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Coping With Social Anxiety Returning to Office
Returning to the office in person is stoking social anxiety in some people. Learn about how to manage fear of being judged by coworkers, and when to get help for social anxiety.
After working from home for almost two years, it is hard to adjust to going back to the office. For many workers, there is still a lot of concern about catching the COVID-19 virus.
They may feel vulnerable and exposed by returning to the workplace and may even have symptoms of social anxiety. While very uncomfortable, there are ways to manage this mental health issue.
What is Social Anxiety?
Social anxiety, also called social phobia, is the irrational fear of being judged harshly by others or being publicly embarrassed. It is not just a matter of being shy in a social setting. Social anxiety features intense feelings of anxiety that are so strong it can result in the same physical symptoms as a panic attack.
According to the ADAA, about 15 million adults in the U.S. suffer from a social anxiety disorder. The intense fear associated with a public appearance causes the person to avoid situations that are performance or competition-related.
This limits their exposure to events that would benefit their career, such as networking, attending seminars, and even the office party. In essence, social anxiety has the effect of limiting someone’s chance at achieving personal goals. All these effects of social anxiety will hinder their job or career in some way.
To treat someone with social anxiety a skilled therapist will employ CBT. This type of therapy allows a person to examine their irrational thoughts and replace these dysfunctional thoughts with new, healthy ones. The techniques taught are then practiced until they slowly become habits.
Symptoms of Social Anxiety
For someone with social anxiety disorder, the symptoms are difficult to hide from coworkers. They might isolate themselves from their colleagues by working from an office or from the lobby, in hopes their symptoms won’t be noticed.
Symptoms of social anxiety include:
- Rapid heart rate.
- Significant fear in anticipation of upcoming social events.
- Irrational fear of being humiliated in public.
- Excessive fear of being judged or scrutinized by others.
- Shortness of breath.
- Blushing easily.
- Difficulty speaking.
- Trembling or shaking.
- Feeling faint
Why Some Have Social Anxiety Over Returning to the Office in Person
There are many reasons that people are feeling symptoms of social anxiety at the prospect of returning back to the office. These might include:
- Appearance. Weight gain was quite common during the work-at-home era. Workers may be very self-conscious about going back to work where coworkers may gossip about their weight gain.
- Now used to Zoom meetings. Workers have found a certain level of comfort from interacting via online meetings, such as with the Zoom platform. They may feel anxious about returning to live, in-person meetings.
- Performance anxiety. While working at home there was not as much attention focused on performance. Some workers may have slacked off or become less disciplined about doing their job duties well.
- Being compared with other coworkers. Some peers who worked from home adjusted to it well, and actually prefer the work-at-home option. Others struggled with self-discipline and staying on task. With all workers back to the office, those differences in productivity may be talked about among coworkers.
What is Cave Syndrome?
It’s not only social anxiety that is emerging in recent weeks since people began returning to normal life. A new mental health challenge referred to as cave syndrome is also a concern.
Cave syndrome is another reflection of the way the pandemic has affected people. Fear of catching the virus was somewhat relieved after the vaccines made their debut. But now with the vaccines not being as effective against variants, there is renewed fear about COVID-19.
People who had been gearing up to return to work and a sense of normalcy were all of a sudden uncomfortable with the thought of not wearing masks or social distancing. Also, many people had gotten used to living a quieter solo life.
Also, they may have enjoyed working from home. Suddenly, the thought of returning to the workplace causes anxiety, thus cave syndrome.
The features of cave syndrome are somewhat similar to agoraphobia or social anxiety. These disorders, too, result in the person avoiding any stress-inducing situations, very much like those with cave syndrome.
Ways to Ease Return to Work Anxiety After COVID-19
Employers are finding creative ways to ease workers back into the workplace. It is, after all, in the employer’s best interest to ensure their team members are comfortable so they will be productive.
Management is making an effort to promote a sense of compassion among the team members, as they begin to reunite at work. Some of the ways management is preparing workers to ease back into the workplace setting include:
- Holding catch-up meetings in the morning. These short catch-ups prior to beginning the workday can help break the ice and relieve tension.
- Permitting short breaks to chat with coworkers. Offering workers a couple of short social breaks during the day can also help workers feel connected all day long.
- Planning off-site social events where coworkers can mingle. Employers are scheduling after hours events. These might be a pizza night at a local restaurant or a Saturday employee picnic so members can reconnect.
- Offering resources for struggling workers. HR departments are providing workers with mental health resources to help ease the transition from home to office.
If you are having social anxiety due to coming back to the office after COVID-19, you are not alone. Reach out for help to manage your social anxiety symptoms.
The Treatment Specialist Offers Online Guidance for Mental Health Issues
The Treatment Specialist is an online resource for articles on mental health conditions and treatment options for adults, teens, and families. If you or a loved one is having social anxiety as a result of COVID-19, reach out to the team at (866) 644-7911.