Image credit Dami-Adebayo on Wunderstock

We’re clearly not totally out of the woods when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic. But, many things have gone “back to normal,” or are starting to. People are getting together with friends and family, businesses are opening back up, and employees are returning to work. 

But, there’s no denying that the pandemic has impacted us in many ways – including our mental wellness. Multiple studies have shown increases in anxiety, depression, and stress throughout COVID-19, and we still don’t know what the long-term mental health effects will be. 

One thing that’s certain though, is that many people have become rusty when it comes to social skills. Most of us got used to social distancing and isolating away from others. You may have even become more comfortable with Zoom meetings and conference calls.  

So, what happens now, when you have to speak in front of others, especially in a professional setting? If you have post-pandemic social anxiety, you’re not alone. Whether you have to give a speech or presentation, or you just want to feel comfortable connecting with co-workers again, there are things you can do to make the process easier, and boost your confidence along the way.

What is Social Anxiety?

If you never had issues with social settings before the pandemic, you might not fully understand what social anxiety looks like. But, it’s a very real thing that impacts about 15 million people across the country. Some of the most common signs of social anxiety include: 

  • Fear of being judged
  • Worry over embarrassment
  • Upset stomach
  • Trouble catching your breath
  • Dizziness
  • Trembling
  • Shaky voice

Some people with social anxiety might start out thinking they’re just shy. But, there’s a big difference between bashfulness and fear. When you’re dealing with social anxiety, it’s not uncommon for your symptoms to interfere with your everyday life. 

From a professional standpoint, you might be so worried about interacting with others or giving a presentation that you avoid coming to work, or your performance starts to suffer. 

Unfortunately, that doesn’t get better without help. When social anxiety isn’t properly treated, it can lead to issues like depression or heart disease. It can even start to impact your relationships. Being able to recognize the signs of this type of anxiety will make a big difference in how you conquer it. 

Creating a Strategy

Social anxiety impacts everyone differently. Just because you’re dealing with it now doesn’t necessarily mean you have a disorder. It also doesn’t mean you’ll be fearful in social settings forever. 

One of the best things you can do for now is to plan ahead. Often, social settings you’re unprepared for will trigger anxiety more than things you know about. Thankfully, when you have to give a presentation, you typically have plenty of time to prepare. You can put yourself in the right state of mind by: 

  • Setting boundaries
  • Focusing on what you can control
  • Trying to ignore things that are out of your control
  • Voice your concerns or worries with your employer

Before your presentation, do your research. No, not just about the content you’re sharing, but about who will be there and what you can expect. Talk to your boss or the head of your department and get to know the people/co-workers who will be involved in your presentation. 

Learn what their expectations are, and you can adjust your strategy to meet those expectations. Doing so will give you more confidence in your approach and allow you to feel more comfortable, knowing you won’t say something they’re not interested in. 

Managing post-pandemic social anxiety is also about taking care of yourself out of the office. Take baby steps in your personal life to “reintroduce” yourself into social settings. That might mean declining certain invitations to spend time with friends or co-workers, but accepting invites to smaller get-togethers, like dinner with one or two people. 

Taking the time to create a strategy in both your personal and professional lives will give you the best chance of working through your social anxiety. Don’t dive back in and assume you have to nail a presentation when you’ve been fearful about going beyond Zoom meetings. Take your time and work at a pace that’s comfortable for you as you continue to adjust to in-person meetings.

Boosting Your Confidence

People who struggle with social anxiety often have low self-esteem. Even if that’s something new for you, it’s important to regain your confidence so you can put your best foot forward at work. 

When you have to give a presentation or report, you can instantly boost your confidence by feeling good about how you look. 

Working in an office setting, dressing for success is always important. But, feeling confident in what you’re wearing during a presentation will give you one less thing to worry about, so you can focus on your material, rather than feeling uncomfortable or unkempt. The idea of business casual can mean many different things depending on your work environment. So, wear what’s appropriate, but make sure you don’t feel stiff or restrained. 

Once you feel confident in your look, you can focus on feeling good about your presentation. If you’re worried about what to do with your hands, how to stand, or how to make sure you’re getting your point across, consider practicing physical cues. Things like keeping your chin up and straightening your posture can subconsciously boost your self-esteem and confidence in what you’re saying. You’ll focus less on who is watching you and what they might think, and pay more attention to what you’re saying and how you’re presenting it.

This pandemic has impacted almost everyone in some way. If you’re feeling anxious about social settings, especially when it comes to giving a presentation at work, understand that it’s perfectly normal and acceptable to feel that way after the uncertainty of the last two years. 

Utilize the tips listed here to help, and don’t hesitate to seek out professional treatment with a counselor or therapist if your life is being disrupted by social anxiety.

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