Some people are born with the gift of gab, while others struggle to get even two words out of their mouth at an office meeting. Did you know that about 15 million American adults suffer from social anxiety disorder?
There is more to social anxiety than just shyness—just the thought of being around other people can cause an upset stomach, rapid breaths, a pounding heart, sweaty hands or even a shaky voice. It’s not surprising that it sometimes feels easier to keep away from other people.
Social anxiety spoils your work life by getting in the way of what should be an opportunity to connect with your peers. It significantly worsens your quality of life. Coping with anxiety opens the door to so much — better working environment, increased productivity (56% of people say anxiety impacts their performance at work), new job opportunities and of course adds more fun to your life.
The good news is, social anxiety is a fully treatable condition. So, how do you overcome social anxiety at work? Try these 11 tactics.
1. Practice Being Relaxed
Worrying is self-programmable. When you repeatedly worry about a sit down with your boss or a presentation meeting at work, you repeatedly link anxiety to the working environment. Once you worry for a long period of time, your body gets used to being anxious, and when you go into the office, you’ll feel anxious because you’ve programmed yourself to feel this way.
Practicing effective relaxation techniques is an important part of overcoming anxiety at work. Relaxation is a voluntary release of your muscle tension. Here are a few relaxation techniques you can try.
- Breathing slowly and deeply
- Count backward, slowly, from five to one.
- Start visualizing — transport yourself to somewhere truly relaxing
- Try meditation
- Wipe out all negative thoughts
- Give yourself positive affirmations and suggestion
2. Be Yourself Socially
When you suffer from social anxiety at work, you may feel like there’s more than one of you. There’s the you that sings with your loudest voice in the shower at home, and then there's the other version of yourself who can’t complete a sentence at the office cafeteria.
Well almost everyone does it. You bring one part of yourself to work and leave the rest of yourself at home. Perhaps it’s time to change that.
The best way to overcome your social anxiety it to bring your whole self to work—but no singing in the office washroom, though!
Allow your differences to show and be celebrated. Workplace diversity is all about being equal, yet different from everyone else.
Trying to hide your genuine self could be contributing to your anxiety. Concealing who you are is a form of self-sabotage and goes against your background, personality and work style.
If you’re secretly an artist in your garage or a really good singer, let this show through in your workplace. It can be a huge boost to your sense of well-being and help you overcome your anxiety.
If you don’t have any hidden talents going for you, work towards expressing yourself more naturally through conversations with your co-workers.
Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.
3. Seek Out Social Situations
Another important step to overcoming social anxiety at work involves facing feared situations. Your natural urge is probably to avoid the things that make you anxious. Maybe it’s your boss, or maybe it’s the office meeting you dread so much. Avoiding only prevents you from discovering that the things that make you anxious aren’t as bad as you perceive them to be.
The process of facing what makes you anxious is called exposure. The process involves gradually and repeatedly going into a feared situation until you feel less anxious. Seeking out social situations, like eating your lunch with your co-workers, is not dangerous. It will not worsen your anxiety.
How do you seek out social situations at work?
- Make a list of the things that make you anxious at work.
- Build a fear ladder — start from the thing that makes you least anxious and move on to those that make you most anxious.
- Expose yourself starting from the least anxious activity and progress on to the activity you dread the most.
- Practice these steps on a regular basis.
- Reward yourself when you do it!
5 Books to Boost Your Confidence & Overcome Anxiety
- Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It
- The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life
- You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life
- The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are
- Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking
4. Focus Your Attention Outward
Anxiety is caused by focusing inwards rather than outwards. One of the best ways to overcome anxiety is to switch your attention externally as much as possible. Your feelings have a tendency of lying to your whenever you feel anxious. Taking attention away from your thoughts takes away any power they have over you.
If you’re given a task at work, try to focus on it or when a co-worker talks to you, give them your undivided attention instead of worrying about what you should say next or what they're thinking of you. Avoid going internal to figure out your feelings, because you’ll end up developing a host of negative thoughts that will make you anxious again.
Your inner thoughts don’t tell you the truth about yourself or your co-workers. Sometimes, you give them more credit than they deserve. Avoid struggling with your thoughts by gently shifting your attention to something/someone else.
The less importance you place on your anxiety thoughts and feelings, the less the power that have to control you. Stop fueling the fire!
When you go in for work, make a mental note of three aspects in the office such as:
- The number of plants in the office.
- The pictures, drawings on the wall.
- What clothes your co-workers are wearing?
The task might seem strange at first, but it will get you accustomed to focusing on the external instead of yourself, which is after all the purpose of the exercise.
If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.
5. Work With a Good Therapist
Research shows that therapy is usually the most effective option when it comes to treating anxiety disorders.
Therapy can help you uncover the cause of your anxiety at work. It is the first step to serious treatment once you have identified that you may have a social anxiety disorder.
Seeing a therapist can help you get to the root of your social anxiety and even prescribe the most effective type of treatment.
Remember, therapy requires a lot of commitment, and you have to want to learn from the experience. Some of the major benefits you’ll receive from seeing a therapist are:
- You’ll become more rational in your thinking.
- You’ll learn how to control your thoughts and avoid negative feelings.
- You develop confidence, your beliefs about yourself will change.
- You’ll learn how to approach your social anxiety with calmness and peace.
- You learn to expect better outcomes in your working environment.
6. Create Objective Goals
When you suffer from social anxiety, you tend to disqualify the positive. You might be doing well at work or even great, but because of your anxious thoughts, you see your performance as abysmal.
The best way to overcome such anxious thoughts is to create objective goals. For example, if you’re working on a group project at the office, your objective goal can be to say three words. This gives you a good way to gauge progress.
Why? Because you stop focusing on your anxious thoughts and you become preoccupied on whether you performed on your objective goals.
Also, to achieve progress, avoid focusing on how you co-workers reacted. It doesn't matter how they received your idea in the meeting. The only thing that matters is that you did speak up. You achieved what you wanted in that situation. How others perceive it is out of your control.
Remember, your goals should be:
- Concrete and specific
- Time sensitive
Goals direct you away from social anxieties and direct your thoughts to something more positive and productive.
7. Establish a Support Group
A support group can help you to overcome your social anxiety at work effectively. You can join an already established support group at work, one in your city or even start a support group yourself.
The truth is change is good, but it is difficult to do alone. Having a support group of people who share the same goals, have similar interests and are working to overcome their anxiety greatly enhances your chances of success.
In a support group, you can bounce your ideas, work experiences and get feedback from. A good support group will offer you benefits that you couldn't achieve otherwise, such as:
- Non-judgemental feedback
- Support through anxious times
- Accountability – challenge you to deliver on promises
- A sounding board of ideas
- Networking opportunities
- Helpful suggestions and ideas on how to overcome anxiety
If you can't find a support group in your workplace or the area you live, you can always join an online community forum like Anxietyforum.net to offer you support. With the right support group, you may be able to overcome your social anxiety at work in no time.
It’s OKAY to be scared. Being scared means you’re about to do something really, really brave.
New finding by researchers from Queen University shows that exercise and yoga can help people cope with social anxiety disorder. Being active helps you maintain a healthy lifestyle both at home and at work.
Today, many therapists are using exercise as a key part of their treatment for general and social anxiety.
Exercising on a regular basis can boost your outlook, and thought processing by helping you adopt a meaningful activity that provides a sense of accomplishment. Exercise provides you with something worthwhile in your life, which helps raise your self-worth and also boosts your confidence.
Exercising gives you a new perspective on how to approach your work-related problems in a goal-driven manner.
If you’re still not convinced of the benefits of exercise for overcoming your social anxiety at work, take a look at how exercise can help you with your social anxiety:
- Exercise is a stress reliever.
- Boots dopamine–the happy chemical.
- Improves self-confidence by making you feel better both physically and mentally.
- Alleviate feelings of social anxiety by helping you think calmer and in a more positive manner.
- Increased productivity which means you get more done at the office.
- Helps you form new friendships, a workout buddy whom you can practice talking to without being under pressure.
9. Practice Acceptance
The very first step towards recovering is realizing and accepting you have a problem; this doesn’t only apply to drug problems. The ultimate goal of overcoming social anxiety at work is to develop a more accepting attitude toward anxiety. You should learn how to tolerate anxious feelings rather than trying to control and eliminate them. Accepting anxious feelings helps prevent them from spiraling out of control.
Acceptance helps you calm your mind by preparing you to take more control of negative thoughts. When you let your thoughts control you, you're run over by that negative voice telling you "I can't."
Once you practice acceptance, you gain control of your thoughts, and you begin to notice a change in your inner voice to “it's OK,” “I can”…for example “I can feel anxious but still perform at my job.”
Remember having social anxiety doesn't mean there's something "wrong" with you. And it doesn't define who you are.
So, how do you achieve complete acceptance?
- Avoid judging yourself.
- Write down who you are, your values, rules, principles and what is important in your life.
- Focus more on your positive than on your negative
- Refuse to compare yourself to other
- Avoid limiting/irrational beliefs
The worst loneliness is to not be comfortable with yourself.
10. Meet New People
Once you build some confidence facing social situations, perhaps it's time to start expanding your social network. If you experience social anxiety at work, developing new relationships is very important.
Social meetings provide an opportunity for repeated contact and are the best way to develop working friendships. Here are some ideas on how you can meet new people at your workplace:
- Talk to co-workers, share coffee breaks or go for lunch together.
- Join a team at your workplace, play soccer, tennis or basketball with your co-workers.
- Join workplace support groups.
- Go for that team building event you’ve been avoiding.
Once you meet new people, make a concrete plan to get involved and develop real relationships.
11. The Secret Weapon for Social Anxiety at Work
If you feel like you've tried everything to overcome your social anxiety and nothing seems to work, we have one last suggestion. Check out these five psychological hacks to cure social anxiety from Sean Cooper, an expert in overcoming shyness and social anxiety. His advice has helped thousands of people fight their social anxiety and live more fulfilling lives.
You Can Overcome Social Anxiety at Work
Learning to overcome anxiety is a lot of hard work. Reward yourself for the progress and the improvements you make. Also, you have to maintain this progress to avoid falling victim to negative and anxious thoughts again. Overcoming anxiety is similar to exercising; you need to practice regularly to keep in shape.
Don’t feel discouraged if you fall back to your old ways. Social anxiety can happen during stressful times at work, for example; when you’re working under a tight deadline. This is normal. All you need is to start using the tools discussed above. Remember, overcoming social anxiety at work is a lifelong process.