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SCIENCE! Here’s How to Beat Social Anxiety at Work

At the National Institute of Mental Health, experts explain that people with social anxiety “have a marked fear of social or performance situations in which they expect to feel embarrassed, judged, rejected, or fearful of offending others.” As you can imagine, that’s bad news for sufferers when they’re on the job.
social anxiety at work
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Social anxiety can impact a person’s performance at work. Decreased job performance results in decreased compensation and fewer opportunities for advancement. Do you suffer from social anxiety at work? The following evidence-based techniques can help.

1. Create Goals to Boost Performance

Social anxiety causes problems including feeling self-conscious in front of other people and worried about feeling humiliated, embarrassed, or rejected. This makes participating in meetings and contributing in group endeavors excruciatingly painful for those who struggle with social anxiety at work.

Over at PsychCentral, Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. advises workers to draft objective goals for themselves at work. Tartakovsky explains that people “might do well, even great, but because of their anxious feelings, they see their performance as abysmal.” In other words, social anxiety reduces your ability to evaluate your own performance.

Create goals for observable behaviors — meaning, things that anyone in the room can see. For example, let’s say you have weekly meetings in which colleagues discuss issues and brainstorm ideas. Due to social anxiety, you most likely make few or no comments in these meetings. Tartakovsky suggests that in situations like these, you create an objective goal to make a minimum of three comments.

Don’t focus on the fact that you are sweating, or nauseated, or you think your voice is shaking. Focus on whether you performed the observable act of making three comments. This way, you will participate in the meeting and contribute your own ideas and expertise.

Also, avoid focusing on the reactions of other people. It doesn’t matter how many people agreed with you or whether your idea was picked from all those considered in the meeting. What matters is that you spoke up and contributed.

2. Get Excited

If you are socially anxious, you’ve probably been told to take a deep breath and calm down. But research from the American Psychological Association shows that getting excited is a more helpful response to performance anxiety than calming techniques. People with social anxiety experience performance anxiety at work, because they are not comfortable speaking in front of the group.

Researchers explain that “since both anxiety and excitement are emotional states characterized by high arousal, it may be easier to view anxiety as excitement rather than trying to calm down to combat performance anxiety.” The research found that “the way we talk about our feelings has a strong influence on how we actually feel.”

Before the next meeting, group project or opportunity to demonstrate your own expertise, tell yourself, “I’m excited!” Resist the temptation to perseverate on sweaty palms or butterflies in your stomach. Give yourself a pep talk and keep telling yourself that you are excited instead.

If you're socially anxious, you've probably been told, 'Calm down!' But research shows that getting excited is a more helpful response to performance anxiety than calming techniques. Click To Tweet

3. Start Small

In the workplace, social anxiety can be misinterpreted as aloofness or unfriendliness, and can isolate you. This is highly deleterious in today’s common workplace cultures that encourage “team players” and networking.

Psychotherapist Kyle MacDonald advises clients with social anxiety to “start small.” Approach one person at the water cooler and say hello, rather than attempting to join a group conversation among employees who have been working together for 10 years.

Short conversations beginning with “How are you?” may give you the opportunity to experience a non-threatening interaction. As discussed above, give yourself objective goals, such as three small conversations during a given week, and chart your progress that you were able interact at least three times.

Finally, don’t forget the importance of enjoying personal time and diversions such as exercise, hobbies and time with family for a relaxing change and mood-booster. You will feel refreshed after a weekend or break during which you did enjoyable things.

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