I have crippling social anxiety, I never speak unless spoken to, and I try to avoid human interaction wherever possible. Every job coach I’ve ever had tells me I need to “network” but I am physically unable of engaging with fellow humans in a casual setting. What should I do instead?
You present an interesting scenario, likely experienced by more people than you can imagine.
Having never met you and only knowing what you have posted here, I am making a lot of assumptions but as I said above, you share common problems with others.
First off, you say you have crippling anxiety. That sucks! However, it doesn’t mean you are ‘unable’ to network. You are actively choosing not to network to avoid the extreme anxiety you experience when you socialize.
You say that all of your job coaches heave told you need to get out there and network to get a job. While I agree with their advice, they are putting the proverbial cart before the horse.
If you have extreme social anxiety in social settings, you will also have the same social anxiety in a work setting. Workplaces can be social.
From my mental health professional background, I would strongly suggest that you seek professional help from a mental health councillor with a background in helping people overcome anxiety issues.
They could likely help you develop strategies to work on reducing your anxiety. This isn’t a quick fix. I would recommend researching any anxiety/panic disorder groups in your community. A self-help group can provide you moral and emotional support from others that have overcome or are experiencing similar challenges. There can also be a benefit to talking to your family doctor about your anxiety. Anxiety is real in many people and anxiety-reducing medication may be of advantage to you.
For anyone experiencing social anxiety, I always recommend joining Toastmasters, if you have one in your local community. It would daunt at first but by repeatedly attending meetings and speaking in a safe environment it can help improve your self-confidence.
As your social anxiety reduces, then you can think of factoring in networking strategies.
I haven’t had crippling social anxiety, but I have experienced social anxiety. I did something about it and wrote a book called Power Networking for Shy People: How to Network Like a Pro. It is an affordable, downloadable e-book.
While the book doesn’t solve the problem of shyness, it provides strategies to level the playing field between shy networkers and the not so shy ones.
In my experience, a lot of the anxiety we experience in networking, i.e., social interactions are FEAR- based. FEAR equals False Expectations Appearing Real. We expect to be afraid, so guess what? We are afraid! Then we fear being afraid. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. We need to break the cycle.
I believe that if we are prepared in advance with knowledge, it can reduce the anxiety we experience with networking and help us be more effective.
I heard a saying a long time ago that says ‘you aren’t going to make any changes in your life until remaining where you are is more painful than making the changes.’
Your challenge will not go away on its own. If you don’t do something about it, who will? I would encourage you to purchase my book and follow through with the advice I have provided.
For further discussion of business & personal networking, visit the Live For Excellence Book Store for the following publications:
52 Power Networking Tips: How to Network Like a Pro
Blow Your Own Horn! Personal Branding for Business Professionals
You’re Hired! Leveraging Your Network: Job Search Strategies That Work
Power Networking For Shy People: How to Network Like a Pro
Rae A. Stonehouse is an author, speaker, and self-publishing consultant dedicated to helping others embrace constant improvement and overcome challenges. With over 40 years of experience as a Registered Nurse in psychiatry and mental health, Rae brings a wealth of knowledge and passion for self-development to his writing and presentations.
As a 25+ year member of Toastmasters International, Rae has systematically built his communication abilities and self-confidence to share his insights as an author and speaker. His self-help books and personal development presentations aim to have conversational one-on-one connections with readers and audiences.
Rae is known for his wry sense of humor and sage advice delivered in a relatable coaching style. After four decades as a nurse, Rae has rewired rather than retired, actively writing and pursuing public speaking. He strives to share lessons learned to help others achieve personal and professional growth.