A woman on a video call

Social anxiety: how to cope if video calls make you anxious

Posted by for Life

Does the prospect of Zoom meetings and video calls make you anxious? Here’s how to cope with this form of social anxiety.

Even as lockdown eases and many of us return to the office, it’s likely our reliance on Zoom calls – whether that’s for a work meeting, virtual event or pub quiz with friends – is likely to continue. 

After all, while social distancing measures are still in place, hopping on a Zoom meeting or chatting to a client over video call is a lot easier than trying to work around all the rules and regulations of a face-to-face encounter.

While this may be good news for some (especially when it cuts out unnecessary travel), for people who deal with social anxiety, video calls can actually be a pretty anxiety-inducing experience. 

Described by the NHS as a “long-lasting and overwhelming fear of social situations,” people with social anxiety often feel “overly worried” both before, during and after a social event. It’s important to note that social anxiety is more than shyness – it’s characterised by a fear of judgement – and that just because our social lives are now being played out online, it doesn’t mean we can’t feel socially anxious.

“You can experience social anxiety as a result of video calls,” explains Eugene Farrell, mental health lead for AXA PPP healthcare. “This is a social situation, albeit remote and digital, and one that potentially has a performance aspect.

A video call set-up
Are you finding video calls anxiety-inducing? You're not alone.

“You may not be judged at all, but create this in your mind as if it were real.”

With this in mind, we asked Farrell for his advice when it comes to recognising and dealing with social anxiety on video calls. Here’s what he had to say.

What are the symptoms of social anxiety?

According to Farrell, social anxiety – or social phobia, as it is sometimes called – is “a fear or dread of being judged by other people” as a result of “not meeting their standards, being embarrassed, humiliated, ridiculed or rejected”.

The common symptoms of social anxiety include:

  • Nervous hand shaking
  • Muscle tension
  • Hot flushes
  • Nausea
  • An urgent need to urinate
  • A possible panic attack
A woman feeling anxious on video call
Does the thought of a video call fill you with dread? You could be dealing with social anxiety.

People with social anxiety may also fear that other people may notice their symptoms and find out how they’re really feeling.

“Sometimes people might adopt safety behaviours such as wearing a particular item of clothing or using make up to conceal blushing,” Farrell explains. “Other safety behaviours might include looking away when talking, or covering the face with hands.”

What’s the best way to deal with social anxiety?

According to Farrell, there are a number of different ways to deal with feelings of social anxiety.

Although it may feel like the best way to deal with social anxiety is to avoid the situation that’s making you anxious, doing this is likely to make your feelings worse in the long run. Indeed, Farrell explains that we shouldn’t avoid social situations, but instead take some time to recognise any signs and symptoms of social anxiety we may be experiencing.  

“Try to understand the thought or thoughts occurring that are most responsible for the feelings you are having,” he says. “It is these thoughts that drive the feelings you’re experiencing.

“Examine what the facts are to support your thoughts – usually there are no facts, just feelings, and we are believing those feelings to be true when they’re often not. Sometimes we don’t have facts so we jump to conclusions or make up things.”

With this in mind, if you find yourself thinking “everyone’s judging me” or “no one really likes me”, take a step back and analyse whether you’ve got any facts to back up these points. The likelihood is that these thoughts are coming from a place of anxiety; once we identify this, it makes it a lot easier to dismiss those negative thoughts and rid yourself of the uncomfortable feelings.

“By dismissing the thoughts we can interrupt this cycle and disrupt it,” Farrell explains. “Doing this creates a distance – almost like stepping away from the feelings – and allows a more reasoned and reasonable fact-based approach.”

Other techniques Farrell recommends include:

  • Positive self-talk, such as “I can do this”, “I know my stuff”, “People like me”
  • Rehearsing what you’re going to say
  • Having some notes you can rely upon if you need them
  • Writing down some things to say to questions you think might come up
  • Focusing on breathing

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.

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