Social Anxiety in the Workplace
Work can be extremely stressful. Even for those who don’t suffer from any kind of mental health disorder, the workplace can cause anxiety and stress. However, for most people, there are a number of ameliorating factors that make the job bearable, or even enjoyable. Positive relationships with colleagues and managers can minimize the anxiety and stress which is part and parcel of the average workday. For those with social anxiety, however, those relationships can actually be the cause of stress.
Social Anxiety – An Overview
Social anxiety is a condition which limits the sufferer’s ability to function in any kind of social setting. They often struggle to communicate with other people, to behave normally at any kind of public event and to speak in front of others. All three of these things are important in many workplaces and this is what makes social anxiety such a problem for those in employment.
Social anxiety includes four different psychopathological processes which prevents sufferers from effective peer interaction.
Firstly, when in social settings, sufferers shift their attention to observing and monitoring themselves. In turn, this promotes an even more acute awareness of their anxiety response and creates a negative impression of the social situation.
Secondly, when the sufferer monitoring the situation in such a detailed way, they end up distorting it. It becomes impossible to correctly process how others are behaving and this leads to engagement in safety behaviors which are designed to reduce the chances of being rejected.
Thirdly, the sufferer overestimates the negative way in which others are evaluating how they are behaving.
Fourthly, past failures are remembered and these too enhance the individual’s distorted impression of the situation they are currently in.
With all of this going on, it isn’t too difficult to see why social anxiety sufferers can struggle to carry out their job properly. Productive and normal function is curtailed severely.
Social anxiety is estimated to cost the economy of the USA more than $40 billion every year. It negatively impacts on an organization’s economic effectiveness and success while also resulting in burnout for the sufferer. This causes them to take sick leave which, in turn, reduces productivity for the company in question.
Why Is Social Anxiety Such A Problem At Work?
People who have social anxiety are especially aware of the way in which they perceive others are reacting to them. They usually feel inferior when surrounded by co-workers, feeling as if they lack academic achievement, skill or seniority. Interacting with customers, clients, managers, and colleagues can present a serious challenge to those with social anxiety and a culture of making small talk can be a serious barrier.
Those with SAD struggle to network in an effective way. They are afraid of attending business events, find it hard to deal with customers or forge relationships with co-workers, and struggle to speak in meetings. In short, they are effectively crippled in most working environments since interacting with others is a key element in virtually every form of employment.
How Can Social Anxiety Disorder Be Managed At Work?
For those who suffer from social anxiety disorder, coping at work can seem impossible. The first real step towards managing the condition in the workplace is to receive a diagnosis and get some treatment. Although it can be difficult and embarrassing to speak to the employer due to the stigma which is still perceived to surround mental illness, this is an essential course of action since an employer cannot help if they don’t know there’s a problem. Once managers know that you’re suffering from a mental health disorder, they can put accommodations in place to help you cope more effectively and do your job without such distress.
Even before you speak to your manager about your mental health disorder, there are a few tips which you can put into practice to help you cope more effectively with your social anxiety when at work.
Searching For Employment
For anyone with social anxiety, looking for a job can be fraught with difficulties. Whether you’re searching for your first ever job, a position after being unemployed for some time or even just a role which signals a change in career direction, the idea of going to an interview is often extremely intimidating.
Most people are anxious about going to an interview, but for those with SAD, it’s a situation which is especially challenging. Luckily, preparing properly and using healthy coping strategies may help. Asking a friendly to stage mock interviews with you can help you to become familiar with answering questions while deep breathing is sometimes calming, helping you to stay relaxed though the process.
Managing Regular Duties
Although there are a few jobs out there which don’t require any social interaction, they are few and far between. Whether you’re working in retail and have to deal with customers on a daily basis, have to give speeches or presentations as part of an office team, or have to call clients on the telephone as part of a customer service or sales role, communicating with others in the workplace is an integral part of most jobs. Even when there is no need to speak to customers or clients, simply chatting to co-workers can present a challenge to those with social anxiety. Social skills training can help to improve your performance in this respect in the workplace, and a therapist can work with you to overcome your fears.
Networking forms an important part of having a successful career. An inability to form positive relationships with co-workers and others within your field will hold you back when it comes to career advancements. It will also affect your social life – if you never speak to your colleagues you probably won’t be invited to any office social events and you’ll be left out of everyday interactions.
It can be very difficult to overcome a difficulty to speak to co-workers, but expanding your comfort zone is essential. You can begin by experimenting with small talk when speaking to those you regularly see during the working day. Say hello to them in the lunchroom or elevator, or try to make a passing comment by the coffee machine or water cooler. You don’t need to say anything amazing – most people will respond to even the most simple compliments or comments and a conversation can be generated.
When you have social anxiety, it’s common to appear distant and aloof. This leads colleagues to think you don’t want to talk to them and eventually they begin to ignore you. If you can engage in a little small talk every now and then, others will begin to realize you’re approachable after all. They’ll then begin including you in conversations. You don’t need to worry too much about what you say, the most important thing is simply to be present and to add a few interjections in group discussions. Others will soon become more comfortable around you, and hopefully, in turn, you’ll begin to feel more comfortable around them.
Talking To Managers
Talking to your manager is often very difficult when you have social anxiety. It’s common to agonize over even small amounts of contact, and if you need to ask a question or clarify an issue it can become an insurmountable challenge. If you continue to avoid your manager, however, your performance will suffer.
If you’re struggling to speak casually with a supervisor or manager, you may be able to make an appointment in advance. You can then take the time to practice what you need to say so you’ll have clear ideas ready to present. If this is still too difficult, you may be able to communicate via email or text. If you need to attend a one-to-one meeting, you may find it easier to make a list of points to raise or issues to discuss. This will reduce your anxiety since you’ll have notes to focus on. This will have the added advantage of making you appear more prepared.
If you have some difficult questions or issues to raise with your employer, you may need to work up to it slowly. Form a list of topics which need to be discussed with your manager and then begin with the one which causes you least anxiety. You can then work up to discussing the more challenging topics.
Handling Business Meetings
Business meetings can cause someone with social anxiety a lot of discomfort. Yet they can’t really be avoided. If you arrive earlier that the other attendees this may prove to be helpful. You probably turn up late to avoid having to make small talk with other attendees but this makes you more isolated overall. Arriving early allows you to greet others when they arrive. While this feels more difficult, it will raise your comfort level with time.
Remember you’re unlikely to be the only person in the room who feels uncomfortable about talking in meetings. Many people, even those without social anxiety, dislike expressing their opinions in front of others. Knowing you aren’t alone can be empowering.
If you’re finding your anxiety particularly distressing in meetings, examine your thoughts. Are your thoughts realistic or helpful? If you’re thinking that you’re terrible at speaking in public, this isn’t going to help you to improve your performance. Replacing it with a thought which is more positive, such as “I’m working to speak more in meetings” can be helpful. Although it may seem uncomfortable, over time you’ll find that repeating positive affirmations rather than negative ones builds up your confidence.
Attending Social Events
Some roles require you to attend social functions as part of your job. Whether you have to be present at the annual holiday party, a company picnic, a retirement gathering, business lunch or conference, it can be equally challenging to be part of an event which includes a lot of other people, some of whom you may not know. It can help to prepare something to say on such occasions. Watching or reading the news will give you some up to date topics of conversation and will help you to get small talk started. Don’t use alcohol to cope in these situations. This could just prove to be embarrassing and may impact negatively on your career. It also won’t help your confidence in the long run.
Visiting A Therapist
If you’re finding it very difficult to cope with your social anxiety when you’re at work, visiting a therapist is the best solution. A trained counselor can help you to develop new ways of coping with social situations and to overcome the difficulties you face on a daily basis in the workplace.
CBT or cognitive behavioral therapy is one effective treatment to counteract SAD. CBT looks at the way that you think and feel in social situations then challenges it.
Therapy allows you to see it’s harder for others to spot your anxiety than you believe. Most people don’t focus on others in minute detail when they’re engaged in social interactions. This is especially likely to be the case in the work environment as managers, clients and co-workers are more focused on the task in hand.
CBT requires SAD sufferers to evaluate their perceptions about themselves and then to look for evidence that others see them in the same way. If you feel that you’re useless in meetings or lack the necessary qualifications to do your job properly when compared to others in your office, your therapist will ask you to look for evidence that these things are the case. Has someone told you that your performance isn’t up to standard? Do you actually have less qualifications that your colleagues? Have you been reprimanded for your poor quality work? CBT helps by allowing you to recognize that your work can stand alone and you don’t have to compare yourself to other people.
Coping With Social Anxiety At Work
The working environment is often a place where people feel stressed and anxious, even if they don’t suffer from social anxiety. Although the interactions which occur in the workplace can be extremely difficult for those with SAD, it is possible to handle them and cope in a healthy way with the right help and support. The first step is to get a diagnosis and treatment from a professional therapist. The next step is to inform your managers of your mental health disorder and begin to take steps to increase your confidence when dealing with colleagues, customers and clients. It may be difficult at first, but with time, it’s possible to overcome your problems and enjoy a rewarding career.
If you’re in or near Southern California, The Meadowglade might be what you need! Reach out to us in order to find out how our facility can be a help in your healing process! Searching for help with your anxiety is the first step towards managing your disorder! The Meadowglade can help!