Education · Social Anxiety

Mental Health Awareness Month

May is mental health awareness month! I know we have a couple of days until that officially starts but no time like the present to delve into these things. This is a great time to take a few minutes and brush up on your mental health knowledge. Even if you are already knowledgeable about mental health (sometimes it feels like I have TOO much mental health knowledge, though I know there is no such thing) it can be helpful to seek out personal accounts of others’ struggles.

I find listening to the stories of others to be helpful in two ways:

1. Mental health concerns present in so many different ways. No two people experience things exactly the same. I find it incredibly interesting to hear about the variety of ways people can experience the same concerns. I feel it gives me a deeper understanding of the underlying causes of mental health concerns.

2. I find it validating to hear that others struggle with the same things I struggle with. Even though I objectively know that I am only one of many who experience anxiety, it is helpful to hear my thoughts and feelings echoed in the experiences of others. It brings me comfort and occasionally it gives me ideas about a new way to approach dealing with my anxiety.

I just found a page on Huffington Post with a compilation of articles on mental health. I expect that as the month of May gets started the list of articles and links there will grow. In addition, you can always check SAMHSA, one of my favorite websites for mental health information. You can even order some of their pamphlets and publications for free (including delivery) or download them. I have stacks of their publications at my office to share with employees or interns who want more information on a specific topic. Their information is great to share with family or friends (or anyone!) who want to know more about mental illness.

These are just a brief taste of what is out there to help those coping with mental health symptoms or trying to learn more about them. Over the month of May I will be sharing other online resources for mental health information. Right now, it’s been a REALLY long week and next week is looking to be even longer so I’m going to go practice some self-care for my own mental  health and work on my vegetable garden. The picture above is of my chives, who knew they were so pretty when they blossomed?!

Self-Care · Social Anxiety

Online Yoga

So I don’t have much time today. It was a beast of a day at work (more on that later) and the end of the semester is next week so I’m swamped with paper writing.

I wanted to share a resource with you that has really helped me in the past! I go through phases (wish I could keep them up consistently) where I take really good care of my body and mind. Part of that is doing regular yoga. Please don’t envision me twisting myself into a pretzel, I’m seriously not that flexible!

Through trial and error I have found that I don’t care for group yoga classes. Some people find them to be wonderful, supportive environments. That’s just not me. First, there’s the social anxiety aspect of exercising in front of others. Second, it turns out that I’m more competitive than I realized and group yoga makes me angry because I get competitive but I’m not very good at yoga so I get frustrated at most of the class being better than I am. Not exactly a recipe for relaxation. Third, it can be expensive! I’m a social worker (one of the lowest paid degrees) with massive student debt and no foreseeable way to pay it off. I’d hope for lottery winnings but can’t bring myself to spend the money on something so statistically unlikely. I can’t afford $10-13 dollars a week for a yoga class (or a private class that is much more expensive)!

Luckily for me, I discovered the world of online yoga classes and videos! Many of them are free on youtube. I like free. I like that I can do them at home with only my pets watching me. Just do a search for yoga classes. Everyone has their own personality so if you don’t like the first one you try, look at a couple of other instructors to see if they are a better fit.

My favorite youtube channel is Yoga with Adriene. The instructor is pretty down to earth and aims to make yoga less intimidating. She’s got some great videos focused on yoga to decrease anxiety (yay!). She has put together some really neat 30-day series of yoga practices. I completed one last summer and I really liked it. She’s also got a good variety in the duration of her videos – some under 20 minutes, others around an hour.

If you chose a more lucrative career than I did you can also check out her website http://yogawithadriene.com/ where she offers collections of classes in specific areas (ex – prenatal) for a fee. I think she also offers a monthly membership with access to more videos than are available on the youtube channel.

What is the most important thing is that you find what works for you. My sister hates yoga but finds relaxation in group boxing classes (which sounds awful to me but she loves them). If yoga’s not your thing then don’t force it. But if you haven’t given it a try or want to get back into it then hit up the world of online yoga.

Accomodations · Professional · Social Anxiety

Telephone Anxiety

Today I want to talk about something I know a lot of people with anxiety struggle with: talking on the phone. Initiating phone calls, particularly to people I don’t know, is one of my biggest struggles. The advent of online pizza delivery is something I continue to be extremely grateful for.

So how often does my difficulty with phone calls impact my work? Some days it feels like constantly. I’ve done some work on this and I’ve come to the following realizations about myself – I rely heavily on my ability to read and interpret a person’s reaction to me. By combining what body language, voice, and words tell me, I’m a pretty accurate “reader” of people. It’s one of the things that makes me both a good social worker and a good supervisor.

Unfortunately, my reliance on my ability to “read” others puts me at a disadvantage when it comes to phone conversations. Phone conversations prevent me from using my skills to figure out how the other person is reacting to me. This is where the social anxiety kicks in – because I can’t always accurately tell if the other person is responding positively to me, my social anxiety tells me that they are judging me when I can’t see them. This makes it hard to initiate calls or answer unknown callers.

For approximately 5 years I worked in an agency that didn’t believe in supervisors having offices. To promote equality and emphasize that there was to be no competition over the metaphorical corner office, each work site was a large open room where everyone could listen to each other’s conversations. This was my nightmare phone scenario. Not only did I have to overcome my anxiety about speaking on the phone, I also had to overcome a separate anxiety of employees listening to (judging) my phone conversations.

I made a compromise with myself. I would make any mildly uncomfortable phone calls from my desk and work on decreasing my anxiety through practice speaking on the phone in front of others. However, I made an accommodation for difficult phone calls. These calls were made on my cell phone, either from the conference room or outside in the parking lot/my car (which provided the bonus of allowing me to move around to shake of some of the anxiety).

On days of increased anxiety, I took it a step further. On those days, I bargained with myself. A typical bargain was along the lines of if I make the phone call(s) that I want to avoid then I will allow myself a short break from work or a treat on the way home. It may seem silly to anyone who has never experienced an ongoing anxiety disorder, but some days you just do whatever you have to do to just get through the day.

So what does this have to do with supervising anyone? Well, a lot of those difficult phone calls that I made from the parking lot were to people I supervised. The employees spent most of their time out of the office seeing clients so I couldn’t always wait until somebody came back to the office if I needed to communicate immediate concerns. Other times I was calling my supervisor to share information that she was not going to be happy about. Those were particularly nerve wracking.

Instead of judging and berating myself each day for my difficulties with phone calls due to my social anxiety, I found accommodations for myself. My accommodations, as odd as they may seem to others, allowed me to still get my job done and communicate with those I worked with. I’m happy to say that in my current job I have my own office which cuts down on the anxiety. But, some days I still end up making difficult conversations from the car or bargaining with myself when I really don’t want to make a particular call. At least it’s not as frequent as it used to be.

Professional · Social Anxiety

First blog post

Welcome! I started this blog with the hope that my experiences with managing my social anxiety, particularly in the work setting, will be helpful for others out there. I’ve dealt with social anxiety since I was a young child. There are times it has held me back personally and professionally.

I’ve done a lot of self-analysis, relaxation exercises, visualization, exposure therapy, etc. I learned valuable things from each of those but the fact is that some days my social anxiety still wins. I have yet to find the right amount of deep breathing and self-talk to convince my body not to be anxious after my heart has already started racing, my hands shake, I sweat, and my throat goes dry. Nevertheless, I’ve come a long way and I’m proud of where I am. Some days it still gets me down but most days I have a kind of peace with it.

I’ve started acknowledging it more, not hiding it like it is this thing that I’m deeply ashamed of. It’s not something I caused or I purposefully keep in my life. Few would wish that kind of pain on themselves.

For the first time I’ve started talking openly with my friends and family about it.  It is part of me and has shaped who I am. I’ve dealt with it long enough to know that if I can ride it out long enough, it will pass. I think that is the biggest takeaway. In the moment the social anxiety is nearly unbearable (can my heart actually explode from beating that fast?) but it does pass. We just have to learn how to ride out those nearly unbearable moments.