7 Tips for Coping With Anxiety in Work Meetings

People talking in a conference room.
Take control of your anxiety in meetings to improve your work life. Getty / Lumina Images

Anxiety in meetings at work can be a problem for those with social anxiety disorder (SAD). Perhaps you have missed out on promotion opportunities because you didn't speak up in meetings like your colleagues. Or maybe you have avoided promotions completely because they would mean that you would have to attend more meetings.

The good news is that there are coping strategies that you can use to help alleviate social anxiety in meetings at work, both in person and virtual. These are most useful if your anxiety is not severe or you are already in treatment for SAD.

Practice

If you are required to present during meetings, or simply wish to improve your skills at speaking to a group, there is no substitute for regular practice. Consider joining a group like Toastmasters. The organization will help you improve your ability to make introductions, to think on your feet, and to talk informally to a group. During the first few sessions, you are free to observe and decide whether you want to participate.

If Toastmasters isn't an option for you, you can still brush up on your communication skills on your own. Make a point of telling a story in front of friends or asking a question of every guest at the next gathering you attend. View every social encounter as a chance to practice and become better at communicating.

Reframe Meeting Stress

Cognitive reframing (also called cognitive restructuring) is a technique you can use to change your perspective on a situation or experience. In this case, it might mean working to look at pre-meeting nerves as common and manageable. Try to see them as a positive: You care about your work and your colleagues and you can channel this caring and energy into your performance.

You can also use reframing after a meeting if you are struggling with regrets or worries. One study showed that it is effective at helping people with social anxiety manage post-event processing. If you are working with a therapist to treat SAD, discuss this technique with them.

You can also try other stress-management techniques prior to a meeting, such as breathing exercises, a few yoga stretches, or a five- to 10-minute walk.

If anxiety flares up during a meeting, be ready with a few stress-relief tactics that you can use on the spot. These might include deep breathing or progressive relaxation.

Arrive Early

Being early for a meeting allows you to start out with a smaller group of people, which makes it easier to greet them informally. When you arrive early, you won't worry about being late. You can also use this time to check out or set up any equipment you might be using for the meeting, such as a projector.

Manage Avoidance Behaviors

Perhaps you get through business meetings by being so thoroughly prepared that you have a scripted answer to every question. Although preparation is important (see below), being over-prepared is a subtle type of avoidance.

It is just as important to trust yourself to be able to respond spontaneously to questions and discuss issues that aren't pre-planned. Realize that in these situations, it is OK to say that you are unsure about something and that you will look into it.

Other avoidance behaviors might include not looking anyone in the eye, covering your mouth when you talk, or simply avoiding speaking at all in a meeting. If you find yourself engaging in avoidance behaviors, give yourself permission to feel some anxiety in meetings. Realize it's not the end of the world if others notice you are nervous, and eventually you will feel more comfortable. 

Bring a pen and paper to meetings and take notes by hand. This keeps your hands busy and your mind focused, and also helps you look and feel productive.

Know Your Strengths

If you suffer from social anxiety in meetings, you will probably never be the most eloquent speaker in the group. However, that doesn't mean that you can't gradually improve your speaking skills so that you come across as professional and poised.

In addition to being a good speaker, being a good listener is a valuable skill in meetings. If this sounds like you, use your listening skills to your advantage. If you listen carefully to what others say and choose your words carefully, they will admire your wisdom and patience.

Prepare

A reasonable amount of preparation will leave you feeling confident. Over-preparing or under-preparing may leave you feeling even more anxious—particularly because these are often a reflection of your anxiety.

To help you feel ready for a meeting, anticipate and research issues beforehand so that you are up to speed. Wear clothing that is comfortable and professional, and that makes you feel good. Talk on the phone with a friend or family member who makes you feel relaxed before a meeting, and then carry that feeling with you into the meeting.

If you are participating in a virtual meeting, download any software you will need to access the meeting in advance. Find and set up a space to join from—a room that is quiet and well-lit, with a neutral background, is best.

Use Visuals

Visuals are great tools for getting a message across and for drawing attention away from yourself. If you are speaking to the group, use some sort of visual medium as part of your presentation. This will enhance the message you are trying to communicate—and it will take the pressure off of you being alone in the spotlight.

This is a great strategy for virtual meetings as well. If you will be presenting, put together a few slides and share your screen when you're talking. Then you can reduce the time you're on camera. You can also hide or minimize the window that shows your view of yourself, which can be distracting to look at.

A Word From Verywell

If you suffer from severe social anxiety, there is no substitute for treatment such as medication or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). In combination with the tips above, you should be well on your way to successfully managing social anxiety in meetings at work.

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4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  3. Rudaz M, Ledermann T, Margraf J, Becker ES, Craske MG. The moderating role of avoidance behavior on anxiety over time: Is there a difference between social anxiety disorder and specific phobia?PLoS One. 2017;12(7):e0180298. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0180298

  4. Canton J, Scott KM, Glue P. Optimal treatment of social phobia: Systematic review and meta-analysisNeuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2012;8:203-215. doi:10.2147/NDT.S23317

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