Social Anxiety and Work


I am so anxious when it comes to meetings, presentations, one-to-ones with managers and social gatherings. Before a meeting yesterday I tried to tell myself it would be ok, but...I walked in, put down my paper and pen and immediately excused myself as not everybody was there yet.

I went to the toilet and tried to get it together and then went back in. For probably half an hour I was in a totally anxious, panicky, sweaty state. All I could think of was how to excuse myself, get my bag and jacket and leave without having to explain. I was certain that that was what I would have to do...and that even that would go badly. Then there was a new member of staff, so the chair of the meeting wanted to go around the table and have everyone introduce themselves. I was barely able to say my name and my job title.

Very slowly I began to calm down and eventually a member of the group asked me a question and I was just about able to answer it, so further relieved I made it through to the end.

At work meetings and presentations and 'chats' have been increasing dramatically in number and there is really no avoiding them. I had another terrible meeting with a senior manager a few weeks ago. I sat there, writing notes sweating as she and a lady from HR sat there. All of this just makes things worse. These are just two recent examples, this is how my working life is..

As always, it was exhausting and distressing. I am having panic attacks of varying levels every day now. I am awaiting CBT, I had an assessment over the phone and the health worker and supervisor were fairly certain that I have social anxiety/phobia. I have suffered with this since a teen and I am now 38. When I was 26 this took control of my life and nearly entirely ruined it. Then I was lucky enough to meet my wife and we have been together for 7 years and married for 3. With her help and strength and building up belief in myself I was able to go back to work and rebuild some kind of life. But in the last year it has gone from being an issue I could just about cope with to now being very overpowering and upsetting. Last year, I became ill with anaemia and at the same time, very strong feelings of anxiety and panic returned. I had 11 sessions of Clinical Hypnotherapy and some counselling. Neither were as helpful as I had hoped/dreamed. I tried to engage and take it on board, but I don't know, maybe I was unclear in what I said. Sometimes it appears that unless I am experiencing the panic and anxiety in that moment or immediately afterward, then my way of describing it doesn't seem to across as though it were something very frightening or serious. I have spoken to some people over the years, including those at work and when I explain that I have anxiety/panic attacks, they seem surprised and think I am very laid back and relaxed. Which always puzzles me. I have a side of me that is laid back but at work, in particular, I always expect anxiety and panic to arrive at any moment. If it doesn't then I am exhausted from the expectation and if it does I am exhausted and distressed and depressed and upset know how it is.

5 Replies

  • Hi Emido,

    I know how horrible this can be too, as I've experienced it in the work place.

    CBT will help I'm sure, but like you say its not here now, and thats not ok.

    So, from my experience of anxiety panics etc, and whats been said at CBT therapy.

    A panic will trigger the adrenaline response, will rise and then if allowed begin to slowly fall away. As you explained above. The thing is we all need proof.

    So in CBT we are introduced to practice, gradually to desensitise us to the problem.

    Here, I was thinking would it be possible to have a word with your employers, manager, explaining whats going on for you, so it takes the stress off, and enables you to carry on in this situation. Remember its not the work meetings themselves, its your reaction to that particular situation, which triggers your adrenaline response. So by talking and explaining to those in these meetings what going on for you, it will alleviate a lot of the problem.

    I've found that ~I tried to hide my anxiety, and when we do this it gives our anxiety authority to reinforce its ability to release adrenaline.

    The response will go away once we are not scared or react with fight or running from the situation causing it.

    And we do this by FACING the situation with as much ACCEPTANCE as me can manage, FLOAT through the adrenaline fired symptoms, and LET TIME PASS, taking as much time as is needed to reduce the feelings to normal levels. And this takes practice as its a very subtle thing we are learning here.

    In a panic we cant do anything to stop it, all we can do is ride it out, using the above, and it will subside,. Do it often enough, and realise its not dangerous just very scary, and it will subside for longer periods. It might rear its ugly head on occassion but you will have the tools to deal with it, then it will only squeeze a little amount of adrenaline and that is manageable.

    Hope at least some of this is of help,

    Please feel free to message me

    Wishing you well



  • Hi Baylien,

    Thank you so much for your comments. They mean a lot to me, especially as this weekend is very bad at the moment with a lot of stress, worry and anxiety and I don't really know what I am going to do about any of it. My wife is abroad at the moment and she is also worried about me but she has work to do and I want to reassure her that I am ok, but I am struggling right now. I feel very tense and worried. It would be great to message you sometimes for support and the same goes for you.

    Best wishes

  • Snap!!!

    Had a similar situation on Thursday not as traumatic as yours but theres a lot of ppl here experience same anxiety.

    Theres some lovely ppl on here who can empathise and give good advice, bayliens like a site counsellor lol (thats meant as a compliment )!

    Love mimii :)

  • Hi emido

    What you are experiencing in meetings is surprisingly common, even people who speak professionally (everything from actors, to politicians, to top business people) get the same sort of adreneline rush before they have to speak. The difference is, they know how to use the feelings in a positive way. People who suffer from anxiety (like a lot of us here) become overwhelmed by the feelings.

    The weird thing is that the way panic manifests itself on the outside is much less obvious than what is going on inside - no one can see your hammering heart, your sweating palms, the rushing sounds in your ears. If you could see yourself in a mirror you would probably see a normal face and that is what the other people will see too. They don't know you are going into meltdown and want to rush out of the room.

    Can I tell you a little story? A few years ago I started a new job, and had to go to a meeting where I didn't know anyone, and they all knew each other. I didn't know much about what was going to be discussed and really hadn't been given any opportunity to prepare for the meeting. As we sat down, they announced that the person who was going to chair the meeting would not be coming and they asked if I would chair the meeting. I can tell you - for a minute I was totally frozen and panic stricken. Then I thought about what they could see (I'm a small middleaged woman, very ordinary) and realised that they would not expect me to be frightened of them (they were all very ordinary too!). In fact, they might even be anxious about the possibility of being asked to chair the meeting themselves! I got through it, (somehow) and at the end of the meeting we all stood around drinking coffee and I joked about the fact that they had put me on the spot, and one of the people actually admitted that she had been terrified they would ask her to chair the meeting, and she already knew everyone!

    Lots of people hate meetings and any sort of public speaking. Find some strategies that work for you. For example, make sure you get there early enough to find a seat that you feel comfortable with (like the nearest seat to the door). Sit next to someone you know if that helps. Have something with you like a water bottle that you can hold, or make yourself busy with jotting down notes (even if they aren't necessary). When your turn comes to speak or when they go round with the introductions, keep it short, practice what you will say beforehand or write it down and just read it out. Take a breath first before you speak, that reduces the chance of running out of air and stumbling over your words. Keep it brief - people will be grateful as they will all be wanting to get out of the meeting too!

    My biggest fear in meetings is that I will fall asleep (and yes I have done that too!). We should start a "stop the meetings" campaign as they are often such a waste of time.

    Hang in there my friend.


  • Feeling anxious in meetings is very common especially if you are expected to contribnute. try and be prepared as someone has suggested and again if necessary write your ideas down beforehand. I find taking notes even if I won't later use them as it gives me something to do and helps me to concentrate on what is being said useful. itore difficult I find 1-1's as often when I am anxious I need things be repeated or rephased asi completly mis hear or don't hear what is being said. i would suggest talking with your line manager about how this makes you feel (I wish I had) Also being as prepared.

    as possible. Fr instance have an idea of areas for discussion before the 1-1's. I'm not sure why Hr was at your 1-1 but my understanding is if they need to be there you are entiled to someone to support you such as a friend or a union rep. Certainly with the union rep with your permission they can speak for you and if the situation is obviously making you anxious adjourn the meeting.

    Hope this is helpful

    Mystery Reader

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