girl with social anxiety standing outside other group of girls

Coping with Social Anxiety at Work

From all outer appearances, one would never guess one of the world’s top supermodels struggles with social anxiety. Bella Hadid, who graced five Vogue covers, two Elle covers and one Harper’s Bazaar cover in September 2017 alone, is one of an estimated 17 million adults in the U.S. affected by social anxiety disorder (SAD). Many people with social anxiety avoid situations in which they need to perform or talk in front of others, so being a supermodel is fraught with potentially debilitating situations at every turn.

Hadid recently shared that her initial foray into mainstream modeling sometimes left her physically shaking and crying. While walking the runway, Hadid’s mind would go blank, a common symptom of anxiety disorder, along with sweaty palms, shortness of breath, shaking, panic attacks and an array of negative emotions.

Anxiety in the Workplace

Hundreds of cameras clicking in your face and an enraptured audience as you walk the runway is an extreme situation for someone with SAD. Millions of other people in America are coping with social anxiety in the workplace.

Symptoms may manifest differently at work than they do at home or in other settings. At work, this can lead to an inability to network effectively, avoiding business social events, difficulty developing relationships with coworkers, lack of self-confidence and fear of speaking up at meetings. A national survey on social anxiety in the workplace revealed the six most common issues:

  • Managing staff
  • Dealing with problems
  • Setting and meeting deadlines
  • Maintaining personal relationships
  • Participating in meetings
  • Making presentations

Overcoming Social Anxiety

Selecting a profession and job role closely suiting your interests and personality (including anxiety issues) is important. For example, a sales role involving cold calling potential clients may not be the best career choice for somebody with social anxiety. On the other hand, if someone has a passion for a particular profession, this can drive the desire to find ways to compensate.

The following general tips can help people struggling with social anxiety reduce stress in the workplace.

  • Tell a trusted coworker about your condition to help alleviate discomfort and reduce anticipatory anxiety
  • Learn to recognize symptoms and how to handle them to diminish fears
  • Make to-do lists, prioritize work and allow adequate time to complete projects to lessen anxiety related to workload
  • Avoid overcommitting or offering to take on projects if you don’t have enough time
  • If you’re feeling overwhelmed, ask a coworker for help and offer to reciprocate later
  • Don’t assume your supervisor knows you are overextended, so if you have too much to handle, voice this calmly and diplomatically
  • Take breaks by walking around the block, practice a few minutes of deep breathing or meditate in a private office or any quiet place where you can be alone
  • Remember as many as 45% of people are shy or socially anxious, so many of your coworkers may also be hesitant to voice their opinions in meetings
  • Arrive 10-15 minutes early to business meetings so you are ready to greet others when they come in
  • Engage in brief small talk with coworkers throughout the day (e.g., in the lunchroom, elevator or at the water cooler

Social Anxiety Treatment

If social anxiety disorder is left untreated, it may become chronic and unremitting, resulting in substantial impairments in vocational and social functioning.

Fewer than 5% of people struggling with SAD seek treatment following initial onset and more than one-third report symptom duration of 10 or more years before seeking help. Current treatment protocols for SAD include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), social skills training and interpersonal psychotherapy. Of these interventions, CBT is the most validated approach.

A 2016 study showed CBT was more efficacious in the long term than just drugs or a combination of the two, with nearly 85% of participants experiencing significant improvements or complete resolution of symptoms. A key component of CBT is to help an individual practice approaching social situations and stay in them, thereby learning nothing terrible will happen and anxiety will subside. By retraining behavior and responses, CBT helps breaks the self-fulfilling cycle of avoiding anxiety-provoking situations.

People with SAD have an increased risk of developing major depressive disorder and alcohol use disorder. Individuals with SAD often use alcohol to alleviate anxiety symptoms, leading to alcohol abuse and/or dependence in about 20% of affected individuals.

In one study, SAD was diagnosed in 24.7% of 300 individuals hospitalized for AUD and SAD occurred prior to AUD in 90.2% of these cases. If a person with SAD has co-occurring alcohol or substance use disorder, dual diagnosis treatment addresses both disorders. Treatment typically begins with detox followed by a full spectrum of therapies including CBT. The good news is proper treatment has helped many people triumph over both anxiety and addiction.


Posted on April 9th, 2018 in Blog


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