The workplace can be a particularly difficult environment for those dealing with social anxiety disorder and/or generalized anxiety disorder. For the over 15 million people who suffer with the illness, finding ways to adapt can be exhausting, if not impossible, to contend with.
What follows is my own personal experience regarding anxiety in the workplace. I found the workplace difficult because it involved performance standards, looking the part, and hiding my anxiety-all the while trying to appear normal and not lose my source of income.
I share what the anxiety experience in the workplace looked like for me, the consequences of not addressing my mental health needs, and how I found a solution that not only worked, but ultimately created an environment in which I thrived.
Routine and Early Coping Skills
My anxiety about the work day always began the evening prior. It was necessary for me to plan out my attire (shoes and accessories included), and ensure my clothing was ironed and crisp before I would allow myself to go to bed.
In the morning, simple, everyday occurrences triggered my mounting anxiety about facing the office environment. These sounds were earmarks of a ticking clock: the coffee maker click began the morning countdown, and the shower knob turn was the point of no return. The noise of the shower knob made me literally nauseas and sick.
Deep down, I wanted desperately to just go back to bed so I did not have to interact with anyone. It wasn't that I did not want to work: I did not know how to work and not be full of anxiety.
I would force myself to walk into the office by completely tuning out until I got to my desk (my stomach would be rolling and I would often be in a haze but I would somehow make it to my desk). To me, it seemed easy for the rest of the people in the office to stroll in, get their coffee and begin their workday. I envied their ability.
I was extremely obsessive with perfectionism at work. Everything (and I mean everything) had to be just right. I wasted so much time re-doing or re-checking work that was not necessary. Many days I would be so behind I worked unpaid overtime just to keep to deadlines.
In my mind, performing "perfectly" at work (which also meant appearing "normal" at work) kept any questions about me or my job performance at bay. If someone were to find fault in my work, that meant that I was not smart or capable or worthy of employment. I was not comfortable talking with others for fear I would sound stupid. I ate my lunch alone on purpose just to escape.
By the time I returned home from work everyday I was exhausted. I would also be angry and frustrated with myself for not being able to be "carefree" and this led to mounting depression about what a loser I was. I took it on that my anxiety was a character trait of weakness. I worked very hard at forcing myself to swallow my feelings and berate myself for feeling the way I did. I told myself I was being ridiculous and to get over myself already.