How to network when you have social anxiety

Anxiety can be so debilitating. Those who have never suffered or endured the effects of anxiety will find it really hard to sympathise with those who do suffer. The symptoms can present and express themselves to varying degrees within each individual.

Some social anxiety is seen as normal and sometimes even helpful. For many though, social anxiety is an overwhelming fear of social situations, which commonly starts in teenage years.

From my own personal experience

I have personally suffered at both ends of the ‘anxiety spectrum’, from biting my nails to sleepless nights where I completely drenched my clothes in sweat. Simply put, it is difficult to socialise when you feel very nervous and uncomfortable in social situations, especially new ones. I have often clammed up when I am about to make a presentation, as ‘sweaty palms’ and ‘cold sweats’ kick in. In the past my anxiety was most heightened when I was about to meet someone new.

Just to put it further into perspective, public speaking or walking into a room full of strangers is not thrilling at all, but most people can get past this. If however you suffer from being anxious then the stress of the situation can feel unbearable and too much to handle. Making eye contact and small talk, is highly avoided as it makes the sufferer feel uncomfortable. At its worst, all aspects of the sufferer’s life, including their social life, could start to fall apart. The good news is that, present day, social anxiety is classed as a mental disorder so you can seek help with it. There is hope of being ‘free’ from anxiety, if you choose to ask for help.

What do people who suffer with social anxiety find difficult?

We are all very different in the ways we react and deal with our troubles, but I have come to realise that when you suffer with social anxiety, you will often find the following difficult:

  • Speaking in public
  • Talking to strangers
  • Making eye contact
  • Eating in front of others
  • Starting conversations
  • Going to school or work
  • Attending parties

What does social anxiety feel like?

Everyone’s experience is different. However if you have social anxiety and you are placed in a stressful situation, you might experience the following physical symptoms:

  • Stomach cramps
  • An increase in your heart beat – rapid heart beat
  • Dizziness

The most intense feelings, you may be subjected to, are that of an ‘out of body’ sensation.

Ways to enjoy networking

It is common, when suffering social anxiety, that immediately before an event you start to feel the symptoms or you spend weeks worrying prior to an event. Following the event you may even find yourself spending a lot of mental energy worrying about how you acted in that social setting.

Here are some tried and tested tips, of mine, to help you to enjoy networking:

Change your relationship

Make ‘space’ for anxiety – learn to ‘observe’ your panic, in any situation, from afar. Do not try to shut it off, by accepting the feelings you will inevitably grow an ‘emotional tolerance’, so to speak, to be able to live a ‘full’ and joyous life. The practice of ‘mindfulness’ will help this change to transpire. There must be no judgement on self, or shame, for any anxious feelings. Acceptance, love and being mindful are the key to healing and enjoying mingling with others.

Notice your thoughts are thoughts, not objective truths.

Remember there are no perfect conversations ever, between two individuals. So put the self-loathing stick down. From personal experience, I know that the mind loves to play ‘tricks’ in order to change the perception of events, creating ‘stories’ in our minds. Many of which may be fabrications of the truth and not the reality of the situation at hand. If for example, you are thinking, “I don’t belong here” when attending a party, say to yourself “I am having the thought that I don’t belong here”. Again, your thoughts are simply ‘thoughts’ and NOT objective truths.

Set yourself up for success

Being honest with yourself at all times. Your anxiety may never be gone completely, but it will be stronger or weaker dependant on the situation and your actions at the time to help. When you feel nervous, try smiling, as nervousness tends to cast an uninviting look on ones face – maybe you have heard the expression ‘fake it ‘til we make it’? Well this would be a good time to do just that. Also be aware of the foods you eat, if you suffer anxiety-related stomach upset. Toast is always a good saviour! Coffee needs to be minimised. It is a stimulant, which increases heart rate and anxiety levels to potentially hit the roof. Alcohol intake must be monitored, as it is often used as a way to calm anxiety, but in fact it can enhance its effects.

Acknowledge ‘stepping out’, congratulate yourself and repeat

Give yourself full credit for the courage it took to step outside your comfort zone. Congratulate yourself on working hard towards an anxiety ‘tolerance level’, by treating yourself to something nice. This may be a hot bath, a naughty treat etc. Celebrate your growth and be sure to step out of your comfort zone next time the occasion arises, in the quest to conquer anxiety!

If you feel that none of the tips above can help, then I encourage you to touch base with me. We can work together to overcome your fears. Please do not allow the stories created in your mind, to circulate and rule you. Don’t allow yourself to believe such stories, ‘I am not good enough’, and to allow anxiety to sabotage your life. I am here to help. Choose to help yourself.

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