3 Tips to Dominate Networking Events Despite Having Social Anxiety, According to a Psychiatrist

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According to Claire Wasserman, the Well+Good Council member and founder of Ladies Get Paid who has self-admittedly built her entire career on networking, the small-talk-heavy practice is neither easy nor fun. "Networking can feel awkward at best and sleazy at worst," she said. Still, "for most people, it’s the necessary evil we must suffer to get ahead in our careers."

Though many people loathe this "necessary evil" that tends to line the path to success, it can be even more difficult when you're also navigating social anxiety, which can transform harmless-seeming happy hours into totally draining and stressful experiences. But good news: Just like with clinical anxiety, it might be possible to lower the severity of social anxiety symptoms, thus allowing you to control it rather than it control you.

To start with the basics, the condition is a diagnosable disorder "characterized as an excessive and irrational fear and worry in social situations," says Nikole Benders-Hadi, MD, a board-certified psychiatrist who works with Doctor On Demand. She further explains that while "we all know what it is like to be nervous or uncomfortable when put on the spot, social anxiety can also cause functional impairments where you avoid these situations altogether or have extreme difficulty socializing with others."

Dr. Benders-Hadi says you can work on lessening your social-anxiety symptoms by using affirmations that state you, not your anxiety, drive your decisions and by reminding yourself of social situations you've handled like a pro in the past. Additionally, she says to keep in mind how each social interaction may help your reach your career goals in order to keep you motivated.

For more detailed, step-by-step assistance, below Dr. Benders-Hadi breaks down tips for totally owning a career-related event. Use them to banish social anxiety to the back seat, #win at networking, and, ultimately, make good on your boss-babe goals.

Follow these 3 psychiatrist-approved tips to overcome your social anxiety and network like a pro.

1. Prepare yourself for the event

As they say, practice makes perfect, and while you certainly can't rehearse every conversation you may have at a given event (especially since you can't control what others will say, of course), you can come prepared with talking points to lean on if the small-talk faucet ever runs dry. And to become a pro at engaging in effortless chats, Dr. Benders-Hadi suggests doing it with close friends or family—or even with yourself in the mirror—before the event. "Try to focus on eye contact, controlling your breathing, and speaking at a pace you are comfortable with to help you stay in control," she says. When you're well-prepared, there's naturally less to worry about.

2. Incorporate as many comforting elements as possible—except booze

Obviously, you're more likely to feel at ease if you're comfortable, and being comfortable can reduce your social anxiety symptoms. "Maybe that involves wearing clothes you find comfortable, wearing a perfume or cologne that soothes you, or even asking a friend to stick close by," Dr. Benders-Hadi explains.

She does, however, advise to skip the booze, since drinking "can lower your inhibitions and lead to additional problems if you end up saying or doing something you shouldn't," which can, in turn, add to and exacerbate your anxiety. 

3. Take a moment to debrief

After the event, Dr. Benders-Hadi advises to take a moment of reflection, specifically "about your interactions with different people, including what went well and what didn't." By running through the chain of events, you can identify stress points and behaviors that you'd like to learn. You can then—full circle—use this information to prep yourself for your next networking event.

For other ways to improve your career, here's how to advocate for yourself at work and the one word to cut from your vocabulary to get stuff done.

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