I have extreme social anxiety (SA) and experience physical symptoms like shortness of breath, shaky hands and voice during social situations.

I work for a really big multinational. We have quarterly/pre-holiday team lunches on the company. There was one pre-xmas/end of year team lunch on the mid Dec 2013, which I at first said I would go, and placed orders. I was panicking and having a racing heart on that day, so I skipped out by saying I had a sore throat (I was in the office).

The team farewell lunch for our leader was on 31 Dec, which I also skipped out on. And now, there is ANOTHER farewell lunch for both our team leader, and his superior. It is a department lunch this time, of about 30 people. How am I going to skip out on that?

I do not, absolutely do not want to go for this lunch (or any future lunches). At the first team lunch I went to, I panicked and it was so awkward and stressful for me (on the verge of crying because no one wanted to talk to me, and I didn't want to talk to anyone either). The lunches typically take an hour or more.

How do I avoid the lunches?

My SA makes it nigh on impossible to work properly as I get the jitters just conversing with colleagues - it has been 7 months, and I have no friends there still.


Is it OK I just offer to chip in on the farewell gift? I am not concerned about budget as it would be my way of saying 'sorry but no thanks for the lunch'? I don't even know them both as I don't work directly with them nor have I spoken to them (except the team leader).

Everyone in the office is aware of my social anxiety problems. It's easy to spot as I have physical symptoms like squeaky voice, timid air etc...

I am afraid to tell that to my boss because it might make them think I'm a liability. I'm afraid it would spoil my chances of a pay increment.

I do try my best, but the result is less spectacular as that of a normal social person.

I do extremely well one-on-one and in smaller groups. I was interviewed twice, first by a group of 3 and the 2nd by one person. I aced it I feel.

  • 3
    Hey michelle, and welcome to The Workplace. I'm having a bit of trouble understanding what exactly the core issue is. You say it's your social anxiety, but then you say it's the lack of friends there, and you seem to have felt the need to make excuses rather than be honest in the past. Is there some reason you can't tell your boss about this directly? If your social anxiety is so severe that it is impacting your job, I would think that is a much bigger problem that you should tackle with your boss and/or medical professional.
    – jmac
    Jan 22, 2014 at 2:07
  • 2
    @michelle I also have SA. Have for my entire life. I agree with jmac, but don't have an answer for your short-term problem. However, I think you should consider joining a Toast Master club in your area. I have and it has helped me tremendously. I mostly enjoy being around people and interacting now. You can even join a club with nothing but strangers if it makes you more comfortable. Sometimes the hardest part is the intro.
    – Peter L.
    Jan 22, 2014 at 3:09
  • Minor nitpick: be careful using acronyms. SA you explained, MNC I can guess, but TM??? I have edited your question anyway because it is a lot of text. Feel fere to revet if I have removed too much.
    – user8036
    Jan 22, 2014 at 8:33
  • Why can't you just talk or send an email to your boss and simply tell them you have SA? It's not as uncommon as you think, and while some may not be familiar with it, it should be enough for them to understand and respect your wish. I mean, I've seen some people express doubts about it ("X said he's got SA but come on, it's not like it'll kill him/her to be in a room with 5 people for 2 hours") simply because they can't relate to the issue or don't believe it ("X said he's got SA, but I know him/her, and he/she seems fine") but at least you'll have made your position clear.
    – haylem
    Feb 28, 2014 at 6:50
  • Generally, farewell lunches are optional, and nobody's feelings are hurt if you skip them -- especially if you say farewell to the departing individual in person, or send them an e-mail saying something to the effect of "sorry to see you go, and good luck wherever life takes you next". If someone's collecting donations for a farewell gift, or to cover the cost of the departing individual's meal, it may be desirable to chip in even if you can't attend.
    – keshlam
    Apr 22, 2014 at 5:11

4 Answers 4


As I see it there are two issues here: One is regarding your social anxiety and the effect it has on your work relationships. The other is you not being part of farewell dinners and other work related functions.

Regarding your social anxiety, I would strongly suggest you start to do something about it since it clearly has a negative effect on your well being. But I have no expertise in that area and I doubt few people on this particular Q&A site have, so I can not give any help there. I think you would get better responses with a specific question regarding how to battle your social anxiety in the Cognitive Sciences Stack Exchange site. I do know there is a lot of help to be had, so don't hesitate.

The second issues are the farewell dinners that you are not part of. I think the people who are leaving aren't as bothered with not everyone showing up as you fear.

I would have handled the situation by contributing to the farewell gift, sign the gift card and then say your goodbye by an email. If you feel comfortable with being honest, say the real reason, or make up an excuse:

"I could unfortunately not be part of the dinner, due to a meeting, but I want you to know I enjoyed working with you and wish you the best in the future" or something similar.


I see only two possible solutions:

Workout a solution how to feel more comfortable attending social events

You said that you didn't make any friends and there is no one in those events that could help you feel less lonely. I think this is the main issue. I've experienced this feeling when I think I don't belong to the event, until I came to realize a simple truth. When you start a new job or enter any formed environment, it is mostly up to you to get integrated into that environment. No matter how welcoming and friendly the environment is, you should try to make the first step. So don't expect that your integration will happen all by itself. You need to put some effort as well.

Try to get to know people, start from having your lunch in a small company of colleagues (4-5 people). After you start feeling comfortable in that company, try to increase the number of people. After some time, when you feel more confident, start attending bigger social events. And on those event, stay in the company of people you already know. You'll be surprised that some of them need your company as much as you need theirs.

If you feel uncomfortable, you can always leave early. Don't forget about that. Talk to the organizers, tell them you had fun but you need to leave. You could even try to attend for the first half an hour to begin with, and leave after that.

Make it clear that you cannot attend any social events at all and explain the reason

I really suggest that you try the first option. And until it starts to work, if you decide to skip an event, tell the organizers about it, explain that you would love to attend (even if you wouldn't) but you can't. Also if this is a farewell event, say farewell to the people who are leaving either personally or by email/postcard left on their desks. Don't skip the event silently.


I don't think your problem is ridiculous at all. In fact, many people do experience similar feelings. I understand how much it affects your career, and not only. Skipping events is a short-term solution. I really think you can solve your problem in the long run. If you feel that you can't overcome the problem by yourself, apply for qualified help. In fact, many organizations aren't as tolerant to skipping events as yours seems to be, and some day your SA can create bigger problems.


Thanks michelle for the question. I want to provide a different perspective because I believe social anxiety in the context of the workplace is a complex issue and cannot be addressed easily through simple solutions. A user has noted that visiting the Cognitive Sciences group might be beneficial. I welcome this idea too. So, to provide a response.

Is your avoidance beneficial?

Experiential avoidance, or in other words your attempts to avoid social situations, may offer relief at first but gradually become a habit. In the long-run, you need to question whether avoiding social situations is going to be constructive for your social anxiety.

This requires some form of reflection on whether you believe that avoiding lunches and other social situations will be helpful in the future for you and your career.

Maybe the key is acceptance

Never should anxiety be trivialised and dismissed. Since you mentioned that you have severe anxiety, I think the long-term solution is education about how your social anxiety needn't negatively impacted your working career. This is no easy task and requires a large degree of learning to accept how you feel in those situations. Learning to be comfortable and without resisting your social anxiety perhaps could help you appreciate the social situations and learn to be okay with feeling anxious at lunches.

What if you prefer to avoid?

Your question needs to be addressed though. The above suggests for a long-term outlook. If you must avoid lunches and other social situations, I would suggest a few notes as there's no immediate solution to your question:

  • Always constructively let the organiser know that you can't make it due to other commitments.
  • Be grateful and appreciative for a farewell invitation but let the organiser know in advance that you can't make it.
  • You mentioned that the people at work might suspect that you do experience social anxiety. It could be a possibility that you speak to HR to see what their thoughts are and perhaps, have them exempt you from certain social meetings. However, think about this one carefully. There is still some stigmatisation around mental problems/illnesses and my advice can only be that you make a sound judgment before disclosing any personal information.

Response or solution?

Honestly, my intuition is to tell you first and foremost that you may want to seek professional help in treating your severe social anxiety. Ultimately we can all offer answers on how you can avoid social situations but my most prudent response is to encourage you to speak to a professional. There's no need for your anxiety to continue to affect your functioning at work.

  • 1
    To add: we do not know if the OP is seeking help for her anxiety but my post presumes that she is not.
    – coeus
    Feb 28, 2014 at 5:40

I would just tell your boss in private. Explain that you feel very unconfortable, ina social setting. Perhaps you can do something else instead with the two people who are leaving. Perhaps going to lunch with them individually (if you can handle it).

  • 3
    Hey Christopher, and welcome back to The Workplace! The best answers here are longer rather than shorter, and not only say what you think the asker should do, but explain why and how it's the right answer. Where possible, you should also back up your answers with references. You can edit your post and you will get a better reception. Thanks in advance!
    – jmac
    Jan 22, 2014 at 6:23

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