The Dread of the Office Party
As I often do, I chose this topic in response to recent sessions. This post is specially written for the 1 in 8 people who suffer from social anxiety so intense that it interferes with normal daily activities. Most of us experience some heightened sense of nervousness in social situations but some are so highly anxious that they isolate themselves when possible and become physically ill at the thought of attending a necessary social situation, often attached to the workplace. The phobia stems from an intense fear of being judged by others. Clients report their fear is compounded by an obsession that others are watching them and will notice. Physical symptoms are often manifested in the form of an upset stomach, diarrhea, sweating, trembling, dizziness or rapid heartbeat.
I recently listened to a bright, talented, successful young professional share his struggle with an upcoming event he was dreading. Attendance was required by his work. I applauded him, as I do all of my clients, for being brave enough to admit his struggle and seek help. We identified specific causes of the heightened stress surrounding this function and potential ways to relieve the anxiety.
- This function was out of the normal work environment, resulting in a fear of being in a new place.
- This function was outside the comfortable routine of the workplace.
- A heightened fear of others noticing his anxiety.
- Loss of control.
- Fear of being trapped.
- Fear of saying/doing something awkward. Humiliation.
Methods of Relief:
- Recognize anxiety and the causes thereof.
- Visit venue ahead of time to practice drive, secure parking information, and familiarize with the environment, limiting many unknowns.
- Set an acceptable limited time of attendance.
- Drive separately securing freedom to leave at will.
- In advance, allow yourself permission to temporarily remove from the situation to text someone for support, listen to calming music, or meditate for a few minutes if feeling highly anxious.
- Vow not to rely on liquid courage.
- Claim an affirmation to repeat or write on a slip of paper as a reminder. Example: “I am not what others think of me.”
I cannot emphasize enough how effective it can be to meditate prior to an event, focusing on positive visualization. See yourself having fun. Laughing. A successful outcome to the evening. The more we can replace worry with positive visualization, the better we will be.
I recommend meditation and positive visualization to everyone, but for my highly anxious clients, I prescribe it. It is not necessary to “know how” to meditate nor is it necessary to dedicate large blocks of time to benefit from the practice. Consistency is the key. Just five minutes once or twice each day is an great beginning. Free apps for beginners (Calm) and You Tube videos of meditation instruction are abundant.
This young man, as with most clients I see for social anxiety, did benefit from the tools we worked together to create. He was successful in not allowing fear to control his evening.
Next week: Fear of public Speaking, a form of social anxiety.