How to combat social anxiety in sales jobs that demand regular social interactions.

Social anxiety is complex and can be difficult to manage, especially when you’re in a sales job that demands regular social interactions. If your sales job is causing anxiety, you’re not alone. Nor do you necessarily need to find another job. Anxiety in sales isn’t new, and it’s something you can overcome.

My own experience with social anxiety

In May of 2019, I attended a graduation celebration of a friend whose family rented out a ballroom to honor the success of their child. Between swishing champagne and a series of speeches, the room’s hypnotic chaos spun a tornado within my chest, luring my heart out, pumping thousands of beats.

The violent rotating air ravaged my body, settling in the stomach, where my intestines shrunk. Up above, my brain drowned beneath intrusive thoughts repeatedly swarming, in and out.

While others were lost in enjoyment, shaking hands, sharing tales, and laughing . . . I, the host of this windstorm, had no other refuge but to grip my glass, flash a few smiles, and float on a buoy, braving each thrashing wave of socialization, in isolation and silence.

What is social anxiety?

Social anxiety is the manifestation of insecurity, fear, avoidance, feelings of inadequacy, and exhaustion produced by differing levels of interaction with strangers, being in social settings, or interacting with people at large.

Anxiety caused by social exchange is not a new phenomenon. In fact, it is something many encounter for more reasons than you’d think. From Cedars-Sinai to Johns Hopkins, leading medical institutions across the globe have shifted their attention and resources to dissecting social anxiety and, more recently, a specific variation of anxiety brought on by the events of last year, coined “post-pandemic social anxiety.”

If I were to draw my own hypothesis, I’d argue that most who live with social anxiety are strong empaths. In my experience, social anxiety can stem from the hypersensitivity to the energy or body language of others, intense focus on minor details, and/or an over-empathetic need to ensure others are comfortable, heard, and respected, even if at your own expense.

Moreover, it’s important to acknowledge that social anxiety exists on a spectrum. While some may experience slight nerves or butterflies when presenting a speech, others can experience depression and/or develop physical ailments from immediate stressors as well as many other situational variables.

Navigating anxiety in my sales job

From a nervous system diagnosis at age 10 to my current position as an SDR, I, like many others, experience social anxiety daily and slide back and forth on this spectrum depending on the social situation. And, despite all this, somehow an art grad like me found a career in sales. A decision that wasn’t easy, especially considering my only familiarity with sales methodology was Danny DeVito as Matilda’s father—a shady, neglectful car salesman.

Nevertheless, Ethena’s e-learning approach caught my eye and aligned with my social justice values, and remarkably, the truth about what sales could be was finally revealed.

I had been duped. Flat-out lied to.

Years of cinematic propaganda (and, admittedly, drawn-out days at car dealerships) made me believe that salespeople were malicious. This couldn’t be farther from the truth: the majority of people who work in sales believe wholeheartedly in helping others solve problems. We care deeply about improving some aspect of a person’s life, and by sharing our solutions, we might alleviate discomfort and erase their burdens.

With this revelation in mind, it is not hard to understand why an empathetic, yet socially anxious person would choose sales. My desire to help is so powerful that I’ve found solace in speaking with strangers out of the blue, cold emailing, and even sending very personalized videos to potential customers.

I have gratitude that this position affords me the opportunity to confront and find methods to cope with my social anxiety in such a unique manner. Some days are harder than others, but witnessing how I can brighten the day of someone struggling is fuel enough to keep going.

Plus, I have a pretty fantastic team of colleagues who are overwhelmingly supportive and offer encouragement at every daunting turn.

Tips to navigate your sales job anxiety

However, not everyone will navigate their social anxiety in the manner I have, and that’s okay. There are hundreds of ways to support those around you who may be struggling with social anxiety. A positive step forward to create a truly inclusive society might be:

  1. Acknowledging that those who may avoid people do not dislike people—it’s quite the opposite.
  2. Practice and brainstorm ways you can create space for those who are socially hesitant.
  3. Be a good human.

As I mentioned before, many people experience social anxiety because of the gloomy, claustrophobic state of the world. People are unpredictable–a minute of watching the news will over-communicate this fact. The least we can do is amplify kindness, patience, and compassion in everyday life; it’s what I practice on and off the clock.

With that said, I’m confident my journey in sales will be the antithesis of Mr. Wormwood. And since I’m older now and have finally gained the confidence to say it . . . Harry, everyone knows you’re selling busted cars with cracked radiators. We can smell them from down the block.

Ditch the business and come take some Ethena training.