If you experience social anxiety, you’re likely already familiar with its symptoms—the absolute dread of interacting with others, the fear of being judged or humiliating yourself somehow in the process, and, worst of all, the aftermath of overthinking your every word and gesture after the interaction until your stomach aches with the certainty that only something bad can happen next.
Experiencing this kind of anxiety can turn doing anything outside of the comfort zone of your home into a stressful ordeal. Normally, it might be easier to just stay in and avoid people entirely, but that’s not always an option. Almost every job involves some degree of social interaction and interpersonal communication, whether in person or online.
When you have to go into work, where collaboration and communication are required for the role, you have to find a better way to manage the symptoms of social anxiety. That’s why we’ve outlined 12 coping strategies below that will help you minimize the impact social anxiety makes during the daily grind of your 9-to-5.
12 Ways to Manage Social Anxiety in the Workplace
Refocus your Attention
When you’re worrying about an upcoming deadline, a hard-to-write email to a difficult coworker, your contributions in a meeting earlier that day, or another work-related stressor, social anxiety makes it easy to lose yourself in negative and self-critical thoughts. Social situations produce an exaggerated awareness of yourself that distorts both the perception you have of your performance in the moment as well as your perception of how others are receiving you, which only fuels more anxiety and self-doubt.
In moments like these, it’s important for you to externalize your focus and shift this magnified attention to something outside of yourself. Take a quick break. Watch cat videos for a couple minutes on YouTube. Depending on the circumstances and the weather, take a short walk to clear your mind by physically leaving the building. This will help silence your internal dialogue and shift your focus to whatever you encounter on your outing. Sometimes, a breath of fresh air, some sunshine, and a change of scenery can go a long way in getting you out of your head and back in the present moment.
Reframe the Situation
Sometimes all you need is a realignment of perspective. Instead of replaying your every conversation or dwelling on how your voice cracked in that meeting earlier today, try to take a step back from how you feel and figure out what’s really happening.
Try writing a quick email to yourself that outlines:
- What’s going on that triggered your social anxiety symptoms
- What you’re feeling now
- What the worst case scenario is or what you fear happening the most in this instance
Many people experience a kind of catharsis or release simply by putting words to their emotions and re-evaluating the situation in text. As you write out your thoughts, you’ll start to feel better and gradually realize how much influence social anxiety had on your emotions at work.
Get Enough Sleep
Sleep is down time for the mind as well as your body. It’s what makes you feel recharged and re-energized, a time for your subconscious to process your experiences and emotions, so by getting enough rest, you can start the day off on the right foot and in the right headspace.
When you don’t get enough sleep, however, you’ll have a harder time focusing throughout the day, experience more symptoms of anxiety, find yourself turning to coffee more and more throughout the day, and more. In fact, according to new research, not only can anxiety lead to difficulty sleeping, not sleeping enough can actually cause anxiety disorders. Set yourself up for success by setting aside 7–9 hours each night for sleep.
To ensure you’re able to get a good night’s rest each night, be sure to follow tips #4 and #5.
Drink Less Caffeine
When you’re at work and social anxiety strikes, you might struggle to find the right (or any) words to say to a coworker or superior, whether it’s in a formal meeting or simply in passing. This feeling of your mind going blank when you needed it most can make another cup of coffee seem all the more appealing, but try to resist. The jolt of caffeine from coffee, tea, energy drinks, and other beverages as well as foods can actually increase the symptoms of anxiety you’re experiencing.
Plus, it can lead to difficulties falling asleep at night, so you don’t sleep well, feel tired the next day, and then have even more caffeine the next day. Avoid the vicious cycle through natural means, like our next tip.
Regardless of the type of workout you do, from pilates and yoga to jogging and lifting, getting your blood pumping on a regular basis can do great things for your mind, body, mood, and social anxiety.
Whether you work out before, during, or after the workday, exercising regularly can help soothe many symptoms of social anxiety by:
- Relieving stress that can trigger anxiety
- Boosting your dopamine levels, which uplifts your mood and causes you to feel happier (and contribute to what’s known as the runner’s high)
- Improving your self-esteem and self-confidence
- Giving you more energy, so you’re able to get more done at work with less caffeine
- Helping you focus on the now and be aware of your feelings and body
- Burning off any pent-up energy and jitters, so you’re able to get a good night’s rest at the end of the day.
Set Realistic and Achievable Goals
With social anxiety, it can be all too easy to agree hastily to an impractical deadline simply to end the conversation or avoid the possibility of upsetting them or appearing unwilling or too slow. But, by agreeing to a deadline you already know you’ll struggle to meet, you inadvertently cause yourself more stress and anxiety in the long run trying to meet the deadline and avoid other potential ramifications.
Instead of agreeing to the first suggested due date, try negotiating the deadline by suggesting a time that better fits your schedule and is far enough away to give you time to complete your other assignments as well. Though you may worry about upsetting them by asking for more time, remember that it’s much better to complete something a few days before the deadline rather than after.
If you know you tend to procrastinate at times, try also setting mini-deadlines for various components of the project at the start to ensure you stay on top of it. This will help you avoid any unnecessary stress and anxiety down the line and will help each part seem easier to achieve in the moment. But what if you’ve already agreed to do too much?
Communicate Your Needs and Ask for Help
If you’re stressed about hitting a deadline or feeling overwhelmed with your current workload, don’t delay asking for help until there’s no chance of meeting the deadline. Missing the due date can give others the impression that you didn’t manage your time properly, so as soon as you think you might be unable to complete something on time, let the necessary parties at work know and schedule a quick regroup to see how you can split some of these tasks with coworkers. Taking this kind of initiative helps to convey to your coworkers that you care about the success of the project and can plan ahead, but more so, you’ll feel better when everything’s figured out.
Remember: Having too much on your plate is not your fault, and there’s no shame in asking for some assistance from your coworkers—after all, you’re all on the same team.
If you have a close work friend who could help, try asking them for a favor and offer to return it when they need. Otherwise, let your supervisor know as soon as you start to worry you won’t be able to finish everything on your To-Do list on time, so they can help take some of the weight off of your shoulders or re-examine those due dates.
Avoid Office Drama
Interpersonal relationships are a very common trigger for many symptoms of social anxiety experienced in the workplace. Whether it’s a micromanaging boss, a wishy-washy client with exacting standards, or a bullying colleague who doesn’t pull their weight, working with others will always present difficulties that can be upsetting and hard to deal with. This can make the watercooler a potentially toxic space in some workplaces, and negativity can be contagious. If your coworkers have taken to gossiping or ranting about another employee, try to change the subject to more neutral ground or remove yourself from the situation.
When you’re feeling so frustrated that you want to pull your hair out and vent to someone who understands the situation, it’s important to take a step back before ranting to a fellow coworker about your issues. Participating in office banter can be a great way to make friends, but you want to avoid becoming the office ranter. Talk to your friends at work about how you feel or to see if they feel the same, but strive to avoid putting someone else down in the process. Not only can this make you seem like a source of negativity in the office to others, it can end up getting back to whoever has upset you, which can produce a cycle of anxiety and unnecessary drama.
Don’t Shut Down
Social anxiety can make it feel easier to live in a bubble of solitude, staying away from all others entirely, but avoiding social situations won’t make them go away. Refusing to answer emails because of the stress they cause will only continue to cause you stress, likely more and more as you delay replying. Hiding from your manager or a certain coworker after an encounter or interaction you believe didn’t go well won’t repair the relationship. Though social anxiety can make avoidance seem like the better choice in the moment, doing so often only makes you dread going to work and look forward to 5 p.m. each day.
Instead of shutting down, step outside of your comfort zone and push yourself to stay in contact with your coworkers. If emails are weighing heavily on your mind, try having the conversation in person. Emails can be tempting for people with social anxiety, but digital communication can often cause more anxiety than simple, in-person conversations. You won’t have to question tones and word choices or wait around for the answer to your questions when you pursue a conversation in person.
And best of all: The more social you are now, the less social anxiety you’ll experience later on.
Set Firm Work/Life Boundaries
Ding Ding—we’ve all been there. It’s 7:30 p.m., and your phone is abuzz with alerts from your office email address. What do you do—other than start to worry about what the email says, if you’re in trouble, and how to respond to it?
Instead of getting absorbed in your inbox outside of work, set clear boundaries between your work and free time. Either remove your work email address from your phone or silent alerts during certain time periods, so you can mentally disconnect from work and focus on the current moment. Give yourself some down time at the end of your day, so you can relax.
Explore Employer Resources and Benefits
Employers want their employees to succeed. You’re as valuable to the company you work for as the company is to you, if not more. Companies want you to have everything you need in order to succeed. For this reason, many employers offer Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), which connect employees with an array of mental health resources and services, depending on their individual needs.
Seek Professional Help
With the help of a therapist, social anxiety is highly treatable. If you’ve been living with social anxiety and struggling to manage the symptoms, maybe it’s time to consider seeking out a mental health professional for treatment. But the first step is usually the hardest for those with social anxiety to take, which is reaching out. Because of the symptoms, social anxiety can make it difficult to talk to others about how you feel out of fear of being judged. Just know that you are not alone—social anxiety affects over 15 million people in the United States.
And if you’re in Chicago, you’re in luck—all of the therapists at the Bergen Counseling Centers of Chicago have vast experience with patients who have social anxiety. They’re trained in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), one of the leading approaches to treating social anxiety and stopping the negative internal dialogue that fuels so many of its symptoms. If you’re ready to talk to someone, simply fill out the contact form to the right.