Have you ever had a great idea or question at a work meeting but hesitated to bring it up because you had negative thoughts such as, I’ll sound stupid, I’ll appear incompetent, or Someone might laugh at me?
These negative thoughts are common and may indicate social anxiety disorder, or SAD. An intense fear of social interaction characterizes social anxiety. When this phobia manifests in the workplace, it is referred to as social anxiety at work.
When you have social anxiety at work, you may experience intense worry that leaves you drained and anxious and may interfere with your ability to perform your duties in a professional setting.
Fortunately, there are many resources you can utilize in managing social anxiety disorder at work. Below, you’ll find 7 practical tips to successfully handle workplace social anxiety, but first, here are some critical warning signs to look out for to determine whether you have social anxiety.
What Does Social Anxiety Look Like at Work?
It is normal to be a little nervous before giving a speech in front of your coworkers, and you may even say a few cringe things and berate yourself for it later. However, social anxiety actively interferes with your work performance and sometimes may even inform your job preference, leading to avoidance of specific tasks and even promotions.
Here’s how you can recognize and rise above the struggle of social anxiety at work.
Fear of Disapproval and Negative Evaluation
One of the most common ways social anxiety shows up at work is when someone experiences an intense fear of disapproval and negative evaluation. These fears can manifest in different ways:
1. Fear of Speaking Up
People with social anxiety may have the best ideas to contribute but may not speak up due to fear of negative judgment.
2. Fear of Making Mistakes
People with SAD fear making mistakes, especially in front of colleagues. They may have the best presentations, but due to social phobia, they may over-practice and still feel overwhelmed during team meetings.
3. Fear of Being the Center of Attention
With social anxiety disorders, social situations always feel unnerving. The degree may vary, but people who experience social anxiety do not like being the center of attention. They may experience physical symptoms such as sweating, dry mouth, and an inability to maintain eye contact.
4. Fear of Rejection
With SAD, attending networking events, especially with new people, is an uphill task. Individuals with SAD have recurring anxious thoughts stemming from fear of rejection. They struggle at social events as they feel nervous engaging in small talk due to concerns about perceived social rejection.
Is It Normal to Have Social Anxiety at Work?
Social anxiety disorder, or social phobia, is a mental health condition affecting individuals of all ages and backgrounds. Approximately 7% of American adults, or roughly 15 million people in America, experience SAD. These are high numbers, underscoring the significance of addressing social anxiety at work and its impact on individuals’ professional lives.
The Good News
It’s never too late to overcome social anxiety at work. In fact, it is easier to overcome SAD at work due to a phenomenon known as the mere exposure effect or the familiarity principle.
According to this research on the principle of familiarity, spending more time with individuals can positively impact how we perceive and evaluate them, even if they belong to a previously disliked group.
What this means is that repeated exposure to your coworkers tends to increase familiarity, leading to more positive attitudes and perceptions.
How to Deal With Social Anxiety at Work Effectively
Here are simple ways to manage social anxiety in your work day:
1. Understand Your Triggers
Social anxiety looks different for everyone. Identifying your triggers is a fundamental step in managing SAD. Examples of triggers are speaking in front of large groups, giving work presentations, or meeting new people.
2. Challenge Negative Thoughts
A study on socially anxious people showed that the expectation of being disliked may cause an actual dislike in others. Work on challenging negative thoughts, especially unfounded internal criticism and feelings of inadequacy.
3. Try Gradual Exposure
People with social anxiety tend to use self-protective behaviors in social interactions. These safety behaviors may look like avoidance and escape, limited self-disclosure, and selective attention. These behaviors affect confidence and reinforce SAD in a professional setting.
Gradual exposure is used in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to help individuals cope with intense fears. You can start by gradually exposing yourself to the situations that trigger your anxiety and use healthy coping strategies to overcome stress.
4. Develop Coping Strategies
Deep breathing exercises, mindfulness techniques, or progressive muscle relaxation are some easy strategies you can use in any setting to cope with SAD. Find what works best for you and incorporate them into your daily routine.
You may also notice that your anxiety worsens with new or unstructured events, such as unscheduled meetings and impromptu visits by unfamiliar people. Simple coping strategies such as paced breathing come in handy when you do not have the luxury of preparing for an interaction beforehand.
5. Enhance Social Skills
Social skills training, or SST, is used in many settings to assist people with SAD in navigating social interactions. You can enhance your social skills through conscious efforts such as active listening, maintaining eye contact, and engaging in meaningful conversations. Better social skills boost your confidence and can help reduce anxiety and self-consciousness.
6. Practice Self-Compassion
Overcoming SAD at work is a tough journey, and you may still experience debilitating anxiety despite your best efforts. Treat yourself with understanding, patience, and kindness, and avoid self-criticism. Incorporate a self-care routine, especially after a particularly challenging day.
7. Consider Professional Help
If social anxiety at work significantly impacts your job performance and quality of life, consider seeking professional help. Consult with a therapist or counselor. Professionals can provide guidance, support, and evidence-based treatments like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or medication, if appropriate. Here are some resources and hotlines to access professional help for social anxiety at work.