Your question: Can I have a job if I have social anxiety?

My reply:

Hi, I hope this message finds you well. My name is Cesar Guedez, a psychologist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy.

Anxiety is a universal experience. To a greater or lesser extent, we all feel anxiety at various times in our lives. Anxiety is necessary because it triggers an alert in our body, indicating that we must take action to avoid a potential threat. However, when anxiety becomes very intense and recurrent, it causes problems.

There are several types of anxiety, one of the most common is social anxiety, also known as social phobia. This problem is characterized by a persistent avoidance of social situations. People with social anxiety feel excessive embarrassment, fear and worry when they are in social situations, almost always because they are afraid of the judgment or assessment that others make of them (1).

It should not be confused with common shyness. Shyness is a personality trait, characteristic of introverted and quiet people. However, shyness does not pose a problem for everyday life. People with social anxiety struggle with adapting to social settings. For many of them, a presentation at school or a meeting at work can be a panic attack with overwhelming physical symptoms.

If you are someone who is dealing with social anxiety, although you may feel alone and misunderstood, social anxiety is a fairly common problem. Approximately 12% of adults experience social anxiety (2), and although it is most common in young people between the ages of 18 and 29, it occurs indiscriminately regardless of age, gender or any other variable.

Socialization is part of life, so having social anxiety is an overwhelming experience. Working, in particular, naturally involves a socialization process. From the moment you go for a job interview to the moment you start working with other people, work is a naturally social activity.

If you’re reading this, I’m sure you have significant concerns about how you’ll be able to get a job if you have social anxiety. The truth is, while anxiety can paralyze you and create problems, it does not define you. Social anxiety is an obstacle but it is not necessarily a prison that will isolate you from the world.

So, yes, you can get a job even if you have social anxiety. You need to be fully aware of what it means to have social anxiety so that you can consider strategies to improve and decrease your symptoms, as well as consider jobs that involve less stress and worry related to socialization.

What does it feel like to have social anxiety?

Social anxiety occurs exclusively in social contexts, such as being in a crowd, on public transportation, when giving a presentation in class or at work, trying to socialize to make new friends, at a job interview, even simple everyday activities such as talking to a cashier at the grocery store.

The symptoms of social anxiety are both physical and emotional, and are generally characterized by the fear of being judged or criticized negatively by others. Other common symptoms are:

  • Muscle tension.
  • Tachycardia and shortness of breath.
  • Anticipation of social activities well in advance, e.g., fear of a college presentation weeks before it occurs.
  • Feeling of extreme embarrassment in social settings.
  • Avoidance of social activities for fear of feeling anxious.
  • Feeling of dizziness.
  • Avoidance of eye contact.
  • Feeling panic when a stranger asks you a question on the street.
  • Difficulty making friends and dating.

Why does work give you social anxiety?

Social anxiety appears in social situations in which the person feels judged or criticized by others. For the most part, the concerns you have, related to social anxiety and fear of negative criticism from others, are dysfunctional thoughts and therefore not entirely logical.

This can make the process of getting a job and working in general stressful. To a large extent, working is a social endeavor that requires interacting with other people. Whether virtual or face-to-face, job applications and interviews involve a process of social interaction.

Subsequently, when you get a job, in most cases you must maintain constant communication with bosses, other employees and/or clients. This can cause your social anxiety symptoms to be activated, making you feel overloaded and emotionally affected by social contact.

In addition, people with social anxiety are often very critical of their job performance. Despite not being criticized by their boss and co-workers, they constantly feel intimidated under the scrutiny of others, questioning their abilities and job value.

These feelings are common, as social anxiety makes you doubt your abilities and affects you emotionally. Therefore, social anxiety can make the work process difficult and exhausting, but not impossible.

How can you work with social anxiety?

No problem has to define your life, and social anxiety is no exception. More than an impediment, your social anxiety is an obstacle that you must overcome in order to have a productive and satisfying life. There are strategies to consider so that you can work effectively with social anxiety.

It should be noted that social anxiety can only be diagnosed by a professional, and it is advisable to see a psychologist or psychiatrist if you feel that your social anxiety is consuming your life and worsening over time.

Social anxiety has been shown to be treatable with cognitive behavioral therapy. People learn strategies that improve their quality of life, and manage to cope with overwhelming social situations through questioning their irrational thoughts and socialization and communication techniques.

Breathing and relaxation

When anxiety symptoms occur, relaxation exercises are quite helpful. Close your eyes, inhale slowly for 3 seconds and exhale for another 3 seconds. Rest your hands on your abdomen and feel how the tension in your body progressively decreases. While you do this, repeat in your mind affirmation phrases, such as: “you can handle this situation, you have the strength to do it”. You can apply this exercise for 10 to 20 minutes a day.

Adapt jobs to your social anxiety

As mentioned, all jobs involve a socialization process, however, some jobs tend to be quieter, with reduced social interactions. There are several points to take into account when choosing a job if you are a person with social anxiety, among these are the roles you must fulfill, the work schedules, the psychosocial help and support that the job allows you to receive and the amount of social interactions you will have on a daily basis.

Some jobs with few social interactions with other people are: landscaping, veterinary medicine, construction, writer, library editor, and dog walker. For some people, social anxiety is exclusively in face-to-face social situations, so they can perform without problems in online jobs that only require writing and talking to customers.

Question your thoughts

Negative thoughts in social anxiety can ruin your life. Generally, when you are in places of socialization, thoughts like “no one wants me here”, “they sure are talking bad about me”, “I feel out of place, I should leave” come to you. It is hard work to understand that our thoughts are not facts, but this is reality.

Just because you think this way does not imply that it is the objective reality. Therefore, when these negative thoughts invade you, whether at work or in any other social space, you need to stop and question them. A functional and positive response to the above thoughts would be, “No one has said anything negative to me, I will try to fit into the space and try to start a conversation with someone.”

Develop your social skills

Something like initiating a conversation with a stranger can be a nightmare for many people with social anxiety. However, these are small steps you can take to cope with the symptoms of social anxiety and learn to control them. In a notebook you can write down a simulated conversation with a stranger or an acquaintance. It will help to look in the mirror and practice. Preferably, you can make the conversation about a topic of your interest, for example, a movie you recently saw or a nice restaurant you went to.

When you find yourself in a social setting, approach a person to start the conversation. If the person doesn’t know you, introduce yourself. Start talking about the topic you had in mind and practiced earlier. At the moment you may feel tense and overwhelmed, but by the end, regardless of how long the conversation lasts, you will feel that you have taken an important step in developing your social skills.

This is just one of several strategies you can apply in your day-to-day life to cope with the general pressure and fear you feel in social spaces, questioning that others may criticize you. Gradually, you can increase socialization, instead of talking to one stranger you will talk to three, and so on.

In my experience…

Social anxiety can consume your life, but it’s up to you to stop it from happening. You have the power and courage to deal with this problem, even if you are unable to notice it at the moment. Having social anxiety creates obstacles when it comes to getting a job, but it is not an impediment. By taking the initiative to make gradual changes, you can learn to cope with and control the symptoms of social anxiety.

I believe you have the ability to improve and heal these feelings of discomfort you are experiencing now. The fact that you are seeking professional help through this message proves it to me, and I applaud you for making that decision and being on track to improve your mental health and overall, your physical health

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