Mental Health Series: Social Anxiety
The third episode of our auticon Mental Health Series is about social anxiety, how it affects people and some suggestions on how to manage it.
Social anxiety is a long-lasting and intense fear of social situations and interactions with other people that affects everyday activities, self-confidence, relationships and work. People affected by social anxiety sometimes describe themselves as feeling negatively judged by others, self-conscious, feeling inadequate or humiliated. This often results in the avoidance of social situations, sometimes causing isolation, loneliness and depression.
Many people occasionally worry about social situations, but someone with social anxiety feels overly worried before, during and after social interactions. It is thought that autistic people are more likely to be affected. This is often due to a lifetime of difficulties with social interaction and the fear of not doing this effectively, especially if someone has received negative feedback about their interactions in the past and feel that they struggle to read different social situations.
How does it affect people?
Many people find social anxiety particularly difficult in the workplace. This setting can be full of ambiguity, uncertainty as well as unwritten rules to navigate, causing social situations to be even more complex. Many people describe not being able to sleep the night before work, feeling sick in the morning, dreading going into work, calling in sick, and even not enjoying days off. This can have a very negative impact on mental health and overall wellbeing.
Here are some of the things people with social anxiety struggle with in the workplace:
- Being introduced to new people
- Team meetings
- Going around the room (or table) in a circle and having to say something
- Eating with or in front of others
- Being the centre of attention (such as on birthdays or receiving a promotion)
- Being watched while doing something
- Interpersonal relationships
- Joining in workplace banter
- Team social events in or outside of work
Physical symptoms of social anxiety may include intense fear, racing heart, turning red or blushing, excessive sweating, dry throat and mouth, trembling (fear of picking up a glass of water or using utensils to eat), swallowing with difficulty, and muscle twitches, particularly around the face and neck.
Whilst social anxiety can be very distressing and have a significant impact on your life, there are ways to help you deal with it.
How can I manage social anxiety?
- Ask for support from a trusted person or your job coach – you can both try to understand what you do not like about specific interactions. Is it the location? Lack of processing time? Fear? By identifying stressors, you can identify strategies to support these interactions, such as asking the person you are talking with to allow you more processing time or find a quieter environment.
- Your coach or trusted person can help prepare you for social interactions or speak to your colleagues about ways to make social events accessible to you. Give honest feedback and suggestions to your job coach so that they can tailor your support.
- Try to write down examples of positive interactions you have experienced. What did you like about it? What went well? What do you want to get from interacting with others?
- Request agendas for team meetings so that you can prepare for your interaction and what you’d like to say. Sometimes asking for a word count, the relevant information needed or time limit can be useful if you are concerned you may talk too much.
- It is okay to sometimes decline social invitations. Try not to put too much pressure on yourself
- Look after yourself – eat well, rest and do things you enjoy to reduce your anxiety. Some people find mindfulness a fantastic way to destress (e.g. try the Headspace app). Your job coach can also support you to write a wellbeing plan.
- When you feel social anxiety is unmanageable, please contact your GP. They may be able to refer you for therapies such as cognitive behaviour therapy or psychotherapy. They may also consider medication too.
You can also listen to a helpful podcast about controlling anxiety from a leading anxiety specialist.
Free, immediate help for emergencies:
Mind Mental Health Charity – Phone, email or text, Mon – Fr
Samaritans Helpline – Phone or email, 24/7