If Your Social Anxiety Flares Up at Work, Keep These Tips in Your Back Pocket
After over a year of working from home, many companies are starting to talk about returning to the office. But while your co-workers might be excited to go back to some sense of normalcy, you might have a nervous feeling in the pit of your stomach. What if you're put on the spot during a big meeting? How will you manage going back to being "on" all day after months of being remote? And how will you navigate coworker small talk in the office kitchen? The very idea of these episodes may prompt feelings of dread.
If you're nodding your head in agreement, it's likely you're experiencing a bout of social anxiety, either for the first time or in a heightened way—and you're not the only one. Mental Health America reports that 15 million Americans have Social Anxiety Disorder. While social anxiety can rear its ugly head in any scenario, experiencing it at work can be particularly challenging, especially if your office is a highly social environment. But just because you have social anxiety doesn't mean you can't work through it and keep it from impacting your work performance and social interactions.
To help ease the worry, we're breaking down how social anxiety can manifest in the workplace and sharing smart ways to cope with it.
What exactly is social anxiety, and why does it flare up at work?
Before you can cope with social anxiety at work, it's important to understand exactly what you're dealing with. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, social anxiety is defined as "a persistent fear of one or more social or performance situations in which the person is exposed to unfamiliar people or to possible scrutiny by others." While there is no known cause of social anxiety, it can often lead to a jolt of imminent fear as well as irrational thoughts and behavior, says Veroshk Williams, PhD, a clinical psychologist in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
"Basically, the alarm system of the body is malfunctioning," says Williams. "The nervous system is telling the person [with social anxiety] that there is an imminent danger that needs to be avoided when there is none." Or at least, not something that warrants such an intense stress response.
Oftentimes, social anxiety can be coupled with physical symptoms like blushing, trembling, sweating, an increased heartbeat, and dizziness. While social anxiety can manifest at parties, networking events, on a date, or at large gatherings, it's also highly common at work. Why? Simply put, work can be an anxiety-provoking stimulus in so many ways.
"You're always being evaluated by others, you might be exposed to new situations, you're put on the spot, you're held responsible for your performance—there's pressure and you want to perform well," Williams explains. "This is the perfect combination for social anxiety and panic to arise. In addition, a lot of times we're often fatigued from work, which makes it easier for our nervous system to malfunction."
How to Cope With Social Anxiety at Work
Dealing with normal work anxiety at work can be challenging enough; but the added layer of social anxiety can impact your overall performance and increase your anxiety even more (and a lot). To help keep anxious thoughts at bay, here are some expert-approved tactics to try.