Dealing with Social Anxiety at Work, According to Experts

Photo credit: Public Domain

Photo credit: Public Domain

“Seven percent of US adults have social anxiety disorder,'' explains Dr. Danielle Johnson, Chief of Adult Psychiatry at Lindner Center of Hope. And in the workplace, social anxiety can come to the forefront, especially when you’re expected to speak in front of a group. You may feel like you’re the only one that avoids these opportunities out of fear of embarrassing yourself in front of your colleagues.

You may also worry that your social anxiety is getting in the way of your job performance or your professionalism. But if you keep shying away from public speaking opportunities, you’ll quickly feel stagnant.

Don’t sweat it. This is a completely normal feeling for people at any point in their careers. Award-winning professor and professional speaker Dr. Brynn Winegard is an expert in this kind of career-paralyzing fear, “It’s completely reasonable, sane, rational, logical, and frankly, downright clearheaded to be petrified of speaking publicly at work.”

There are many reasons why you may be anxious about speaking in front of others, and Dr. Winegard is familiar with them all. “Social rejection, isolation, ostracization, or ill-acceptance at work means more than out-group identification and de-tribalization. One’s livelihood, family security, career prospects, psychological safety, belongingness, and reputation are potentially at stake.”

And here’s the hard truth that many people don’t realize. If you suffer from social anxiety, that won’t disappear when you step foot into your office. You are the same person regardless of the setting, whether at work, school, or home. Dr. Johnson has dealt with social anxiety herself throughout her career. “As a physician in an academic setting, I’ve had opportunities to give lectures to students and residents, present grand rounds, and speak at community education events.  Because of a fear of public speaking, I used to decline.”

So, how can you start facing this fear? Let’s look at three steps you can follow to become the professional you’ve always wanted to be. 

Step 1: Do some self-reflection to identify what contributes to your anxiety in the workplace.
Did you just start a new job and don’t have friends at work? Has your boss given you feedback that you’ve been underperforming? Spend a few minutes thinking about this, and don’t stop till you’ve thought of at least three contributing factors.

Step 2: Define your own expectations of yourself as well as others’ expectations of you.
For example, you might feel unqualified to speak at an event that your supervisor invited you to join. Dr. Johnson has had to deal with her own concerns about workplace expectations. “There are often not clear expectations given of the public speaking requirements in the workplace, and training is not provided for people who are not comfortable with public speaking.” To address this, ask your boss to set aside time to talk over expectations with you. This will help you prepare yourself for success.

Step 3: Find someone you can confide in long-term and who can give you firm guidance.
There are many types of people you can consult, and your choice will depend on your personality and career stage. Do you want a career mentor? This is someone who has “been there,” meaning that they have first-hand experience with similar professional challenges and can act as a sounding board for any decisions you have to make. This person can be someone you know, or you can tap into your professional network and online platforms to connect with someone new.

You might also seek out a clinical professional, such as a therapist or psychiatrist, if you feel that social anxiety is having a significant impact on your well-being. Self-improvement isn’t always a one-person job, and that’s okay.

Now, put your business slacks on, and go be that professional!

By Emina Cepalovic, Growth Marketer and a Certified Professional