Work can be a stressful experience, but for some, the stress of work comes from its social aspect. Working with difficult team members or managers, networking with strangers at events, or dealing with demanding customers can bring about an intense feeling of fear and anxiety. Consequently, the usual work stress is compounded with the pressure to be accepted, leading to poor performance and a negative career outlook.
By identifying the symptoms and underlying causes of social anxiety disorder at work, one can learn to stop worrying about the minor details and cultivate more fruitful and authentic relationships in the workplace.
What is social anxiety?
The Social Anxiety Association’s definition of social anxiety disorder: “the fear of social situations that involve interaction with other people.” Unlike general shyness, social anxiety refers to a more chronic, intense fear of judgment that can even affect other aspects of life. Without proper guidance and therapy, social anxiety can not only linger but worsen over time.
How many people suffer from social anxiety?
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety disorder affects roughly 15 million American adults, making it the second most common anxiety disorder diagnosis.
Is social anxiety a medical condition?
First, it’s important to understand the meaning of the term “medical condition.” Some sources (such as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or DSM) believe that medical conditions refer to everything except mental illnesses. Others believe the term “medical condition” generally applies to any disease, disorder, or wound.
Because social anxiety is a mental health condition, there are a few who will not consider it as serious of an issue as a physical health condition. It’s important to remember that the brain is like any other organ of the body—it requires proper attention and care; otherwise, the rest of the body may suffer.
Social anxiety in the workplace
Now consider the typical workplace from the perspective of someone with a social anxiety disorder. Offices can be busy, raucous environments: from the ringing phones and clicking keyboards to the hour-long meetings that you dread. You may even deal with other people frequently—whether fielding a customer complaint or preparing a performance review of a subordinate, it can be a lot for anyone.
By asking yourself, “what are the triggers of social anxiety at work?”, you are training yourself to better identify and prevent or mitigate their effects on you. Here are just a few examples.
– Meetings and public speaking – We live in a world of services and communications, which means that you are bound to speak in front of an audience or to a third party at one point.
– Due dates and overload – While not strictly speaking a social interaction, you may feel indirect anxiety from promising too much to different people.
– Anxiety at a new job – Everyone experiences a sort of anxiety when transitioning to a new position. Without an understanding of the daily process and no real connection to the people you work with, there are a lot of uncertainties and unanswered questions.
– Performance reviews and evaluations – Monthly or quarterly, your company may choose to provide feedback on your ongoing work performance. While it can be helpful or useful for some, others may feel uncomfortable being criticized or compared.
While at work, keep a tab on your overall energy and mood. If you notice it dip during some parts of the day, ask yourself what may have triggered that response. Developing this awareness may take some time and training to accomplish. Still, it will become important in identifying which aspects of your work contribute to unsustainable levels of stress or anxiety.
How to deal with social anxiety at work
Training yourself to spot the anxiety triggers is one thing, but actively finding ways to deal with it is another. Fortunately, you have several healthy options when it comes to alleviating the stresses of social anxiety.
1. Trace the source of your anxiety
Do you have a major presentation to give to the company shareholders? Do you dread having to talk to your supervisor? Or is there something else going on, not even related to the work itself? Identifying the main reason for anxiety is a lot harder than it sounds, but doing so can grant you strength over your mind. It can also help you to understand that it’s a natural feeling to be overwhelmed or stressed, particularly in the workplace.
2. Recognize your triggers
We discussed some of the causes of social anxiety, but you must uncover personal triggers within your workplace. Some triggers (such as loud environments) can be controlled and dealt with practically (such as a change of settings).
3. Challenge thoughts of negativity
Comparing yourself to someone else, imagining what other people think, fearing what may happen in the future… these are all human tendencies that invite unnecessary mental strife. Whenever possible, catch yourself during these moments, and realize that they are only thoughts. With practice, you can change how you react to distressing thoughts.
If it helps, try a few meditation practices at work. So many of our problems can be overcome by simply stopping for a few minutes to breathe.
4. Adopt positive changes to your work routine
Just as other diseases are treatable with the appropriate medication, social anxiety is controllable with the right lifestyle adjustments. Take small breaks after 40-50 minutes of uninterrupted work. If you’re required to speak publicly, create new ways to prepare for presentations, through rehearsals or cue cards. If you’re comfortable, share your struggles with someone close to you at work. The ability to discuss it with a colleague may help you feel less alone in facing the problem.
5. Be patient yet positive
Don’t expect your life to change within a matter of days. As with other mental health illnesses, these treatments take time and perseverance. There will be days where many of these tips won’t feel as if they make any difference. But take it one day at a time, shifting focus to small wins along the way. Each day brings a new opportunity to be better and to try again.
Resources & tools for combatting social anxiety
This isn’t the first time we’ve recommended the meditation app, Headspace, and it won’t be the last either. With daily guided meditations for concentration, motivation, and of course, anxiety release, you won’t find many other meditation apps that are as rich and intuitive as the Headspace app.
Insight Timer is a totally free app for helping with one’s sleep, anxiety, and stress. In addition to soothing ambient soundscapes, Insight Timer also offers talks and guided meditation, whether it’s for forgiveness and letting go, or learning to appreciate the world in front of you. If you want more, Insight Timer offers a premium membership with exclusive courses from leading figures and features like offline listening.
For individuals that suffer from severe social anxiety or panic attacks, Rootd is the app for you. More than a simple education app (although there are some useful lessons), Rootd acts like a virtual friend that helps you work through particularly intense thoughts and feelings.
Formerly known as Pacifica, Sanvello assists those with stress, anxiety, and depression. Sanvello is based on a combination of CBT or cognitive behavioral therapy and mindful meditation. Sanvello offers a multitude of relaxation techniques, from peaceful soundscapes to positive visualization. The developers of Sanvello work closely with therapists, doctors, and researchers to deliver a safe and effective experience.
Calm is another simply designed meditation app that assists with anything from reducing stress and anxiety to improving performance and increasing happiness. The app features a variety of different soundscapes, mindfulness courses, and breathing exercises. The only catch? It will set you back $60 per year after the 7-day trial is up, making it one of the more premium options on this list.
Social anxiety has only become more prevalent in the west, particularly with the countless distractions that pervade our online channels and the general media. It has become even more imperative that we take the time to spot anxiety before it worsens, to take the necessary precautions in treating it, and care for others afflicted by anxiety or similar mental health issues. A significant part of our life is spent at work, so we each hold a responsibility to make it as safe and stress-free for everyone as much as we can.