How to Deal with Social Anxiety at Work

Social Anxiety in the Workplace

Takeaway: Anxiety is normal and is something we can experience at anytime. The goal of anxiety is to alert us to potential threats. Anxiety consists of thoughts, physical sensations, and behaviors. Anxiety can become problematic when it interferes with our lives and/or when it causes us lots of distress. If you are experiencing anxiety in your work setting, it is important to break away from behaviors and thoughts that keep your anxiety spiraling.


Table of Contents

  1. What is social anxiety and how is it maintained?

  2. What are commonly feared situations at work?

  3. What is the difference between shyness and social anxiety disorder?

  4. What are strategies for dealing with social anxiety at work?


What is social anxiety and how is it maintained?

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Social Anxiety at Work

Social Anxiety Disorder can be defined as an intense fear or anxiety about one or more social situations in which the sufferer is exposed to possible scrutiny that could result in them feeling humiliated or embarrassed by others. The person fears that they will act in a way or show anxiety symptoms that will negatively be evaluated and because of this, the social situation is avoided or endured with intense fear or anxiety. Social Anxiety is maintained by avoidance (opting out of anxiety producing situations), safety behaviors (small avoidance behaviors performed with the intent of reducing the likelihood of the feared outcome) and unhelpful thoughts.

What are commonly feared situations at work?

As a therapist that treats high achievers struggling with anxiety, I often hear my clients say, "I tend to focus on every little mistake I can make and assume that everyone else is judging me." Going into any situation with this pressure is stressful and when you bring it to the workplace, it can make your anxiety seem unbearable. The following is not an exhaustive list of commonly feared situations at work but these are common ones I hear my clients describe in sessions:

  • Talking to authority figures and supervisors

  • Presenting in front of co-workers

  • Speaking up in meetings and being the center of attention

  • Having to perform under pressure

  • Attending work social functions and get togethers

What is the difference between shyness and social anxiety?

Woman with curly hair smiling and holding one hand to cover both eyes
Social Anxiety in the Workplace

People often confuse shyness with social anxiety, but the two are very different. While a shy person may be a bit uneasy around others, they will generally not experience the same intensity of anxiety as someone with social anxiety. Most shy people also don't go to the same extremes of avoiding social situations that are common to those who experience social anxiety. A person with social anxiety, will often do anything to avoid being in their feared situation.

What are strategies for dealing with social anxiety at work?

If social anxiety is interfering with your performance at work, here are 4 ways you can deal with it:

1. Meditate

Meditation has been scientifically proven to calm a person's nerves. By being still and focusing on your breath for just 10 minutes, you can learn to settle yourself which can be beneficial in helping you to manage feelings of anxiety, stress, and panic in the workplace.

2. Focus on Performance, Not Feelings

People suffering from social anxiety often tend to focus solely on how they feel during a social situation, not the positive things that may happen. When you focus on how well you've done, you start to forget about your nerves. As an example, during your next staff meeting, don't focus on whether or not you are blushing or sweating (you can't control that anyway). Instead, focus on making good eye contact with people in the room. When all is said and done, you will have made such an accomplishment.

3. Practice Being Realistic

It's important to be realistic in the face of your anxiety. For instance, if you've given speeches in the past and have done well, then it is most likely unrealistic to tell yourself that you are "going to bomb." How about telling yourself, "I have done well in the past, I am prepared and I will do a good job."

4. Work with a Therapist

If you feel social anxiety is impacting your ability to show up and be your best self in the workplace or it has stopped you from stepping outside of your comfort zone at work, then please consider working with an anxiety therapist. Investing in therapy can give you the coping strategies you need to help you move forward in life.

Get Help with Social Anxiety at Work

If you're in Houston and you would like to explore treatment options for managing your social anxiety in the workplace, please get in touch with me and schedule a free consultation today. I'd be happy to discuss how I may be able to help life feel more comfortable.

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