How to Deal With Social Anxiety at Work: 5 Benefits of Physical Therapy
Updated: Nov 4
Everybody has been in a social situation where they felt uncomfortable,
whether it is a public presentation, meeting a group of new people, or interviewing for a job.
But for most people, these situations are manageable: they may get through them with sweaty palms and butterflies in their stomachs but recover quickly after.
Things are much more challenging for those with a social anxiety disorder (SAD). Every situation gets amplified to such an extent that they end up avoiding most social interactions leading to isolation, depression, etc.
It's been reported that over 15 million Americans have SAD, and it is a growing problem alongside the generalized anxiety, panic attack, and obsessive-compulsive disorders.
Social anxiety at work is even more complicated with unavoidable daily interactions, meetings, calls, presentations, etc.
In today's article, we are looking at social anxiety at work, what it is, and how physical therapy can help manage it.
How Social Anxiety at Work Can Affect Professional Life
Some people may experience anxiety in one or a two situations, like starting a conversation or delivering a presentation, while others deal with intense social anxiety that affects every area of their work life.
People affected by SAD experience discomfort talking to strangers, making eye contact, attending company events, making small talk, etc.
Some of the most common difficulties in a working environment occur in the following situations:
Job interviews. Because it is, by default, a stressful, high-stakes situation in which people are expected to make an impression on others, it is one of the most common situations of anxiety in a work environment. It can also affect people interviewing for a promotion or leading special projects. Being watched, judged, and generally being the center of attention creates dread and discomfort.
Communication with colleagues. Building relationships at work is key to a successful career but that proves challenging for people with social anxiety. According to our recent survey, almost one in two people (45%) get triggered by a lack of response after greeting someone in the office, making a joke at lunch, or sending an email or message. Over a third (32%) of people also responded that sharing personal opinions and interests and making small talk (24%) triggers their anxiety too (water cooler talk is not for everyone!). This can be due to fears of offending someone, being judged, or misunderstood.
General job duties. Participating in meetings, cold calling, talking to clients, or making presentations is stressful for anyone, but situations like these trigger much stronger responses for people with social anxiety.
That makes delivering results and simply doing one’s job especially tricky, the additional pressure to overcome and perform making matters even worse. As many as 30% of respondents reported that making phone calls is always challenging, 52% said that entering unfamiliar situations (e.g., talking to a potential customer) is difficult, and 42% are troubled by public speaking and presentations.
Communicating with supervisors. Getting called for a performance review or to give a report to their boss can make anyone sweat, but for people with social anxiety, even the smallest interaction is nerve-wracking. That includes clarifying tasks, asking for additional information, etc. However, avoiding your supervisor can result in a poor performance review as well as poorly executed tasks and affect your career in the long run.
How To Know If You're Experiencing Social Anxiety
For many people, it may take time to realize that what they're experiencing is social anxiety and not just "nerves".
While everyone's experience is different, the most common symptoms include feeling tense in social situations (as mentioned by 50% of survey respondents), increased heartbeat (42%), cold or hot flushes (37%), and a churning feeling in the stomach (36%).
Besides that, people experience shortness of breath, various aches, muscle tension, blushing, out-of-body sensations, as well as discomfort while being watched, and an intense fear of being judged.
People may start having symptoms and getting anxious immediately before an event or experience anxiety in anticipation of that event (sleepless nights). This includes expectations of negative consequences and later obsessive analysis of the performance and its "flaws".
In time this can result in depression, low-self esteem, and worsening anxiety.
How Can Physical Therapy Help Treat Social Anxiety at Work?
Even though the majority of people believe meditation, psychotherapy, and yoga to be the most effective ways of battling social anxiety, physical therapy (PT) can have significant benefits as well.
Because physical therapists focus on physical fitness and movement, PT is one of the best ways to deal with social anxiety at work.
Therapists educate patients on improving their lifestyle habits, perform and teach them exercises and better sleep hygiene, offer other tips and strategies to improve their physical and mental well-being.
Various research has shown that mental health and physical therapy are closely related because exercise decreases sensitivity to the body's reaction to anxiety.
Scientists also say that physical exercise boosts the growth of new neurons, which may help relieve anxiety and the symptoms of other mental health conditions. It's also known that it can calm the brain and reduce stress.
Many studies and research indicate that physical exercise may not only help manage social anxiety but also ward it off before it starts, which is the best motivation to get moving.
It is more than evident that physical exercise, together with other physical therapy modalities such as massage and hands-on work, can play an essential role in reducing social anxiety at work, providing relief, and helping improve work performance and workplace relationships.
Benefits of Physical Therapy for Social Anxiety
There are multiple benefits of PT for social anxiety at work.
Better overall fitness. Physical therapy and an individual exercise program can improve overall fitness leading to increased physical well-being and endurance, reduced fatigue and aches, all of which contributes to feeling more in control and confident at work. Physical therapists can also create a particular regimen to reduce stress and improve sleep, leading to less irritability and more energy.
Elevated mood. Physical activity is the ultimate mood booster because it helps increase the production of endorphins (feel-good neurotransmitters). Being in a better mood helps you concentrate and perform better, increases the desire to connect with colleagues at work, and decreases tension related to public speaking, interactions, and other events.
Reduced stress. Managing stress at work is crucial as most work environments are stressful, and social anxiety only adds to it. One of the benefits of massage in physical therapy is that it helps the body and its muscles relax. Together with exercise, it provides stress relief, reduces the flight or fight response in difficult social situations at work, and generally protects the body from harmful stress effects.
Increased self-confidence. Low self-confidence is a real hindrance to functioning at work. It adds to the difficulty of expressing your feelings and frustrations or simply asking questions about a particular task at work. In the long run, it can create problems in performance, results, and career prospects. Physical therapy helps increase endorphins and reduce cortisol levels through exercise, leading to improved self-confidence and self-assertion.
Positive distraction and healthy coping mechanism. Unfortunately, people with social anxiety often turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with their condition. Many choose alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, or drugs, which do not provide real relief and ironically increase anxiety even more. Substance abuse problems commonly occur with social anxiety disorder, and physical therapy can provide a healthy alternative.
Social anxiety at work affects over 15 million people in the US and is a growing problem.
It is more than "nerves" or shyness and makes social activities, such as public speaking, small talk, or communicating with colleagues challenging. People report experiencing physical tension, an increased heartbeat, cold or hot flushes, a churning feeling in the stomach, sweaty palms, and other uncomfortable sensations.
Unaddressed social anxiety leads not only to poor performance at work and trouble developing a career but also further isolation, depression, etc.
Many people believe that only medications or therapy can help overcome or reduce social anxiety at work but physical therapy is an excellent alternative too.
While physical therapy is generally used for treating physical issues such as back pain and injuries and aiding recovery after surgery or trauma, physical therapy for anxiety is often overlooked, even though the benefits are undeniable as it improves overall wellness and fitness, boosts one’s mood, increases self-confidence, and offers a healthy coping mechanism.
Get in touch with us, and our team of board-certified physicians and licensed physical therapists will create a personalized, comprehensive plan of care tailored to help you better manage social anxiety at work.
The data on social anxiety used in this article was gathered via a survey of 507 female and male respondents of various ages located all over the US. In the survey, respondents were asked to answer questions regarding social anxiety: what triggers it, what physical symptoms they experience, and what, in their opinion, might help relieve it.