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Networking whilst dealing with social anxiety

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    Social anxiety is a powerful force that can make it difficult to network. It’s something that we can all feel at one time or another, but for people with Social Anxiety Disorder, the fear of social situations can be debilitating. Social anxiety may be triggered by any type of social situation and may result in feelings of intense discomfort, panic attacks, nausea, dizziness or a sense of unreality. Social anxiety can also lead to avoidance behaviours such as not attending functions or work-related events where there will be large groups of people present. The good news is that social anxiety doesn’t have to keep you from living your life! With some preparation and practice, many will find it gets easier and eventually becomes second nature.

    This article provides tips on how to approach social anxiety and build your confidence.

    Social anxiety can be like tunnel vision in that it tends to narrow our focus so we only see the possible negative outcomes of a social situation. Social anxiety is also often accompanied by racing thoughts, such as “What if I have nothing to say?” or “I’m going to make an idiot of myself.” Social anxiety is also accompanied by increased alertness and heart rate.

    Learn Social Anxiety Triggers

    In order to manage social anxiety, you must first learn what situations cause it for you – a common social anxiety trigger is “performance” related events, such as public speaking or meetings that include lots of people. Anxiety can be triggered by almost anything, such as the need to introduce yourself in a new situation or even the need to do small talk with an acquaintance at an event.

    Illustrated people with one person standing out from the crowd

    It’s important to understand that social anxiety is not caused by performance; rather social anxiety causes performance anxiety. Social situations produce anxiety and it is this feeling that is painful, not the actual situation. Social anxiety can be caused by a fear of being judged negatively by others, but social anxiety is often self-judgmental and may be related to fears of inadequacy. It can also lead to irrational concerns about behaving inappropriately such as blurting out something inappropriate or offending someone without meaning to. Social anxiety also tends to make you feel that people are looking at you or judging you. Social situations can be very uncomfortable when you’re in the middle of them, but social anxiety robs us of a lot of what we gain by being social and extroverted! Social situations provide valuable opportunities to practice your communication skills, learn about yourself and others, build your confidence and simply have some fun.

    Make an action plan for when you’re feeling anxious

    It’s important to have an action plan for social anxiety, but it doesn’t have to be something that you work on all the time. Social anxiety is usually triggered by a specific situation and once you’re in the situation (and the anxiety starts) your best bet is to follow your action plan and practise some coping strategies such as deep breathing.

    Coping with social anxiety

    The next time social anxiety strikes, try using these coping strategies:

    • Breathe deeply – This will help lower your heart rate and decrease feelings of panic or fear.
    • Remember social anxiety is self-judgmental – It’s not a reflection of reality or anything permanent about you – It will go away eventually.
    • Take care of anxiety headaches if they’re present. Headaches can be symptoms of social anxiety, other physical symptoms you may experience can include dizziness, nausea and muscle tension.

    Remember that each Social situation provides opportunities for learning and growth.

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    Social buddies for social motivation

    It’s a good idea to find a social anxiety buddy, someone who will go with you on some social outings. These outings provide social opportunities, if anxiety is present, turn to your buddy and discuss your feelings in private.

    A social buddy can share their experiences and support you to learn about social situations in a less intense way. Social buddies can also provide social anxiety support, through reassurance. They can also provide social anxiety motivation too!

    Social motivation is important because anxiety can prevent you from experiencing outings. A buddy can remind you of the reasons you are at the event – social interactions provide possibilities for learning and growth, fun and pleasure.

    Remember that social anxiety, for some, will reduce with time and practice. Your ability to cope with anxiety will increase with repeated exposure and eventually social situations become more manageable.

    Two illustrated people talking under a tree

    Choosing Social Partnerships that work for you

    Some social buddies or companions may not work out because they may not be providing the right kind of social motivation. This is okay.

    Social motivation can come from people who are close to you or who provide social headway – those friends, family members or colleagues who support you in dealing with social anxiety and help you get the most out of situations.

    Small, manageable goals

    Setting small, manageable goals is a great way to build confidence. It feels good to accomplish a goal. Starting with something small like going for coffee with a coworker or attending a meetup with a trusted friend can help you get there. Social anxiety might be an obstacle in your path but the most important thing is to keep trying until you find something that works for you. Social interaction provides opportunities for learning and growth, so don’t let social anxiety stop you from going out at all! Social anxiety can be very difficult to cope with, but it can become manageable and, for some, it will get easier with time.

    If you normally avoid events like networking mixers or conferences and opt to stay home instead, you can practice a few times with friends or family before venturing out. Social anxiety is a difficult obstacle and may seem impossible to overcome, but it’s important that you don’t let it keep you inside all the time, or control your decisions.

    It can be difficult to speak up when you have social anxiety, work with a trusted friend and be open about how you feel, particularly when in social situations you are not comfortable with. You may be able to learn from their experiences.

    An illustrated person sitting underneath a pie chart showing results

    If you’re planning to attend an event, arrange to attend with a trusted colleague and give yourself permission to step away from a situation you’re not comfortable with.

    The main thing is to be open with yourself about your anxiety and work towards not letting it guide you into hiding away from the world. Socializing with people outside your close group of friends will help build self-esteem, which can, in turn, lessen social anxiety. It’s also good for your health to be social, so work towards preventing anxiety from holding you back.

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    It can be debilitating but you’ve got this

    Social anxiety is a very common condition, and it can be debilitating. If you suffer from a Social Anxiety Disorder then it’s important to learn what triggers your attacks, so you can manage them better; take time to develop small manageable goals, gradually rather than trying to achieve too much at once; talk about how you feel when the opportunity arises without feeling self-conscious – remember that others can also experience these feelings. Social anxiety can be made worse by stressful situations, so it’s a good idea to try and build some stress-busting habits into your daily routine.

    And remember… you’ve got this!

    If social anxiety is something you struggle with, why not join our friendly and welcoming Slack community. It’s an opportunity for your to build trusted, professional relationships with others, who are willing to support and talk about their experiences, in a safe environment.

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