Whether triggered by a fear of public speaking or discomfort in real or virtual settings, most people experience some level of anxiety about work-related meetings, according to Karie Batzler, director of Behavioral Health at Capital Blue Cross.
With an estimated 11 million work meetings each day in the U.S., there is a lot of potential for a jangling nerves, sweaty palms, rapid heartbeat, and other symptoms.
“The issue with respect to symptoms is how often do they occur, for how long, and do they stop you from doing your job or living your life?” Batzler said.
Coping strategies such as checklists or focused meeting preparation can help tame the butterflies for most, while therapy or medication is the answer for some.
“Anyone who says they have never experienced (some form of meeting anxiety) is not being honest,” said Jay Solomon, director of provider operations at Capital Blue Cross.
On a nervousness scale of 1 to 10, Solomon puts himself at a “one” when meeting within his own department or with people he knows. That level jumps to about four, he said, when he is less familiar with meeting participants.
For Megan Atticks, a communications specialist at Capital Blue Cross, mild meeting anxiety lurks in the memory of a difficult experience in a previous job in which her supervisor peppered her with seemingly unrelated and distracting questions during a presentation.
Atticks puts herself at about “five” on a nervousness scale of 1 to 10, but adds, “If there’s a technical glitch, I quickly jump up to a nine.”
Batzler, Solomon, and Atticks say the absence of social cues such as body language, facial expression, and eye contact make virtual meetings more stressful.
Whether meeting anxiety is rooted in a fear of public speaking, lack of preparation, unclear expectations, a previous negative experience, or even poor self-image, there are a host of easily accessible, non-medical coping strategies, according to Batzler. They include:
Practice public speaking – Introduce yourself or tell a story at a gathering.
Arrive early – This allows you to start out conversing with a smaller group.
Review the agenda – Prepare questions and statements ahead of time.
Rehearse statements – Practice what you want to say.
Practice mindfulness or stress management – deep breathing exercises, meditation techniques, etc.
Make sleep a priority.
Quit smoking and reduce intake of caffeinated beverages.
For some with underlying, diagnosable anxiety disorders, meetings can trigger symptoms that can make it hard to work, according to the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH).
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) says social anxiety disorder, for example, affects about 15 million Americans and generalized anxiety disorder affects an estimated 6.8 million.
The good news, according to the ADAA, is that doctors can effectively manage anxiety disorders through psychotherapy or medication.
“The best advice is always to talk with your doctor about potential treatments,” Batzler said. “Especially in cases where you feel this anxiety is affecting your work and professional relationships.”