Social Anxiety in the Workplace

Steps for employees to identify and address this common mental disorder

In her recent blog ‘Three ways to deal with mental health’, Rachel Arkle highlighted three stages of effectively addressing mental health issues in the workplace: awareness, acceptance and sharing. To follow on from this, this blog will look more closely at these stages with regards to one of the most prevalent mental illnesses: social anxiety disorder[i].


Most people get nervous in certain situations; it is unusual to meet someone who does not feel anxious before giving an important presentation at work, for example. But for some, this feeling of anxiety -- of dread -- is far more familiar in daily experiences at work[ii]. For those who suffer from social anxiety, identifying how and when it affects you is crucial in being able to take steps to make your working life easier. You may find that some of the following feelings and experiences resonate with you (and cause physical symptoms[iii]):


o   not having the confidence to speak up in meetings, despite having something to contribute;

o   dreading introducing yourself to others (colleagues, clients);

o   going without that coffee you want because you dread the thought of having to offer others a drink;

o   feeling detached from your colleagues because you rarely have the courage to join in office conversation;

o   feeling uncomfortable making phone calls, especially around others;

o   feeling self-conscious if somebody is watching you work;

o   being distracted from your immediate work tasks by worrying about an upcoming meeting;

o   …and, of course, presentations.



Accepting social anxiety does not just mean acknowledging that it is something you experience, but also making peace with it. This is not to say that you should accept it as something permanent or unchangeable - but to calmly recognise it during situations when it is causing you trouble is the best way to deal with it in those moments[iv].



Discussing your social anxiety with others is perhaps the hardest step to take, but can bring the most relief. If you are concerned about disclosing it to a manager, it might be helpful to start by talking it over with a closer colleague. Only you can judge who is likely to be the most understanding and who you are most comfortable sharing this information with. If you do decide to take this step, the following should help it go smoothly as possible:

o   do it on a ‘good’ day when you are feeling strong enough; you want it to be a productive conversation, not to break down at work

o   if you are worried about your employer judging your capability, emphasise that you do not wish to ever be overlooked for certain tasks or responsibilities because of your social anxiety (say that you will raise any issues yourself if they arise)

o   if you are comfortable doing so, tell them what you are doing outside of work to help yourself.

Once you have spoken about it, it will be easier to raise any concerns related to your social anxiety in the future.



Written by Emily Jarrett

Having recently completed an MSc in Organisational Psychology, Emily is now a Psychologist at Work Psychology Group. She has experience in the areas of selection and assessment, and is also interested in counselling and career coaching. Emily is passionate about improving people’s mental health, especially in the workplace, and enjoyed studying the wellbeing of professional dancers for her dissertation.


Twitter: @EmilyLJarrett

[i] Stein, M. B., & Stein, D. J. (2008). Social anxiety disorder. The Lancet371(9618), 1115-1125.

[ii] Stein, M. B., & Kean, Y. M. (2000). Disability and quality of life in social phobia: epidemiologic findings. American Journal of Psychiatry157(10), 1606-1613.

[iii] National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health (UK. (2013). Social anxiety disorder: recognition, assessment and treatment. British Psychological Society.

[iv] Dalrymple, K. L., & Herbert, J. D. (2007). Acceptance and commitment therapy for generalized social anxiety disorder a pilot study. Behavior Modification31(5), 543-568.