5 Practices to Overcome Social Anxiety At Work And Thrive Under Pressure
By The Mindful Leader Team
We are all still dealing with the aftereffects of the pandemic: studies have shown that isolation, fears, and anxiety related to COVID-19 caused a significant increase in anxiety symptoms across the general population. On top of that, with the state of polarization and technology addiction, we are more scared and uncomfortable in social settings than ever before.
In the workplace, we have added pressures from presentations, deadlines, layoffs, high-stakes meetings, performance reviews, and relationship drama. Each situation can trigger worry or fear, creating a stress response. When it goes unmanaged, it can cause decreases in job satisfaction, increases in stress at work, and potentially carry over into your personal life.
Imagine being more confident and less fearful. The opportunities and potential that may be unlocked. Chances to connect with colleagues more authentically, to fully show up, and increase your impact and inspire others! As we start to return from our summer vacations and prepare for the fall, let's explore how we can manage social anxiety proactively and with awareness.
Practice 1: Self-Reflection
Anxiety is unpredictable and can occur in the blink of an eye, making it difficult to know how it gets triggered. However, anticipating this and proactively being self-reflective gives you insight into that challenge. If you take the time to ask yourself and answer a few questions, you gain an awareness of your precursors, making you prepared for when anxiety might strike.
Here are three questions to get clarity on your social anxiety:
- What does social anxiety feel like in my body?
- What types of situations bring about this feeling?
- How can I take care of myself during those situations?
The first question gives insight into how the body feels during these episodes, whereas the second question addresses when and where these situations occur. Meanwhile, the third question helps you brainstorm potential strategies that could work for you.
Some other questions to consider for deeper and ongoing inquiry include:
- What is the underlying cause of the anxiety?
- What is it that I desire?
- What am I trying to avoid?
Practice 2: Research & Preparation
Research & preparation are a great way to get ahead of anxiety. By taking action on the things that you can control and thus feeling better enabled, you psychologically feel more at ease. Taking an extra step to understand the people, place, and topics will help you feel more confident before your anxiety may be triggered. If you’re entering a conversation, know the person and the topic. If you’re giving a presentation or leading a practice, rehearse a few times the night before. If you’re entering a team meeting, know the agenda ahead of time. A few minutes of preparation can help prevent (what feels like) an eternity of worry.
Practice 3: Visualize Success & Challenges
Visualization has been utilized for decades to improve performance. Studies have shown mental imagery rehearsal has positive effects on cognitive processes, such as memory, perception, motor control, and planning. Each plays an integral role when it’s time to be at your best.
Take a few minutes to visualize your high-pressure situation. Imagine the conversation unfolding between you and those involved. Predict how you’ll answer the questions that may arise and how the conversation will flow. Notice the emotions that pop up during the exercise. Imagine how you’ll respond to them. Visualize typical challenges that come up and see yourself overcoming them. These visualizations will help you be tuned toward success and have the mental agility to overcome whatever might arise.
Practice 4: Box Breathing
Box breathing is a helpful strategy to use minutes before entering a situation that could spike your anxiety. 3-5 rounds can lower your heart rate and blood pressure, slow down your anxious thoughts, and regulate stress by regulating your breath. The best part is that it takes less than 90 seconds.
Start by breathing out and emptying your lungs of all air. Then, inhale for four seconds, noticing how your upper body fills with air. After that, hold your breath for four seconds. Next, release your breath slowly for four seconds, paying attention to how your body releases the air. Lastly, hold your breath for another four seconds at the end of your exhale. Repeat that sequence for 3-5 rounds.
To learn more about box breathing and other breathing techniques, check out our article 7 Breathing Exercises for a Balanced Mind and Body.
Practice 5: 3-2-1 Countdown
Another effective strategy is the mental countdown. It’s a strategy to do immediately before a situation to prepare for the environment you’re entering. We tend to tense up and fall into a state of analysis paralysis right before we have to confront our fear. A mental countdown can give you a way of channeling that energy into action and stepping into it with strength and awareness.
You can begin the practice by taking a few slow, deep breaths. Then, count backward from three before you enter your environment. 3-2-1-0, and once you get to zero, it’s go time - walk-in feeling calm and ready.
As with all practices, the key is to experiment and find what works for you You can confront your discomfort and step into difficult spaces that might feel unsafe. Don’t let your fear, triggers, or anxieties hold you back from being seen, heard, and reaching your full potential.
Play with these practices, and feel free to share with us your experiences in the comments below. If you have your own set of practices, what would you add?