Its one thing to be shy - social anxiety, however, is a completely different situation.
Just about all of us have had at least one shy or self-conscious moment — perhaps right before going on stage and speaking to a group. And we’ve all experienced embarrassment and humiliation. These feelings are short-lived, and many of us can move forward minus any lasting trauma.
This isn’t the case for the 15 million Americans who live with social anxiety.
Social anxiety or social phobia is more than occasional shyness. With this disorder, there’s an intense fear of social settings; and those who suffer from this condition typically fear embarrassing themselves and being judged by others.
For many sufferers, avoiding social settings is the best way they know how to cope. But given how the majority of us have to work to earn a living, a life of isolation isn’t an option. And depending on the nature of your job, you might have to work with a team, speak in public and attend work-related functions that involve mingling and small talk with strangers.
This might be the dream job for a social butterfly. However, if you suffer from social anxiety, each workday can be a challenge. You might go as far as turning down promotions and avoiding jobs that involve social interaction.
However, social anxiety doesn’t have to control your professional life. Here are four effective ways to cope with social anxiety at work.
Keep Things in Perspective
If you have social anxiety, you’re probably overly preoccupied with how others view you. For this matter, you may strive to always say and do the right things. And since you fear public humiliation, you might be overly critical of your mistakes and blow minor mishaps out of proportion.
Understandably, you can’t help the way you feel; and there’s nothing wrong with wanting others to have a positive opinion of you. But at the same time, you have to understand that most people aren’t paying that much attention to you - they’re too busy worrying about themselves.
So, even if you make a mistake or humiliate yourself, chances are that your coworkers will forget about it a second later. This might sound a bit harsh, but if you remind yourself that you’re not the center of their universe, you might be able to keep your anxiety under control.
Giving a presentation or working with a group might send your social anxiety into overdrive, and you might go to extremes to avoid this type of interaction — such as faking an illness.
Understand, however, that the more you stress about an upcoming presentation or group assignment, the worse you’ll feel. You need to relax, which is understandably much easier to say than do. However, thoroughly preparing can calm your nerves and help you get through your assignment with ease.
Not to say that you won’t be a little nervous, as this is a common response. But if you know your information well, and if you anticipate questions that an audience or team member may ask and prepare satisfying responses, this can build your confidence and keep anxiety under control.
Get to Know Your Coworkers on an Individual Basis
Like most people who suffer from social anxiety, you probably don’t do well in large groups. But you shouldn’t isolate yourself.
Social anxiety isn’t an excuse for being standoffish. Even if you don’t always know what to say, you can still be approachable at work. For example, smile and offer a greeting when you enter a room. If your body language says that you don’t want to be bothered, coworkers might stay away from you; and being the odd-man out can fuel your anxiety.
Additionally, you can take the initiative and get to know your coworkers individually, which will help you feel more comfortable in the workplace. Invite someone to join you for lunch. This gives the two of you an opportunity to talk and get to know each other better. And once you realize that this person isn’t there to judge and criticize you, you’re less likely to be anxious around them.
Now, if you can do this with four or five coworkers, your job might become a less scary place.
Bring a Friend to Social Functions
If you’re scheduled to attend a work-related social function, ask if you can bring a plus one. Having a familiar face by your side might keep your social anxiety under control, helping you get through the night.
Being that awkward person in the corner with no one to talk with is an absolute nightmare for those living with social phobia. But with a friend, you’re never alone. And if your companion is outgoing, that's even better. He or she might initiate conversations with others, which can break the ice and give you an opportunity to calm down and open up.
Although you can't snap your fingers and get rid of social anxiety, there are ways to cope and decrease anxiety at work. This disorder doesn't have to wreck havoc on your life. Keep the aforementioned tips in mind and you'll feel more comfortable around your colleagues.