiences social anxiety. In some ways, it can be improved while in other ways, living alone can make it more difficult or persistent.
How living alone can influence social anxiety
People who experience social anxiety will generally want to reduce their anxious incidents because it can be uncomfortable to deal with. If one is constantly faced with social situations aggravating their social anxiety, it can become overwhelming.
People who are unable to escape social situations may find their anxiety is constantly triggered. This overwhelming anxiety may lead to issues like emotional outbursts, unhealthy interaction, social withdrawal, or even substance abuse.
One of the easiest ways to avoid social anxiety is to avoid socialising entirely. While this is technically an avoidance behaviour, social isolation can bring relief from the grips and feelings of anxiousness but it might not be the best solution in the long term. However, it can provide a safety bubble that allows the space to unwind or decompress.
Solitude for introverts and extroverts
Living alone will influence you differently depending on your social habits. Introverts naturally tend towards solitude and will therefore be better equipped for living alone. Extroverts, on the other hand, constantly crave social stimulation and may have a harder time adjusting to solitude.
Introverts living alone
Introverts often thrive when they are living alone. Rather than focusing on managing their anxiety, they can dedicate their energy to creative pursuits or hobbies. Since introverts naturally enjoy solitude, they may become overly accustomed to it and forget to socialise entirely. Introverts living alone may have a difficult time building meaningful relationships – or building any relationships at all.
Also, introverts tend to have very active imaginations. Anxiety can be considered a misuse of imagination. One strategy introverts with active imaginations can use is, instead of using their imagination to fear what might go wrong with a social situation, they can use it to redirect their mind to more enjoyable purposes.
Extroverts living alone
Extroverts thrive in social settings and living alone can make them feel lonely. They will tend to spend a lot of time engaged on social media, making phone calls and keeping socially active and engaged. Extroverts living alone may want to get a pet, or even several pets. Extroverts living alone may need help to develop the skills necessary for introspection and self-reflection that can help with dealing with feelings of social anxiety.
Living alone as a coping mechanism
As mentioned, some people may choose to live alone because they feel that way they can better manage their anxiety. However, it’s important to consider that this, alone, isn’t really managing the problem. Instead, it is simply avoiding exposing yourself to any situations in which you might become anxious. In the short term, this might be a good solution if your life situation was extremely social and your debilitating anxiety was interfering with your life.
However, as a long-term solution, this might actually make things worse. As anxious and scared as they often make us feel, other people can teach us many things. There is much to be gained from learning and connecting with others. Completely isolating yourself from human connection may be comfortable, but ultimately, you’re sacrificing an abundance of life opportunities.
Living alone may aggravate social anxiety
If you’re living alone, then you’ll surely get very comfortable with yourself. You may become so comfortable in your own space and with your own company that you may become distanced from the company or presence of others.
While your social anxiety may be uncomfortable, completely withdrawing from any sort of social connection may set unhealthy precedence of too much solitude. After spending weeks, months, or years by yourself, you might find it extremely difficult or entirely unbearable to socialise with others again.
The solution – using solitude to overcome anxiety
Moderation is key. This phrase runs through not just for drinking coffee and eating chocolate, but for socialising as well. Social isolation can be very comforting, and even addictive.
However, the most important thing that you can do is to make your time constructive and valuable. Don’t simply plan to avoid people for the rest of your life. Instead, use your alone time to practice self-reflection, meditation, and self-inquiry to find out the roots of your anxiety and figure out ways to address the different reasons you establish.
Anxiety always has a cause which means there will always be a solution. Of course, you can push anxiety onto the back burner and ignore it by reducing your opportunities to socialise for the rest of your life. Or, as Joseph Campbell might say, “you can take a sword into the depths of your subconscious mind, find the dragon that is your anxiety, and destroy it once and for all.”
Extroverts may find this exceedingly difficult because they are used to having people around to bounce off their thoughts and ideas. When it comes to exploring inner worlds, they have nobody except themselves. However, being comfortable on your own is a valuable skill, and practising being alone is one of the best reasons for an extrovert to live by themselves.
If you struggle with social anxiety, your first instinct might be to hide away from people for the rest of your life. Doing this might help you to avoid your anxiety, but you’re also avoiding a multitude of life opportunities. Use your solitude to identify the cause of your anxiety so you can find ways to overcome it once and for all.