Networking is an important part of growing as a professional, or contributing to your social well-being. Recently, you may have tried to approach a new person, but started to experience a dry mouth, rapid heartbeat, or even an upset stomach. These symptoms can stem from having social anxiety.
Social anxiety is the persistent fear of being judged by others, and that a person may embarrass themselves. It is the result of a fight or flight response that makes you feel as if you lost control of your body. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, around 15 million U.S. adults experience social anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. This fear can make it hard to speak to others such as in meetings, social events, or even in one-on-one conversations.
Situational circumstances, such as moving to a new area, going back to in-person interactions, or having another major life change occur, can lead to feelings of isolation and make it harder to form new relationships. It is normal to experience apprehension when building new connections and meeting new people. However, if you feel overwhelmed with managing your social anxiety while attempting to foster connections as an adult, here are a few steps you can take to grow your network.
If you are experiencing negative thoughts or emotions, try practicing mindfulness to calm your anxiety.
- Identify the why: write down reasons you may be nervous to talk to others
- Determine your motivation: ask yourself why it’s important for you to grow your network
- Develop healthy coping techniques: practice meditation, exercise, or breathing techniques when you experience symptoms of anxiety.
Set healthy boundaries
By setting healthy boundaries when approaching unfamiliar social situations, it will allow you to feel respected and safe in a new environment.
- Seek comfortable environments: ask yourself what type of social interaction do you feel most comfortable starting with, such as one-on-one interactions, small groups, or even social events
- Start with commonalities: find common interests to talk about or even tap into your existing network to develop stronger connections with some of your acquaintances such as interacting with those you may see often at the gym, work, or even a coffee shop
Practice social skills and encounters
Before you engage in social interactions, think about what you would want to accomplish in a given day or week.
- Set small goals: instead of immediately trying to forge new friendships right way try to set small social goals such as exchanging a hello with a neighbor or texting a current acquaintance to say hi
- Visualize how things will unfold: if you are attending a social/networking event, or speaking in front of a group of people, you can think about topics you feel comfortable sharing or asking about
Give it time
Forming genuine connections can take time to build. It can start with a simple gesture of saying hi, but it is important to be aware that you don’t need to walk away with a new friend after every encounter.
- Be present: instead of being hyper-aware of what’s going on around you, switch roles and listen to what the other person is saying. Remember that building a network isn’t about who’s the loudest person in the room, attending social events are an experience you are doing for yourself
- Define your social capacity: be mindful of your time and how much you can put into your social calendar, set a small goal to have a social event every few weeks or reduce it to a week depending on your circumstances and comfortability
Whether it be professionally or socially, you have decided to grow your network and make new friends or colleagues. However, if you are experiencing overwhelming anxiety and still have a goal to increase your social network, try working on understanding your social anxiety with a therapist here at Pacific CBT who can help you approach new social situations and further grow your network in the future.
Drillinger, M. (2020, February 25). 6 ways to make friends when you have social anxiety. Healthline. from https://www.healthline.com/health/anxiety/how-to-make-friends-when-you-have-social-anxiety
Nunes, S. Building connections with others – workplace options. (n.d.). from https://www.workplaceoptions.com/building-connections-with-others/
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Social anxiety disorder. National Institute of Mental Health, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/social-anxiety-disorder
About the Author: Ashley Carreon currently works as a Behavior Therapist in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis. She received a Bachelor’s degree in Neurobiology, Physiology, and Behavior and a minor in Psychology from University of California, Davis. Ashley is interested in understanding intersectionality in mental health, and is planning to pursue a Master’s degree.