If you work alongside a colleague with social anxiety or manage someone who does, you might be wondering what you could do to support them. “You’ll be okay” or similar phrases are often the last thing an anxious person wants to hear – but how can you know what to say or what to do?
In this blog, we’ll look at how social anxiety manifests and what you can do to be a champion for someone with social anxiety.
What is social anxiety?
To offer the best support you can, it’s first important to understand what social anxiety is.
Social anxiety is an anxiety disorder that’s different for everyone. In psychology, it’s defined as feeling ‘symptoms of anxiety or fear in certain or all social situations’.
According to the NHS, symptoms can include:
- Worrying about social situations or everyday activities
- Fear of judgement or embarrassment
- Difficulty doing things when others are watching
- Low self-esteem
- Physical symptoms e.g. sweating, palpitations, panic attacks
- Other mental health issues
In essence, social anxiety is more than just being shy. It’s characterised by worries and anxiety around social situations that don’t go away, often majorly impacting everyday life. Someone may feel self-conscious in front of a crowd, fearing judgement or embarrassment, or spend hours worrying before an event.
Social anxiety commonly overlaps with high standards and perfectionism, so sometimes the anxiety felt is related to performance in a social situation.
How can I champion someone with social anxiety?
It’s worth noting that there can often be a fine line between accommodating and enabling, as social anxiety is maintained through avoidance. So, whilst your first instinct might be to help your friend avoid the situation, supporting them to face their challenges will be far more helpful.
Here are some ways you can offer support for social anxiety.
What is being avoided?
Learning more about social anxiety can help you to support someone in understanding what they’re avoiding, what they want to accomplish and the small steps that can be taken to overcome these challenges. Recognise and be aware that it’s more than just being shy, quiet or reserved.
A lot of the time, social anxiety is driven by uncertainty. What will people think of me? Will they judge me? Can they tell that I’m flustered and nervous? These thought patterns can overwhelming, so don’t assume everyone’s experience is the same and set achievable expectations if they need a time out, for example.
Work with them, not against them
Don’t be dismissive of their anxiety – ignoring it will only make it worse. Providing healthy distractions that aren’t enabling their avoidance is a helpful way to calm their nerves during a situation they find stressful.
A listening ear can go a long way when someone is feeling distressed. Don’t ask why they’re feeling anxious, but instead take the time to listen to their feelings with compassion and in confidence. Anxiety isn’t rational, so it can be hard to explain why they’re feeling how they do but knowing that they can talk openly and honestly to you will be a relief.
Let them be in control
Ultimately, the best support you can offer is to let the person be in control of the situation and take things at their own pace.
Would you like to discover how to overcome one of the most major threats to your mental wellbeing? Social anxiety is more common than you think, and it can have devastating consequences on your work and life satisfaction.
In this course, you’ll learn about the most effective strategies to help manage social anxiety. You’ll practise techniques that will help you improve your interpersonal skills in the workplace. Your confidence at work will gradually grow and you’ll soon be acting as a role model and champion to others with social anxiety.