Networking With Social Anxiety


‘Mingling’… yeah, I don’t really like that word either. ‘Networking’ has a similar effect on me too. Sometimes the thought of heading out to a social event surrounded by people you don’t know, feels more like partaking in an extreme sport than anything else.

I hear you.

Maybe you find your social battery running out well before the night is through, deciding to whip your phone out and start scrolling at the venue while everyone flits around and socialises around you. Even in a place full of people, it can feel incredibly isolating for those of us who experience a great deal of social anxiety. You are not alone.

Always feeling like you’re the one who bails out; it’s like a double edged sword. You want to be invited and included, but when the time comes – you are willing for it to be cancelled. If anything I’ve said so far resonates, then this post is for you.

What type of event is it?

I find the most anxiety inducing events tend to be the ones where the entertainment and purpose involves nothing but interacting with other humans; as opposed to watching, looking or being entertained by something or someone.

For example, a BBQ (my own personal hell). You are pretty much forced to either engage in conversation, stand there looking awkward or eat. Those are usually your only three options. At an exhibit for example, you have things to look at, and if you start to feel awkward – you can always re-read the art descriptions over and over to fill the time until a familiar face shows up – (woo!).

What are the pros and cons?

Weigh out the advantages and disadvantages of attending the event. Will it serve a purpose for you? What is your incentive? Does it provide you with the opportunity to connect and perhaps meet like minded people such as yourself? If you’re being honest with yourself, will the possibilities outweigh the cons? If so, get a ticket and get ready to absorb all you can.

If you sort out the pros from the cons, and the cons outweigh, don’t force it. Not every event is for everyone. It’s okay to say no if you really feel you can’t face it. In this age of social media and heightened interaction and accessibility into others lives, it’s very easy to fall into the comparison heist. Wondering how ‘everyone’ else seems to be so ‘social’ and have such a ‘large group of friends’, when sometimes, their truth, the truth they don’t depict or talk about – may not be much different from yours.

If you feel the event will have a more positive effect on your wellbeing, provide you with opportunities to expand, develop and grow, then go for it. If you feel like it will have a negative effect, and the down sides outweigh anything else…you may want to reconsider and really ask yourself who and what are you going for?

Going with friends or alone?

It goes without saying that all of us would love to be accompanied by our nearest and dearest to all of these events, but the reality is, you’re not always going to have people available to roll through with you. Are you going to miss out on an event you really want to attend because your friends can’t make it? Don’t penalise yourself!

Events such as panel discussions, screenings, exhibits etc offer the opportunity to simply sit and absorb. There are often intermissions, or breaks for those who feel like venturing out of their comfort zones a little bit to get talking to others at the event. (You’d be surprised how many others are in the building who feel exactly the way you do!)

If you don’t feel like interacting at these kind of events, you don’t have to! You won’t stick out like a sore thumb either, as everyone will be too preoccupied with watching or listening to whatever is going on.

Discomfort & Comfort Zones

Striking the balance between stepping out of your comfort zone and realising you do not owe anyone your discomfort is a tricky path to tread. Stepping out of your comfort zone serves to provide you with fresh experiences that can either elevate you, teach you something (or both), whereas sacrificing your comfort to do things that serve you no purpose and is more likely to have a detrimental effect on your growth and wellbeing will leave you feeling drained and stifled.

Although the two sound very similar on paper, actually getting to the core and truly understanding the polarities will help you decide what’s worth taking a chance on, and what’s best left alone.

Surrounding yourself with people who understand and respect the need for others’ space, or those who empathise with people who may not be feeling sociable is extremely important. Not everyone will understand your last minute cancellations; and honest comments like ‘I’m just not feeling sociable tonight’ may be taken the wrong way – don’t let the reaction of others force you into a bind. If you do something or choose to go somewhere, that’s your call to make. If they don’t get it, then you’ve got better things to do than to keep explaining yourself.

If you do make it out and find that you’re not able to get your energies in a balanced position, don’t beat on yourself for heading back home. The fact you made it there in the first place is a step in the right direction. Take it at your own pace, and as I always say, understand that you are not alone.