Work can be stressful no matter if you suffer from a mental health disorder or not. But if you’re someone who does deal with a mental health issue—such as social anxiety disorder—working can be extremely difficult, to say the least.
Typically, people with social anxiety disorder are incredibly conscious of how others might be reacting to and perceiving them, which can lead to a strong feeling of inferiority and to experiencing imposter syndrome. They may also find it very difficult to interact with colleagues, clients, and managers. In addition, social anxiety can make it hard to attend group functions, such as training sessions or team events.
With interaction such a huge part of working for a business, social anxiety can be a major hindrance to workplace and career success. In fact, Mental Health America estimates that around 15 million American adults have social anxiety, which means that around seven percent of people struggle with this condition every day. The good news is there are specific strategies to manage social anxiety in the workplace, and below are four of the most effective.
1. Use anxiety management techniques
A number of leading rehab centers around the world believe that learning therapy techniques can help you get a handle on your condition in any situation. For example, according to Luxury Rehabs, “One of the most impactful effects of getting treatment for anxiety is learning techniques for managing your anxiety that you can rely on and use for the rest of your life. No matter how you get treatment for your anxiety, your therapist will likely equip you with the skills to prevent your anxiety from reaching a critical point.”
There are several ways to manage anxiety, from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, also known as CBT, to mindfulness and stress management. These techniques can help you evaluate the validity of your anxious thoughts and question them, asking yourself, ‘Can you provide evidence that someone views you as incapable at your job? Has there been a situation that backs up your beliefs?’
These techniques put distance between your thoughts and the situation, so you can focus on the facts, which can help you to feel more confident. Anxiety management techniques will help you to realize that you don’t need to compare yourself to others, whatever your mind might be telling you.
2. Practice your interactions
Taking part in a meeting, speaking on an important client call, attending a networking event—these types of interactions can be nerve-wracking at the best of times, and especially so if you have anxiety. If you want to feel good about these types of situations and approach them without nervousness, it can help to practice beforehand.
This may take the form of conducting mock interviews with a friend you can trust. Or it could be writing out answers to questions that you can learn before a meeting or conference to have things you can say ready and planned out. Part of what makes these interactions so stress-inducing is the fear that you’re going to say the wrong thing. But by planning for them in advance, you’ll feel more confident and capable.
3. Focus on your breathing
When we get anxious, our heart rate increases and our breathing quickens, making us feel dizzy, lightheaded, and even more stressed. So, an effective tool to use when you’re in a situation that’s making you anxious is to focus on your breathing to calm your body down. It’s something you can do wherever you are, from walking into a busy meeting room to talking to a manager one on one.
The goal is to ride out your anxious feelings and remind your mind that you’re safe, so you can begin to calm down. Take slow, controlled breaths, counting to four as you breathe in and then again as you slowly breathe out. Continue this pattern until your anxiety starts to subside.
A similar technique is to focus on your muscles, which can become tense during an anxiety attack. Focus on various muscles, from your shoulders and hands to your legs and back, relaxing them to lessen your bodily tension.
4. Spot the rainbow
You’re likely aware of the situations and tasks that cause the most anxiety for you at work. And the more you think about how anxious they’ll make you, the more power they’ll have over you. But if you can get a handle on your thoughts, you’ll regain control. And one way to do this is to focus your attention on something else.
For example, if entering a room filled with people causes you to get anxious, look for objects that represent the colors of the rainbow. It gives your mind a task to carry out, which prevents your anxiety from getting out of control. As you scan the room, instead of being nervous about the number of people there are in front of you, you’ll look for a red item, an orange item, and so on.
Anxiety, for many people, will always be present—and, in certain cases, it can be a healthy response. But if it’s hindering your ability to perform well at work, it can be beneficial to find ways to manage it. And using the above techniques is a great place to start.
Chris Harley has a PhD in Clinical Psychology and is passionate about improving the lives of others through his work. Chris enjoys connecting with others and sharing advice around mental health. When he's not exploring the latest well-being practices, he's likely got his head in a gripping murder mystery novel and relaxing with his two cats!
Rasmus Hougaard is on a mission to humanize the workplace. Hougaard is the founder and CEO of the Potential Project, which helps leaders at Accenture, Cisco, Lego, and other top companies manage their minds to stay focused, reduce stress, boost productivity, and improve well-being.
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