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Networking anxiety?

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Networking Anxiety?
Post by: Jen Schaeffers, Founder, NetworkinginVan.com

I watched a really interesting documentary tonight on CBC “Doc Zone” about anxiety. It’s actually the first time I have watched a formal program with information about the psychology around anxiety, accompanied by interviews with normal everyday people who suffer from mild to severe anxiety.

I am one of those people.

A few years ago I started to develop some debilitating panic attacks that changed my life in a major way. The feeling of complete terror would come upon me for no real reason and out of nowhere. I would experience my heart rate increasing significantly, I would feel like I was going to pass out, my body would just go into what they call “fight or flight mode”. If I was in the middle of a boardroom presentation, I would need to get out of the room immediately, if I was driving, I would need to pull over. The first time it happened I actually thought I was having a heart attack and the ambulance had to be called. I had pains in my chest and down my arm and it just kept elevating and elevating until I eventually worked my way down from it with the help of the paramedics. I soon learned what I had experienced was a “panic attack” – a term I had heard friends loosely talking about for years. I thought they were just being flaky or melo-dramatic and for the most part those references were exaggerated – this wasn’t the same thing I had just experienced.

Soon things that never bothered me started to freak me out – taking an elevator, being in a room with a lot of people, talking in front of a group of people, getting blood taken, even watching stories on the news. It was a really frightening time in my life. It shook all my confidence in my abilities, both personally and professionally.

I have worked through these issues without the use of drugs (thankfully) but I definitely still experience generalized anxiety often, although thankfully the panic attacks ended over a year ago.

Why am I blogging about this? Well, it’s because seemingly the more I talk to people, the more I realize I am not alone. I am finding that there are a lot of people out there that place an extraordinary amount of pressure on themselves to be successful, to take on everything, and to make it look easy. I find this especially with Millenials (GenY’s) coming out of university and feeling like they need to be in the perfect job right away.

People experience anxiety in different ways. To you, the thought of going out and speaking to people you don’t know and have never met before may be a very anxious thought. So my advice is this – if you’re going to a networking event and you’re feeling this way, go with a friend and make small goals for yourself. Tell yourself you’re going to meet two new people and go to events that include an element of professional development too – so you’re listening and learning and you don’t have to “on” the entire evening (ie. speed networking can be very draining).

Take deep breaths. There is a lot of research to show just how beneficial breathing can be – deep breathing. Whenever I have to get up in front of a crowd of people, I take a lot of cleansing breaths and I find it helps calm my system.

Listen to your body.

If you’re feeling exhausted, skip the event and get rest. I find when I don’t listen to my body – that’s when it starts to shut down on me. When you may feel some generally anxiety, recognize it as a sign that perhaps you need to slow down – clear your schedule for a few days and spend time on “you”.

Talk to someone about how you are feeling too. A friend, a colleague, a counsellor, a family member.

Anxiety BC has some great resources on their site. I definitely encourage you to take a browse.

Follow Jen on Twitter @jenu2

 

 

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2 Responses to Networking anxiety?

  1. Connor Meakin March 16, 2012 at 10:56 am #

    Really enjoyed this read Jen, it takes a lot of courage to speak up about this sort of thing. Our norms haven’t quite shifted away from the strange stigma associated with anxiety related disorders.

    I can definitely relate. As an introvert, I forced myself to start attending networking events. It is not easy stepping outside ones comfort zone. Your advice about small steps is bang on. Gradual exposure really helped me personally with networking.

    I find that breathing is a huge help. So is smiling!

    The CBC doc looks interesting, hope it brings anxiety disorders a bit more relevant exposure.

    • Jen Schaeffers March 16, 2012 at 3:48 pm #

      Thanks Connor! I really appreciate the comments :) And thanks for sharing your story too. It’s not as easy as everyone makes it look!

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