We have put together a helpful guide with practical tips that will help you on how to overcome and deal with social anxiety in three key areas of life- in the workplace, in school, and at parties.
What is Social Anxiety?
Social Anxiety Disorder also known as social phobia or social shyness is a state where you feel extreme fear of certain social situations. The situation could be something you are not familiar with or something where you would be assessed of viewed by a number of peoples. Other situations could be large social gatherings, meeting new people for the first time and public speaking can all cause feelings of apprehension in even the most avid of social butterflies. You may feel scary from these situations and get anxious just thinking about them or to let them go, which disrupts your life in the process.
Sometimes these feelings can be overcome with practice, willpower and a few deep breaths. For others, fear of social situations is a real and debilitating condition that makes them dread large gatherings of people and has serious negative effects on their lives.
Symptoms of Social Anxiety
Social anxiety, or social phobia, is more than just getting a bit nervous at parties or before giving a talk in front of the whole class. Social anxiety is a condition typified by extreme worry in relation to everyday social activities and interactions. Feared situations can include everything from speaking on the telephone to meeting strangers or visiting busy shopping centres.
Some emotional symptoms include:
- High self-consciousness
- Fear of being watched and judged by others
- Fear of humiliation
- Regular intrusive thoughts about things that make you worry
- Prolonged and intense worry about social events long before they occur
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling dizzy or faint
- Increased heart rate
These emotional and physical symptoms produce noticeable behavioural changes. These include a general avoidance of social situations, reluctance to step forward or speak in front of large groups of people and a tendency to hide quietly in the background and hope to avoid being noticed. If you are feeling these symptoms then you don’t need to worry as there are lots of social anxiety treatment options available.
Causes of Social Anxiety
As with many anxiety disorders, the causes of social anxiety are thought to be a combination of genetics and environment or upbringing. Specific events and patterns in upbringing can also cause young people to fear social interaction.
These factors include:
- Highly controlling or overprotective parenting styles
- Physical, emotional or sexual abuse
- Family conflict
- Feelings of inadequacy
- Low self-esteem
- Lack of attention or praise from parents
- Personality factors like shyness and introversion
- History of anxiety in the family
Any of these experiences can cause an individual to learn that being in the spotlight is something to be feared. Voices of criticism and negativity from other people can become internalised and the individual will begin to mentally speak to themselves in a self-defeating way- predicting that interaction will go badly and being highly critical of their own abilities.
Problems Caused by Social Anxiety
Quite apart from stopping you making friends and enjoying social occasions, severe social anxiety can have a number of knock-on effects on your health and behaviour, including:
Coping with Social Anxiety
If you suffer from extreme anxiety about social situations, it can be a very isolating and lonely experience. But you are definitely not alone. Around 11% of Australians will experience social anxiety at some point in their life. Globally, issues around anxiety affect anywhere from 8 to 10 percent of the population, meaning that millions of people around the world are experiencing the same symptoms you are.
Suffering from social anxiety does not mean you dislike social situations or hate hanging out with other people- often it means you desperately want to interact with your friends and peers but find yourself too afraid or inhibited to do so. The good news is that there are ways to overcome social anxiety and mentally getting yourself in the right frame of mind to go out and face the world.
Our guide will show you how to cope deal with social anxiety in three key areas of life- in the workplace, in school, and at parties.
Social Anxiety at Work
Suffering from shyness and social phobia in your workplace can have more negative consequences than simply making it harder to make friends. If you feel too inhibited to interact with your co-workers, put yourself forward or feedback to your managers, chances are that you won’t get recognised for the hard work that you do. Worse, you may come across as distant and uninterested as your colleagues mistake your anxiety for lack of drive or initiative. Constant anxiety can also rob you of your focus an increase your susceptibility to stress.
Specific Causes of Anxiety at Work Can Include:
- Talking on the phone
- Giving presentations
- Large group discussions
- Talking to superiors
- Interacting with customers
- Dealing with difficult colleagues
Symptoms of Social Anxiety at Work
- Fear of normal everyday interactions
- Anxiety about parts of your job that require interaction
- Reluctance to put yourself forward or volunteer
- Difficulty contributing to meetings or group conversations
- Feeling self-conscious or that other people are judging you
- Difficulty doing your job when there are large groups of people nearby
- Physical symptoms like nausea, sweating, heavy breathing and headaches
Tips Overcome Social Anxiety in the Workplace
You can’t avoid work and you can’t avoid people when you’re at work. If you want to do well in your workplace then learning to manage your social anxiety is a difficult but necessary skill. Here are some tips as to how you can overcome social anxiety at work:
- Prepare well- remove the fear of not knowing what to say by planning it in advance, or bringing cue cards and notes to meetings or presentations.
- Arrive early to meetings- Arrive 5-10 minutes early to events so that you can talk to people one-on-one as they arrive rather than being confronted by a whole group of people.
- Build your way up to big interactions- When it comes to day to day interactions with your colleagues, start small and build up your confidence. The queue for the coffee machine in the morning is a great place to quickly catch up with someone.
- Practice at home- if phone calls or specific social interactions frighten you, practice at home by calling businesses (e.g. restaurants) to find out information about them. Slowly build up until you are comfortable with more complex interactions.
- Make appointments- if you need to speak to a superior then let them know in advance and arrange a convenient time so that you catch them in the right mood to listen.
- Have something to say- watching the news, staying on top of current issues and popular music or sports will give you plenty of things to contribute to any office conversation.
- Build a network- find as many individuals as you can who you are comfortable talking. A few friendly faces in the crowd will help you relax in any situation.
- Relaxation techniques- breathing exercise and meditation can really help you stay calm and focussed while at work.
- Clear your head- going for a walk in your lunch break or taking a few minutes away from your desk can help you calm yourself down and improve your mood.
Social Anxiety at Parties
Parties are supposed to be fun, right? A place to relax and have fun with the people you know and love. Yet for people with social anxiety disorder it can be hard to imagine anything worse than a large group of people you know vaguely all crammed into a small, loud space with no possible means of escape.
Specific Situations that can cause Social Anxiety at Parties Include:
- Meeting new people
- Not knowing what to say or awkward silences
- Very large groups of people
- Not knowing anyone in the room
- Being the centre of attention
Symptoms of Social Anxiety at Parties
- Fear of talking to strangers
- Avoidance of large groups
- Reluctance to attend large gatherings of people
- Tendency to stay with people you know well
- Difficulty making eye contact or talking for long periods of time
- Fear of saying something stupid or looking silly
- High self-consciousness about joining in with activities like dancing
- Feeling self-conscious or worrying that you come across as shy or nervous
So what can you do to deal with social anxiety at a party and turn this nightmare of social interaction into the enjoyable activity it’s meant to be?
Overcome Social Anxiety at Party with Below Tips
- Arrive fashionably early-. Turn up on time, ideally at the same time as some of your friends, and get talking to people as they arrive.
- Bring something to do. Chatting to people you don’t know for long periods of time can be exhausting, so bring something to do that isn’t all about talking- board games, football, playing cards etc.
- Find like-minded individuals- chances are you aren’t the only one struggling with the crowds. Find someone who appears to be on their own or in a small group and just start talking.
- Don’t give up- not everyone will click with you right away. If you aren’t getting anywhere with one group- move on to someone else!
- Have something to say- have some good jokes up your sleeve or some opinions on current issues so that you can contribute to group discussions.
- Stop focussing on yourself- listen to other people and invest in their stories and problems rather than focussing on what people are thinking about you.
- Avoid excessive alcohol- drinking to numb your worries is a bad idea for so many reasons. Quite apart from the health consequences, you are much more likely to do or say something stupid if under the influence.
- Have an exit strategy- don’t overburden yourself by staying at a party for hours on end. Stay as long as you feel comfortable and then don’t feel bad about slipping away.
Social Anxiety at School
School can be a tough environment for those with social anxiety disorder. Being stuck with the same 30 classmates all day and having to overcome obstacles like giving presentations, getting picked for sports and the ever-present fear of being picked on by a teacher to answer a question you don’t know can be enough to convince any shy young person to want to hide away.
Specific Situations that Cause Social Anxiety at School can include:
- Being bullied or humiliated by peers
- Contributing to class discussions or speaking in front of the class
- Being selected by the teacher to answer a question
- Getting an answer wrong or doing badly in an activity in front of lots of people
- Taking part in group activities or games
- School trips or long periods of time away from home
- Moving to a new class or starting at a new school
What Are the Symptoms of Social Anxiety in Children?
Separating full-blown social anxiety disorder from general shyness can be a little tricky. The following symptoms and behaviours are characteristic of social anxiety:
- Fear of joining other children in games or activities
- Difficulty making eye contact when speaking
- Avoiding being the focus of attention
- Difficulty interacting with new people
- Intense worry about social events long before they occur
- Frequently imagining social interaction going badly or being rejected
- Reluctance to speak for fear of saying something “wrong” or “stupid”
- Difficulty concentrating on work when there is lots of noise
- Physical symptoms like sweating, blushing, increased heart rate and nausea
If you regularly suffer from these emotions and thoughts, it could be a sign of social anxiety disorder.
How to Overcome Social Anxiety at School
As with any situation, learning to deal with social anxiety at school comes down to practice and positive thinking.
- Avoid avoidance- staying away from socialising stops you learning good social skills and reinforces the idea that you can’t do it. Socialising may be painful but you need to keep trying.
- Practice- the more you talk to people, the better you will get and the more your brain will see that there’s nothing to worry about.
- Join class discussion- raise your hand to answer simple questions. Once you become more confident you can start to answer more difficult ones. Getting it wrong isn’t as embarrassing as you think!
- Celebrate success- train yourself to enjoy socialising by rewarding yourself when you do well.
- Join a club- joining a music group or sports team gives you a way of interacting with peers that isn’t focussed on talking, and can help build your confidence.
- Prepare presentations and group work thoroughly- you will be more nervous about getting up in front of the class if you have no idea what to say, so plan it carefully well in advance.
- Love yourself anyway- shyness is not the end of the world, so don’t hate yourself for it. Those around you are not nearly as critical of you as you are, so try to silence the inner voice of doubt and criticism.
Whatever the situation, social anxiety can be managed by a combination of practice, building confidence and a little bit of forward planning. Get stuck in to improving your social skills at work, school and parties, and pretty soon you’ll start making friends and growing in confidence. And who knows- you might even start having fun!
We hope you liked our guide on how to Overcome Social Anxiety at Work, School and Parties. We look forward to reading your thoughts in the comment section.
When to Look for Professional Help to Manage Social Anxiety
Do you feel highly anxious in social situations? Do you see many of the symptoms and behaviours or social anxiety in your own life? If you are tired of feeling stressed out by social situations, work or school then contact Angus Munro Psychology. Our expert team of psychologists can help you overcome social anxiety using tried-and-tested cognitive techniques. Our supportive counselling can give you the confidence and self esteem you need to face the world unafraid.
References and Links:
Mindframe-media.info – statistics on the prevalence of social anxiety in Aus.
Futurity– statistics on the prevalence of social anxiety around the world
Gurl.com– practical tips for teenagers, especially girls, to overcome social anxiety at school
Anxiety Disorders in Children & Adolescents, 2nd edition, edited by Tracy L. Morris & John S. March
Anxiety Disorders in Adults by Peter D. McLean & Sheila R. Woody