Many people think that having social anxiety means simply being shy and hesitant to engage in social interactions. However, social anxiety is so much more than that – people who have this disorder can experience symptoms such as heavy breathing, sweating, stomach ache, shaky voice, and rapid heartbeats, whenever they need to interact with someone. For them, even normal everyday activities easily turn into a nightmare.
This disorder is among the most common ones – around 40 million adults in the US suffer from it. In addition, more than 50 percent claim that their social anxiety prevents them from giving their best at work and hinders their work performance.
However, many people choose to simply avoid situations where they will be required to interact with another person, rather than really doing something about it, usually because they are not familiar with the tactics that will be effective enough for them.
It is needless to say that avoiding social interactions is by no means a good way to deal with your problems. What is more, in the majority of cases, especially at work, it is impossible to get away from situations that are making you feel scared or embarrassed, such as making phone calls, meeting new colleagues, delivering speeches, meeting deadlines, etc.
Luckily, there is a number of various techniques that are both simple and effective, and in this article, we will provide you with some of the best ways to solve your social anxiety problems in the workplace and improve the overall quality of your life.
What is social anxiety?
Social anxiety disorder is also commonly referred to as social phobia, and it represents the fear of situations where you need to interact with other people because you are worried that they might evaluate you and judge you in a negative way.
The symptoms usually include blushing, dry mouth, nervousness, stomach problems such as diarrhea, muscle tension, lightheadedness, dizziness, rapid heartbeat, and the incapacity to catch your breath.
These symptoms most commonly occur when you are being introduced to other people, when you need to be the center of attention, when someone is watching you while you are doing something, when you need to make eye contact, when you are being criticized, when you are embarrassed, etc.
This disorder is chronic, and it doesn’t simply go away on its own. Therefore, if you are experiencing some of these aforementioned symptoms whenever you need to communicate with someone in the workplace, it is time to take the matter into your own hands and don’t allow your disorder to control you anymore.
How to deal with social anxiety at work
1. Preparing is key to most interactions
The best way to successfully deal with your social anxiety is to get prepared in advance:
Meetings – Giving speeches or simply stating your opinion in meetings and group discussions can be one of the biggest challenges if you are suffering from social anxiety. So, before attending a meeting, it is important to prepare some notes, as relying on your memory might fail you when you are under a lot of stress.
Simply write down the things that you wish to say and then practice saying them out loud a couple of times. It is also advisable to go to the place where the meeting will take place around 15 minutes before the meeting starts in order to familiarize yourself with the environment.
Phone calls – While making phone calls doesn’t directly involve speaking to someone in person, it can trigger your social anxiety nevertheless. Again, the best way to overcome your problems in these situations is to make notes about what you are going to say to a person over the phone and to practice making business phone calls at home.
Job interviews – Job interviews are tricky even for self-confident people. So, in these situations, you need to be well prepared, so write down the answers to some obvious questions like “why do you want this job?”, “what are your strengths?”, “what were your duties in your previous job?” etc. and practice before the interview.
2. Breathing exercises
People with anxiety usually breathe with their upper lungs which may lead to hyperventilation. To prevent that, it is advised to take deeper and slower breaths and to inhale into lower lungs. Take a long calming breath through your nose, fill your lower lungs first, and the upper lungs afterward.
When your lungs are filled with air, hold your breath and slowly count to 3. Then, exhale through tightly pressed lips, relaxing your jaw, face, stomach, and shoulder muscles. This kind of breathing is called “calming breath”, and you should practice it 10 times every day.
3. Relabeling fear with excitement
While this piece of advice might seem outright ridiculous at first, the logic behind it is actually quite simple. Emotions can be quite complex and difficult to understand at times, and how we label them places a major role in how we deal with them later.
In a lot of situations, people simply don’t have enough time to analyze and dissect their emotions, but this simple act of reflecting and relabeling our emotions can make a world of difference.
Some recent research suggests that people who take the time to think about their emotions and relabel them have a much easier time dealing with them. For instance, people who invest effort into relabeling fear with excitement have lowered physiological responses to their phobias and a much higher chance of overcoming them.
4. Get used to uncertainty
Getting used to uncertainty is another piece of advice that looks like it comes straight out of a Buddhist pocket advice book, but, in fact, offers great benefits to those who implement it. Most people have an innate desire to control the factors affecting their lives. While this is normal human behavior, it can be detrimental to our mental health.
This is because we can’t actually control most of what is going on in our lives, and it is impossible to predict with certainty what the future might hold, so worrying about it can only cause us stress. The solution, of course, is to try to relax and accept that we cannot control everything and that life can surprise us at any moment.
As you can see, having social anxiety doesn’t need to prevent you from leading a healthy and fulfilling life, and it doesn’t have to affect your work life either. As we have already mentioned above, controlling everything is impossible, but your emotions are something you can control if you invest effort into it!