Despite over 15 million Americans being affected by social anxiety disorder (SAD), less than 5% of those with SAD seek treatment within a year of when their symptoms start and more than a third of those people wait more than 10 years before ever seeking treatment for their social anxiety. That’s because many of us have been taught to see social anxiety as nothing more than shyness or introversion—but social anxiety disorder involves a lot more than simply being shy or introverted.
Although those with social anxiety experience feelings of nervousness, worry, or panic from social situations, social anxiety is more generally known as an extreme fear of being criticized, scrutinized, or judged. Much of the worry and fear actually stems from a greater concern of doing or saying something wrong in public and embarrassing yourself in some way. This fear, in turn, can affect how you choose to live your life and what you’re able to accomplish in the long run.
Here are 15 signs social anxiety may be holding you back.
You dread everyday social situations
Social anxiety starts small, usually with only one or two symptoms showing—maybe at first you were only nervous about public speaking or making new friends. But over time, if left untreated, you may find yourself fretting over and eventually dreading more and more of the following everyday social situations:
- Making eye contact
- Going to parties or new places
- Starting a conversation with friends or strangers
- Meeting new people or making friends
- Speaking in public
- Going to work or school
- Eating around other people
- Attending social events or gatherings
This dread can then keep you from enjoying the moment and even make you more nervous of similar situations in the future.
Embarrassing yourself in public terrifies you
When you think about going to a party or speaking up during a meeting at work, you immediately envision making a fool of yourself in some way—doing or saying something that will leave you embarrassed and humiliated. This may leave you even more terrified of embarrassing yourself around others, which ramps up the social anxiety you feel before, during, and after your social interactions. Sometimes, you think about how you could embarrass yourself so much that you decide to just stay in instead.
You dwell on previous mistakes
Simply put, rumination is a kind of obsessive thinking—you repetitively mull over the same thought or problem, usually one in which you feel you made some kind of mistake or social faux pas. For instance, after a social encounter, do you go home and replay the day’s interactions until you’re certain you made some kind of mistake that left the other party offended, if not utterly outraged, and yourself humiliated in the process?
Social anxiety can make turning off this kind of obsessive negative dwelling extremely difficult, but by participating in a ruminating thought process, you inadvertently experience the anxiety of the encounter over and over again while increasing the amount of anxiety you’ll later feel in similar situations.
In this way, social anxiety can be a vicious cycle of worrying about making a mistake so much that you make the mistake you worried about and then returning home to replay it over and over in your head, which sets off the self-fulfilling cycle of over-worrying again.
You perceive your social blunders as much worse than they are.
Do your friends or coworkers have to remind you somewhat regularly that No, so-and-so doesn’t think you’re stupid, you didn’t mess up the presentation, and it’s not as bad as you think. When you make a mistake at work, do you jump straight to worrying about the security of your job?
Likely because of dwelling on your mistakes in item #3, social anxiety can make you not just fear the worst possible conclusions to negative social circumstances but actually come to expect the worst result. As you can imagine, this only makes your anxiety worse when you’re in similar circumstances again.
You’ve worried about how your anxiety affects your life for a while now.
Symptoms of social anxiety often start to occur during childhood or early adolescence, but to be considered social anxiety, these symptoms must persist for at least 6 months. By the time treatment is sought, symptoms have usually been around for a lot longer.
Let’s face it: This probably isn’t the first time you’ve found yourself googling symptoms and signs of social anxiety. You may even have taken online self-assessments already before. But social anxiety and the fear of being judged by others can make seeking treatment for social anxiety a particularly difficult decision for many to make, which often leads to heightened symptoms in the meantime, like the next items on our list.
You get extremely nervous before attending social events.
Before an upcoming social event, whether it’s hours or days away, you get incredibly worried, nervous, or downright panicked about it. You find yourself getting more and more nervous as the time and date approaches. Maybe you can’t sleep the night before, because it’s all you can think about as you toss and turn the night away. Your chest may even feel heavier, and your breathing becomes a little more strained. You would liken it to the jitters of cold feet, but you’ve already sweated your shirt twice in nervous anticipation.
While it’s normal to feel a little anxious or nervous before certain social events, this kind of panic attack can become a normal occurrence before social interactions and events for those with social anxiety disorder—until eventually it seems easier to just avoid the situation entirely, which brings us to the next item on our list.
You avoid social encounters because of anxiety.
During your free time, do you ever find yourself hiding inside, biding your time online or binge-watching show after show? Do you find yourself avoiding doing certain things or going certain places entirely because you don’t want to deal with people there? Are you so scared of making mistakes and being scrutinized that you, instead, don’t put yourself out there and try anymore? At times, does it maybe even feel like you’re becoming afraid of leaving the house, living almost like a hermit?
One of the defining characteristics of social anxiety disorder is avoidance. Over time, those who were once just shy or nervous about public speaking or going to the occasional social event may learn to pacify their growing social anxiety by staying inside their comfort zone at home alone, rather than facing the potentially devastating experiences they imagine to be awaiting them in public.
Avoiding social events and hiding inside, however, greatly limits your life experiences and can only cause you to fear social situations even more later on.
You skip social events if you have to go alone.
Have you ever really wanted to go somewhere, to a festive event like a party or maybe even a concert, only to have the person you were going with cancel at the last minute? Did you decide not to attend the event entirely because you’d have to show up alone? Or maybe you have that incredibly social and extroverted friend you always go out with and borderline cling to in public, because you can rely on them to carry the conversations and social burden for you?
While it can be normal to fear going to a new place alone or going somewhere where you don’t know anyone in the room, it becomes problematic when you let your feelings of fear and panic affect or limit your social life, like our previous sign.
If you’re at the point of blowing off events that you were looking forward to entirely because of someone else’s attendance, social anxiety may be disrupting your social life and keeping you from getting the most out of your life.
You distance yourself from others on purpose.
Are you a bit of a loner—and do you keep it that way intentionally? Even if you want friends and crave meaningful social relationships deep down, those with social anxiety can purposefully push people out of their lives or keep people at a distance, if not avoiding others entirely, as a means of keeping themselves safe from social situations that cause them stress or anxiety. Social anxiety can make it feel easier to be alone than to be around other people, which contributes to why it’s so hard to seek treatment for this disorder.
Your physical symptoms of social anxiety cause you anxiety.
When you’re trying to share your point of view with a group, whether it’s at work or in a small social group, your voice may crack or you stumble over a certain word, your body shake or tremble, and you begin to sweat profusely—so much so that you worry others can see this or, worse, it’s all they can notice as you speak.
With social anxiety, you don’t just suffer from an array of emotional and behavioral symptoms—your social anxiety also manifests itself in physical ways, which, in turn, tend to cause you even more anxiety over whether anyone has noticed these physical displays of anxiety.
You’re a people-pleasing perfectionist.
With social anxiety, avoidance behaviors and approval-seeking behaviors go hand in hand, representing two sides of the same coin. While some may choose to avoid the triggers of their social anxiety, others may pacify their anxiety and the fear of being judged or evaluated by garnering the approval of others and seeking external validation in people-pleasing ways. This can be through over-complimenting others, doing or saying what you think someone else wants, or even avoiding saying something you think might upset others.
Because of how uncomfortable and borderline panicked you are at the thought of upsetting or disappointing someone, you’ll go through great lengths to make sure everyone else is happy—at almost any cost to yourself.
You put off simple social tasks.
Social anxiety doesn’t just cause you to cut off contact—it can also make you put off whatever activity on your To-Do list is causing you stress for as long as possible. Sometimes this can be something as simple as making a phone call, sending an email, paying your bills on time, scheduling a doctor’s appointment, or any other task that involves anxiety-inducing social interaction.
In the moment, it can feel almost as if you’re frozen—you know what you have to do, but thinking about doing it causes you so much stress and anxiety that all you want to do is avoid doing it. In most cases, though, these are tasks that inevitably must be done and, usually, come with some degree of consequences if ignored even momentarily.
Worse, procrastinating and putting off the stressful task at hand often actually worsens your anxiety—you keep yourself from enjoying the moment fully, because in the back of your head, you’re still stressing over what you have to do later.
Digital communications are easier for you.
If you’re getting in touch with someone, it’s going to be via technological means—emailing, texting, instant messaging, etc.—rather than calling, stopping by their desk or place to chat, or another in-person means of communicating. If you’re going to try dating, it’s going to start on dating apps. If you make a social media account, your profile picture is probably an avatar of some kind.
For those with social anxiety, communicating online, usually in ways that are either anonymous or text only, represents a kind of double-edged sword, offering the consolation of human interaction without the drawbacks of in-person communication.
However, while digital communications offer the socially anxious the immediate benefit of short-term relief, studies have shown that online communication can make communicating offline and in-person more challenging over time.
You don’t try new things anymore.
Going to new places and trying new things represent two obstacles those with social anxiety often struggle with. Because you’ve spent so much time imagining all of the many ways things could go wrong and you could possibly embarrass yourself, you can’t imagine going somewhere new or doing something new, since there are so many new ways for you to make a mistake or be judged.
For the socially anxious, it can become all too easy to fall into a kind of unchanging rut, visiting only the same restaurants because you know what to expect and, more importantly, how to not embarrass yourself in that setting.
You’ve come to rely on alcohol and substances in social situations
Social anxiety can make being in the midst of the crowd a highly stressful place to be. Not only are you worried about fitting in, you’re worried about somehow having to come up with what to say, which, of course, can’t be anything less than charming, witty banter, but your words are already starting to fail you and you just can’t seem to think of a single thing to say. Your mind is somehow totally blank.
In times like these, it can be all too easy to turn to the bottle to pacify your social fears and free your inner social butterfly of all those pesky inhibitions. Maybe this tactic has worked for you in the past before, like at parties during college or at the office’s holiday party.
Not only can this type of behaviour become physically unhealthy, it can actually lead to worse social anxiety the next day, when you potentially only remember glimpses of your actions and bits of your humorous anecdotes. Your mind can then spiral and reel as you ruminate over what you did when freed of your inhibitions, which makes it harder for you to go out and enjoy yourself next time around.
Does This Sound Like You? You Can Do Something About It!
If any of these sound like you, don’t worry—social anxiety disorder is actually highly treatable for those who seek professional guidance. Therapy can help you address the automatic negative thought processes underlying your social anxiety, those that usually center around your being inadequate or a “failure” in some way. Oftentimes, simply addressing the root of those internal negative thoughts can provide relief.
But the first step is reaching out and seeking help. If you’re in the Chicago area, consider speaking with a therapist at the Bergen Center of Counseling, where each therapist is trained in cognitive behavioral therapy, which can be particularly helpful in treating social anxiety. Simply fill out the form on the right to get started!
Struggling with social anxiety at work? Find out how to overcome your workplace anxieties here.
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.