Anxiety is not the same for everyone.
Extroverts and introverts have different ways of manifesting their anxieties; therefore, they have different ways of coping with them.
For the extrovert, anxiety is turbulence, thick clouds of emotions with lots and lots of drama overwhelming everything and everybody around. So loud, convoluted and confusing can an extrovert’s anxiety become, that even she has difficulty finding the reasonable, rational ground. In the throes of such anxiety, it can be very hard to differentiate the ground of reality from the stormy emotional clouds.
An anxious extrovert:
· not shy talking about her feelings, and does it a lot
· is defensive, justifying her point of view over and over again even when nobody challenged it
· seeks constant approval; when that doesn’t come promptly, she becomes annoyed and even irritated
· often thinks and talks in circles, rehashing again and again details of an event or thought as a self-assurance that she did not make a mistake
· her thinking is dominated by fear: fear of not being liked; fear of not succeeding well enough in her intentions or failing miserably; fear of becoming irrelevant or obsolete while being secretly laughed at; and many other nameless, purely subjective fears.
For the introvert, anxiety is like a deep, painful internal churning. The introvert carefully hides his anxiety from other people’s eyes by remaining silent about it. He is often overwhelmed by it. He is ashamed of not knowing how to cope with it. He is overridden with guilt for keeping such a secret from those who love him and could help him, yet the humiliation of having a problem he knows not how to solve stops him from sharing it with them. With silence and time anxiety grows like an infection.
The more he allows himself to dwell in guilt and shame, the more overpowering his anxiety grows. At some point, the anxiety becomes so deeply rooted in his being, that it begins to work its deadly poison quietly and steadily outwards, slowly infecting the whole of the bearer's emotional being. Eventually he often fails to distinguish the real situation from his very distorted view of it.
When I hear one of my patients describing his anxiety in these terms, I think of a medical analogy of his anxiety with a very invasive infection produced by anaerobe bacteria that thrives in closed spaces of the body and in the absence of oxygen. While for most organisms oxygen is essential to their survival, for the anaerobe bacteria it is lethal. These infections can be produced by minor cuts or random contamination so the infected person may not even be aware when it happens. These infections begin in a localized area, but they spread very fast if not treated quickly. Carried in the blood stream, they can end up affecting the entire body and produce very difficult to treat abscesses with a potentially lethal outcome.
When my anxious introvert patients talk about their anxiety, in my mind appears this image of a figurative abscess produced by a highly aggressive “anxiety bacteria.” It is as deadly for the mind as the poisonous effect of an anaerobe abscess is for the physical body. The question then becomes: How much damage has the “anxious bacteria” already produced in my patient’s mind and emotional life?
What can the extrovert and the introvert do to quiet the mind and get rid of anxiety?
If we continue the metaphor, we can find two different ways to deal with it:
a) "Clouds or Ground" --for the extrovert with anxiety
b) "Fresh Oxygen" --for the introvert with anxiety.
The "clouds or ground" method helps the extrovert bring the calming winds of reason into their emotional storm. Getting in touch with reality and reason is calming because reality is nearly always better than what an anxious person fears--the worst case scenario—which is intensely feared but seldom happens in the real world.
If you are an extrovert suffering from too much anxiety, ask yourself “What is real?” It is a simple question people with anxiety don’t usually ask themselves. Their anxiety has substituted itself for and has become their reality. As the anxious emotions cloud every thought, the anxious extrovert becomes confused about what to believe: what he feels is true or what he reasons is true. Questioning anxiety distorted reality and contrasting it with rational reality is an important reality check exercise. It can greatly reduce the power of anxiety over mind and allows the power of your own mind to grow and take over the thought process instead. That’s why, when in doubt, call for help and trust your rational mind. Under the calming, steady wind of reason, the clouds of anxiety part and it becomes easier to separate the agonizing worries from reality--the airy, emotional "clouds" from the solid “ground" of reality.
"Clouds or ground?" To an extrovert suffering from anxiety, this can become the key question to confront the anxiety and diminish its power.
As soon as you question your anxiety, its convoluted clouds start to clear and the solid ground of reason begins to appear.
For the anxious introvert, I recommend using the "fresh oxygen" method.
How does a doctor in an emergency room treat a closed abscess produced by anaerobes? He opens it up. The most deadly antibiotic for these bacteria is oxygen. If the abscess is still localized, opening and cleaning the wound usually is enough to save the patient.
For the anxious introvert, the mental abscesses produced by anxiety also need to be opened and exposed to the refreshing “oxygen” of realistic thinking. Allowing the anxious feelings to surface, overcoming the shame and guilt they produced, and discussing them openly with loved ones or a therapist or a counselor or a very good friend is the equivalent of feeding “fresh oxygen” into an anaerobe abscess and sterilizing it. The anxiety ceases to hurt as much; and when confronted with an objective perspective of reality, it greatly diminishes in strength.
If you recognize yourself as an introvert dealing with anxiety, you may consider opening up about it-- initiating and conducting an objective reality check. Because of the subjective nature of anxiety, it will not survive rational thinking. Trust what your rational mind recognizes to be true, and the anxiety will loosen its grip on you. If you continue on this path, you will eventually clear all the fears and anxiety away from your mind until they no longer can hurt you. And if some new form of anxiety or fear tries to sneak in again, instead of nursing it in silence, you will know how to give it a healthy dose of “fresh oxygen” so that it will not be able to poison your mind again.
I hope these suggestions make sense to you. Try them and see if they are right for you. Feel free to modify them so they better fit your own needs. I am eager to hear your feedback about the experience.
Using the FingerPaint application on my iPad, I have done all the drawings in this post. I hope you have found them helpful and fun.