Managing Social Anxiety Disorder at Work

Social Anxiety Disorder Can Be a Real Issue in the Workplace

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Managing social anxiety disorder (SAD) at work involves recognizing the day-to-day impact of the disorder on your career and coming up with solutions to implement. Receiving a diagnosis and entering treatment is the first step toward managing your anxiety symptoms. Telling your employer may also help in that you may receive accommodations to help you better do your job.

At the same time, people with SAD may face  specific problems in the workplace, including the inability to network effectively, fear of attending business social events, problems developing relationships with coworkers, lack of self-confidence and difficulty speaking up in meetings.

Bernardo Carducci, Ph.D., a psychology professor at Indiana University, head of the Shyness Research Institute, and author of Shyness: A Bold New Approach and The Pocket Guide to Making Successful Small Talk, argues that when shyness is properly managed, there is no limit to the achievement of shy people in the business world. Carducci points to the success of notably shy Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, one of the world’s richest and most successful people, and also a shy person.

While shyness is not the same as social anxiety disorder, ideas to help shy people adapt to the business world may also be useful for managing social anxiety in the workplace—particularly if you struggle with social skills.

Business Meetings

If you feel uncomfortable in meetings, Carducci advises arriving 10 to 15 minutes early so that you can meet people as they arrive. This is the opposite of what you probably do now; you likely tend to show up late so that you don’t have to engage in small talk with others in the meeting. However, this has the unintended effect of making you feel more isolated.

During meetings, remember that others also may also feel uncomfortable about speaking up. Carducci notes that up to 45% of people are shy or socially anxious, meaning that nearly half the people in your meeting are also nervous about voicing their opinion. Usually, they will be relieved if you are the first to speak and will admire you for doing so.

If you find your anxiety overwhelmingly uncomfortable during meetings, try examining the thoughts that you have while in a meeting. If you usually think, "I am terrible in meetings. I always make a fool of myself," ask yourself whether that thought is helpful and realistic. Could you replace it with a more helpful thought such as "I am trying hard to do better in meetings. I think most people are okay with how I come across."

Speaking to Supervisors

If you find speaking with a supervisor anxiety provoking, plan ahead. See if you can make an appointment to speak with your supervisor and practice what you are going to say in advance. This way, she is prepared to listen to you and you will be more at ease.

If anxiety still gets the best of you, work your way up gradually to asking harder questions. Make a list of things you need to talk to your supervisor about, and then start with the one that feels least anxiety-provoking, such as asking for clarification on some aspect of your work.

Business Social Functions

Depending on your place of employment, there may a variety of social functions that you are expected to attend: the company picnic, annual holiday party, retirement gatherings, business conferences or business lunches. Make sure you have something to talk about on these occasions. Read the newspaper, visit an online news source or read current magazines.

Avoid using alcohol to overcome your inhibitions. Often just the passage of time will have the same effect on reducing inhibitions as consuming alcohol. The next time you are at a social event, notice how your anxiety level decreases over time even when not drinking.

Job Duties

Some aspects of the work itself can be challenging for those with social anxiety. For example, if you are in sales, you might find yourself needing to engage in cold calling clients. You may need to give presentations or speeches as part of your role. It can feel doubly difficult to manage your anxiety when your performance of social and performance tasks is weaved into your job role. Choose a job that suits your interests and personality—anxiety is an issue that can be work on as long as you have passion for your job.


Networking is an important part of being successful in your career. If you aren’t able to build relationships with the people that you work with, it will be much more difficult to advance at work. In addition, since you spend most of your waking hours at work, wouldn’t you like to have friends there?

To become more comfortable with coworkers, constantly strive to expand your comfort zone. Engage in small talk with people that you see throughout the day, such as in the lunchroom, in the elevator or at the water cooler. Greet people with general comments or compliments and start brief conversations. Gradually, other people will see that you are the kind of person who is approachable and with whom conversation is easy.

Looking for work

If you are new to the workforce or looking for work after a long period of unemployment or time spent in the same job, the prospect of going on job interviews can be intimidating. Although job interviews can be more challenging for those with social anxiety disorder, with proper preparation and use of coping strategies, that job can be yours.

A Word From Verywell

Remember that you don’t need to change who you are. However, if you are in a competitive workplace and feel that your anxiety is interfering with your career advancement, or if you simply want to feel more comfortable in the workplace, it is worth investing  time in developing a comfort level with the social aspects of your work.

If you continue to struggle with social anxiety at work, consider visiting a therapist who specializes in anxiety disorders. Social anxiety disorder is a mental illness that requires professional intervention for full recovery.

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Article Sources
  • American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illnesses, 5th edition. 2013.
  • Carducci BJ. Shyness: A bold new approach. New York: Harper Collins; 2000.
  • Carducci BJ. Pocket guide to making successful small talk: How to talk to anyone anytime, anywhere about anything. New York: Pocket Guide Publications; 1999.