Editor’s Note: Please note that this post was not written by a mental health professional. If you are struggling with social anxiety and need support, we recommend seeking the help of a mental health professional or therapist.
Social anxiety is more common than you may think. If you find yourself among the 15 million adults in the U.S. with social anxiety, interacting with colleagues, making calls at work, and participating in staff meetings might be challenge. Here are some tips to keep social anxiety from hindering your professional experience.
Social anxiety vs. shyness
Shyness and social anxiety are terms that are often used and understood interchangeably, perhaps because there is quite a bit of overlap between them. However, it is possible for people to experience both at once, or one independent of the other.
While shyness can make you uncomfortable in a specific situation, social anxiety can affect your quality of life. Understanding the difference is important when you’re trying to identify the experiences and needs of those around you. It is equally important to understand these terms as they relate to you and your specific situation. Shyness is a personality trait, often noticeable by others, and it doesn’t require treatment. Social anxiety is a mental health condition in which someone might feel extremely anxious, but present as extroverted and confident.
Participating in meetings when talking seems impossible
Meetings can feel extremely difficult for someone with social anxiety. The best part about dealing with something that you can anticipate is that you can prepare in advance. Follow these tips for a successful meeting.
If you know that you will be expected to speak or if you know what the topic of the conversation will be, you can write some ideas down and practice. If certain topics feel more natural for you to talk about, take the opportunity to rehearse speaking when these specific points are raised in the conversation.
Work up to it
Another way to prepare for a bigger meeting is to interact with your colleagues one on one first. Making a habit of smaller interactions may help you to feel more at ease when you go into larger meetings with co-workers.
Participating in meetings is more than just voicing your opinions. Most experts agree that 70-93% of all communication is nonverbal. Nodding at someone that you agree with or attentively listening and smiling when appropriate or other body language is a good way to participate in a meeting when speaking seems too difficult.
Managing vs. curing
Expecting to be able to easily overcome your social anxiety can lead to disappointment and frustration. Instead, finding useful ways to cope allows you to manage it in the workplace.
Being open about your social anxiety can be the best way to manage it in the long term. Letting colleagues or your supervisor know that this is something you struggle with and would like to improve can help you find ways to work around the challenge as a team. For example, if speaking is difficult in the moment, perhaps you can commit to providing written thoughts by email after a meeting.
Letting those around you know what helps you do your job shows that you are a team player and invested in doing well. In fact, being open about this might help others who are struggling with something similar and can help reduce the stigma surrounding mental health.
Sometimes, social anxiety manifests in your body physically. In this case, alleviating the physical symptoms can improve your overall state of mind during an anxiety-inducing situation.
When you are under stress or feeling anxious, your body naturally kicks into action, and physical symptoms such as headaches, nausea, and shortness of breath can occur. Finding distractions and practicing breathing exercises can help ease any shakiness or stomach pain. Reminding yourself that there is nothing physically wrong in your body can help to alleviate some of the stress and remind you to proactively relax when you start experiencing these symptoms.
Being confident in who you are, even if your voice shakes
In the workplace, extroversion and confidence are often rewarded. Having social anxiety can result in a cycle of stress around all social interactions. But remember that many of us have insecurities or parts of our identity that can affect the way we show up in our profession and learning to cope is an important part of your professional development.
Do you deal with social anxiety in the workplace? Share your tips with us on Facebook and let others know they are not alone.
Mateo Sánchez Morales is a bilingual writer and community organizer. With a history of immigration advocacy within nonprofits, they use their own identities and experiences to guide people from nontraditional backgrounds in the academic and professional realms.