How to Manage Social Anxiety at Work, and How Residential Treatment Can Help

Social anxiety disorder can be a difficult challenge to cope with in any setting, but it can become especially distressing for business professionals in a collaborative workplace setting. But, by learning how to manage anxiety in the workplace and opening yourself up to recognizing when it’s time to seek help in the form of residential mental health treatment, you can break free from the chains of your anxiety and forge a new path forward to recovery and success.

Sarah is a businesswoman working towards her dream job—an executive position within the company she’s been helping to grow for years. She’s passionate about achieving both her dreams and her company’s goals, but there’s something holding her back. When she gets a new idea, her palms get sweaty at just the thought of trying to share it during a meeting. Giving presentations isn’t just daunting; it’s terrifying. Even making small talk by the water cooler is a difficult feat more easily avoided than accomplished. At parties, she drinks—often too much—to forget her worries just long enough to survive the night.

There’s a name for Sarah’s fear—social anxiety disorder—but it’s one she finds difficult to accept. After all, she’s a professional. She loves what she does. She can’t afford to be afraid of something as crucial to her calling as social connection—but she is. And she hates it.

What business professionals like Sarah need to understand is that social anxiety can happen to anyone—even the CEO or president of a powerful company. If you or someone you love is suffering from social anxiety to the extent that it negatively affects your (or their) professional life, know that it isn’t something to be ashamed of or feel guilty for—but it is something you can manage and even overcome, provided you’ve got the right tools in your arsenal.

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How to Manage Social Anxiety in a Professional Work Environment

Like all anxiety disorders, social anxiety is rooted in fears which are disproportionate to reality. Unlike other anxiety-based conditions, however, social anxiety is specific to certain worries and situations. You hesitate to approach a coworker with a question or a conversation starter because you fear that they will judge you as stupid, awkward, weird, or all of the above. You keep your head down during meetings and functions because approaching groups who are already elbows-deep in conversation ties your stomach into knots and makes your heart beat like a heavy metal drum solo.

What’s happening in these moments is this: your mind and body are registering the situation as being dangerous, but rather than adjusting their reaction to the actual severity of the situation, they react as if you are in mortal peril. Your body goes into fight-or-flight response, and your mind is flooded with negative thoughts and emotions. However, avoiding your anxieties only makes them that much more debilitating and difficult to overcome in the long run. This is why the key to managing your social anxiety, at work and in general, is to train yourself to realign expectations with reality by replacing these reactions with positive thoughts and proactive solutions.

If you’re thinking…

Try this instead…

“I can’t start a random conversation with my coworkers at the water cooler. I’d get tongue-tied and make a fool of myself.” Keep abreast of (non-controversial) current events; these make great conversation starters. Start by approaching one person at a time; a simple, “Hey, how are you?” is all it takes to get started.
“I can’t handle all these calls today. Talking on the phone is so stressful and awkward!” Make a loose script before calls, and keep it handy while you talk. Imagine the most likely topics/questions that might be raised so that you’re not as likely to be caught off-guard. You can also practice calls with someone you trust (outside of your work hours) to build your confidence and increase your comfort level.
“I have a new idea that I’m really excited about, but I can’t bring it up during a big staff meeting. If it gets rejected, I’ll be so embarrassed!” Remember that while rejection is possible, it is also possible that others will be just as excited as you are about what you have to say. Even if your idea is turned down, your boss and coworkers should appreciate your input—and if they do not, the fault lies with them, not you. It may also help to find someone you trust and tell them the idea first, and use their feedback to determine if and how you will present it to the larger group.
“I have a big presentation today and I’m absolutely terrified. I can’t do this. Maybe I should call in sick.” Focus on crafting your presentation, rather than how it will feel to give it. Make notecards and bring them with you if you can. Practice by yourself or with a friend—practice in the room you will be presenting in, if possible. If technology is involved, try it out in advance to avoid glitches during the real thing. When giving your presentation, pick out one person in the audience and pretend you’re talking only to them. Above all, remember that you are safe, and that you will get through this—in fact, it will be over before you know it.
“The holiday party is tonight and it’s supposed to be a blast, but I’m so nervous my hands are shaking. I’d better have a couple of drinks before I go, or I’ll never make it through the night.” Coping with anxiety using alcohol or drugs is all too common and all too tempting, but it is not a healthy response and, ultimately, compounds the problem rather than solving it. Instead, try light exercise, yoga, or meditation beforehand to calm your mind. Wear clothes that you look and feel good in. Go with a friend, if you can, and arrive early—it’s easier to approach other early birds one or two at a time than a tightly-knit group already in the midst of a conversation that you may not be readily equipped to join.

Above all, be kind to yourself. Overcoming fear is never easy, regardless of its nature or label. Even simply accepting that you do have social anxiety and making the choice to work towards overcoming it is an act of bravery in itself, and one that you should be proud of yourself for taking on.

Remember that progress is best achieved in small, incremental steps—don’t try to “cure” yourself of anxiety all at once. Remember, too, that social anxiety disorder is not your fault, nor did you do anything to “deserve” it. No one deserves to be trapped by their fear. What you do deserve is understanding and support, both from yourself and from your loved ones, as you move forward on the path to recovery one step at a time.

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When to Seek Residential Mental Health Treatment for Your Social Anxiety

While it is possible for some to recover from social anxiety disorder without help, in most cases (especially more severe cases), participating in professional treatment is preferable. Therapy gives you a safe space in which to learn more about yourself, your anxiety, and how you can build the tools you need to cope with, and recover from, your disorder.

And, if you happen to suffer from a co-occurring substance abuse disorder as a result of attempting to self-medicate, you’re not alone—especially if your substance of choice comes in the form of so-called “liquid courage.” According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), nearly 20% of people diagnosed with social anxiety disorder suffer from concurrent alcoholism.

Treating both a mental disorder and addiction at once is a complex process which cannot safely be undertaken alone. Recovering from both takes time, patience, space, a strong support network, and medical expertise. Instead, consider seeking long-term residential treatment. A mental health facility that specializes in treating both mental health disorders and substance abuse disorders can give you the support and resources you need to heal both your body and your mind safely and effectively.

Even if you do not suffer from a concurrent substance abuse disorder, residential treatment may still be a necessity if your condition is severe enough that you cannot cope with it on your own. If social anxiety is inhibiting your ability to pursue success in your career or perform even simple daily tasks during your regular workday, it’s time to put your health and wellbeing first. In a residential setting, you will be able to participate in proven therapeutic techniques which will help you recover from your social anxiety in a safe, judgment-free setting. In this way, you can heal without the distraction of worrying what your coworkers will think, or how your boss will see you. And, when you return to work, you’ll finally be free to pursue success—without being held back or weighed down by your anxiety.

Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive residential treatment for people struggling with mental health disorders as well as co-occurring substance abuse and eating disorders. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Los Angeles programs, and how we can help you or your loved one start on the path to lasting wellness.