Medically reviewed by: Bisma Anwar, MA, MSc, LMHC

Reviewed On: February 21, 2023

Social anxiety disorder (SAD), also known as social phobia, is a type of anxiety disorder that causes intense fear in any social situation, social event, social setting, social activity, or social interaction, like at work. SAD affects an estimated 15 million adults in the United States.

People with social anxiety often feel embarrassed and judged by others in a social setting, even if they’re not being judged in reality. Especially in the workplace, social anxiety can lead to feelings of inferiority or inadequacy. It can also make it incredibly difficult to interact with colleagues, speak up in meetings, or attend work–related events, which can make them feel more overwhelmed at work

If you’re living with social anxiety at work, it’s essential to recognize the signs so you can take steps to manage things before your condition affects your job performance or career prospects.

Symptoms of Social Anxiety at Work

Social anxiety can manifest in multiple ways at work. For example, you may feel overwhelmed or excessively self-conscious about your job and work relationships. Knowing about the signs and how to deal with social anxiety at work is vital for your work-life balance. Some of the most common symptoms of workplace social anxiety might include:

  • Avoidance: People living with social anxiety will avoid situations that make them uncomfortable or anxious. Avoidance might mean you avoid certain people, activities, or even entire departments within the workplace.
  • Sweating: Anxiety-induced sweating is common for those with social anxiety. This symptom might cause excessive perspiration during meetings or presentations where you must interact with others.
  • Nervousness: Living with social anxiety at work can cause physical symptoms like trembling hands and feet, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness, and dry mouth when faced with stressful situations.
  • Self-consciousness: Feeling overly self-conscious is another symptom regularly experienced by those struggling with social anxiety disorder in the workplace. Feeling overly self-conscious could lead to feelings of embarrassment about your appearance or behavior, which can ultimately become debilitating.
  • Difficulty concentrating: Social anxiety can interfere with concentration levels due to worries about being judged by coworkers or supervisors. Not being able to focus can negatively impact your performance evaluations and create job security concerns.
  • Fear: Fear of making mistakes is yet another symptom of this condition. For people with social anxiety, fear can hinder productivity levels in the office environment. It can lead to insecurity and a lack of confidence in one’s abilities.

“Many times, we think we’re the only ones with social anxiety, but the truth is many people feel anxious talking to others, explaining concepts, and providing professional opinions. Contributing to a team may seem scary and could be a reflection of your self-value.”

Talkspace therapist Dr. Karmen Smith, LCSW, DD

Should I tell my boss I have social anxiety?

Determining whether to tell your boss about your anxiety at work can be a difficult decision. It’s important to remember — you’re in control of how much information you share, and it’s ultimately up to you if you want to disclose this personal detail.

Consider the pros and cons

Before making any decisions, it can help to consider the pros and cons of talking to your boss about your workplace social anxiety. 

On the one hand, it could help explain why certain tasks may take longer or why some interactions make you uncomfortable. This might lead to more understanding from your employer as they become aware of the difficulties you face living with social anxiety disorder (SAD). 

On the other hand, though, disclosing such private information can be scary. You might fear you’re opening yourself up to potential discrimination or unfair treatment from coworkers and your superiors.

Think about your work environment

You also want to consider what kind of work environment you’re in.

If there’s an established culture where mental health issues are discussed without judgment, you may feel more comfortable talking to your boss. However, if mental health isn’t a priority there, it’s understandable if you’re conflicted about sharing your struggle.

How to Deal with Social Anxiety at Work: 7 Tips

When dealing with social anxiety at work, the following tips might help.

“If you feel yourself getting butterflies before a meeting, take time for deep breathing exercises, visually imagine the meeting going well, and use affirmations to prepare. Setting your thoughts and mind in the space of calm, peace, and feeling good about yourself are key.”

Talkspace therapist Dr. Karmen Smith, LCSW, DD

1. Have mantras or affirmations ready

Mantras and affirmations are positive statements that remind us we have control over our thoughts and feelings. They can work even when faced with challenging situations like speaking up in meetings or giving presentations. For example, repeating “I am capable” before a presentation can give you confidence.

2. Let go of your feelings & focus on performance

Instead of focusing on how anxious you feel, try to think about each step you need to take, one at a time, to complete a task.

3. Be realistic with self-expectations 

Don’t expect perfection from yourself — mistakes happen! Acknowledge this fact ahead of time so when something does go wrong, it won’t be as difficult for you emotionally to handle afterward. Remember that setbacks happen to everyone, whether socially anxious or not.

4. Seek therapy

Working one-on-one with a therapist can mean getting personalized strategies tailored to managing your specific needs. Through different types of therapy, such as CBT for social anxiety, you can learn how to deal with anxiety at work, so you have greater control over your emotions when you need to interact professionally with others.

5. Remember: you’re not alone 

It’s important to remember that many people suffer from mental health conditions. It can be depression, anxiety disorders, or other conditions. Don’t feel ashamed about having difficulties in areas where others may seem more confident than you. There’s support available through online therapy services like Talkspace, where you can access professional guidance without ever leaving the comfort of your own home.

6. Use mindfulness

Taking time throughout the day (or week) for mindful activities like yoga or mindfulness meditation can relieve anxious thoughts. Mindfulness helps you acknowledge your feelings and set realistic goals — important tools that can help reduce stress levels significantly.

7. Practice

Practice makes progress when it comes to managing anxieties at work. Take small daily steps. For example, you might introduce yourself first in a group rather than waiting until everyone else has already spoken up (which can be overwhelming). This way, you’ll build upon your confidence levels while learning new ways to effectively deal with pressure.

Manage Your Social Anxiety with Talkspace

Fortunately, there are ways to manage social anxiety at work so you can continue to perform — and excel at — your job, without feeling overwhelmed or anxious. Talkspace, an online therapy platform for people with mental health conditions like social anxiety, is there to help you manage and overcome your social anxiety. Learn more today.