Social Anxiety · Uncategorized

Hiring New Employees – UGH

One of the most awkward parts of my job is when it becomes necessary to hire a new employee for one of my programs. Combing through resumes, contacting applicants to see if they meant to apply for the job or are interested in it (I get a lot of people who don’t read the job description), and managing to get them to show up for an interview is challenging and often annoying. That is not the worst part. The worst part is the interview process – so uncomfortable for me (no doubt also uncomfortable for the poor soul that I’m interviewing).

Let’s all agree that interviews are awkward for all involved. Both sides are sizing up the other to try to figure out if they will be able to work together. I’m looking for red flags to indicate this person won’t be a good fit at the agency while they’re scrutinizing me to figure out if I’m going to be somebody they wouldn’t be miserable working for. It’s an odd dynamic. While I’m evaluating them I’m simultaneously trying to sell them on our agency and why they want to work for us. That’s a problem because I’m not a good salesperson. I tried to sell those Cutco knives one summer in my teens and it was a disaster! My parents and sisters were the only ones who bought anything, mostly out of pity.

So here’s what typically happens when I interview someone. First, setting up the interview can be really challenging for me. Picking up the phone to call someone who sent me a resume creates a lot of anxiety for me. It’s one of those things that I try to do right before lunch or at the end of the day so that I can leave work soon after – that way if I feel embarrassed about my phone performance I don’t have to sit in the office and analyze the conversation for several hours. If I’m lucky then the person will be tech savvy and I can set something up over email – I love those! However, some of our positions tend to attract applicants who don’t have a lot of experience with computers so I can’t always rely on email for communication.

The day of the interview I’m often anxious when I wake up. I try to look a little nicer than usual (actually wear makeup, not wear jeans, etc.) to give myself a confidence boost. Sometimes I wear red because I once heard it was a “power color.” Whatever that means? I figure it can’t hurt the situation.

I’m so anxious while interviewing a potential employee. My throat gets dry and I drink so much water that the poor person I’m interviewing likely thinks I have a medical condition. My words get stuck in my throat and sometimes my voice cracks or does weird level/pitch changes against my will. I tend to get hot and sweat a little. The more anxious I get the more my sentences start to go in circles or just trail off because I don’t know what to say next. I repeat myself A LOT. I know, what a lovely visual – red faced, sweating, unable to get words out of my mouth (don’t forget my essential tremor so my hands are shaking), and gulping down multiple bottles of water. Wouldn’t you want to work for me?!

I will say that my interviewing skills are better than they used to be (yes, if you can imagine, my interviews were once MORE awkward). Lots of practice has resulted in a slight lessening of the anxiety and more comfort with some of the questions I have to ask (i.e. Can you pass a background check? What about 3? Can you pass a drug screen? How is your driving record?) I’m hopeful that in the future, with much more practice, my anxiety level during interviews will continue to decrease. My goal is to, one day, interview a potential employee without sweating or stammering. It’s a lofty goal, but I think I can do it.

Self-Care

Keeping It Together – Even When You Don’t Want To

I received some sad news this morning. A former client passed away over the weekend and the funeral is tomorrow. They left the agency several months ago because they needed a higher level of care. This is the second former client who has died in the last 30 days. Losing clients (even if they’re former, you will always think of them as your client) is never easy. As a social worker I’m privileged to be involved in intimate details of people’s lives. I wouldn’t be in this line of work if I didn’t care deeply about those I work with. A professional hazard is that you will inevitably lose each client – many will recover and move on (YAY), some will drop out and you’ll never hear from them again, and some will die before their time.

I work with individuals diagnosed with serious mental illness. They are vulnerable to homelessness, abuse, poverty, lack of access to nutritious food, unhealthy lifestyle habits (smoking, lack of exercise due to illness or because of fatigue from medications), etc. People with these diagnoses tend to die about 25 years sooner than the general population. This means that the death of a client in their 40s or 50s is not unusual.

One of the things that has made the deaths of the two clients this month so difficult is that I needed to support my staff and other clients with the grieving process while I also grieve. Today was a difficult day. First stop this morning was to tell the other clients and answer their questions to help them start to process their grief. The next job was notifying all the staff who worked with this person and supporting any of them who needed to talk. In addition, there was my regular workload. All of this had to happen while I was feeling quite sad and somewhat guilty that I hadn’t followed up with the former resident and visited them in the nursing home the way I intended.

I think that all of us, at some point in our daily lives, have needed to keep our own reactions in check in order to make sure thing get taken care of. Sometimes this must be done daily. So how do we keep it together when all we want to do is fall apart? Here are my suggestions:

  • Acknowledge your feelings – To the best of your ability in your situation acknowledge that you’re not feeling 100%. Depending on what’s been going on, a simple “I’m not at my best today” may be helpful. If you don’t feel comfortable saying this in your work environment then at least acknowledge it to yourself. Give yourself a break if you find that you’re not working as quickly or as accurately as usual. We all have off days. You are human, you’re allowed to not be perfect.

 

  • Talk it out – If you have someone you trust at work then go to them and ask if you can share some of your thoughts. Be mindful when choosing who to help you process thoughts or feeling. For example, I wouldn’t go to one of the staff I supervised to talk about feeling sad at the loss of this client because I’m supposed to be the one supporting them. I’m honest with staff about my feelings – I can tell them that I feel sad about the death of the former client but for a deeper exploration of my feelings I seek out either a supervisor or someone else in the company that I don’t supervise.

 

  • Set aside time to fully experience your emotions – I learned this from a former supervisor who specialized in treating other therapists. It is very useful when sitting with a client who is sharing tragic or horrifying personal details. If you’re in a situation where you can’t react the way you really want to (cry, scream, curse), then make yourself a promise. Identify a time later that day when you can react the way you want to and tell yourself that you can put those thoughts and feelings on hold until that time. The trick to this is that when the identified time comes, you MUST keep the promise you made to yourself and allow yourself to think whatever sad, negative, irrational thoughts that you ignored earlier. If you promise yourself a time to react, put your feelings on hold, and later don’t give yourself what you promised then you stifle your emotions which will impede healing or coping with whatever is going on. I find this one helpful when I have intrusive sad or anxious thoughts that are keeping me from doing my work. Once I tell myself I’m going to deal with those thoughts later in the day I’m able to refocus on what I need to do.

 

  • Take care of yourself – When you are struggling it is crucial to take good physical care of yourself. Your mind is already going through a lot, don’t make it also have to deal with a body that feels unhealthy. You may have the urge to eat ¾ of the birthday cake in the break room left over from yesterday’s celebration (been there, done that), but try to keep yourself to a regular-sized piece. Drink lots of water and minimize your caffeine intake. If possible, take a short walk during a lunch break. Eat whole fruits and vegetables. Try doing some gentle stretching.

As always, some (or none!) of my suggestions may be helpful or effective in your situation. I can only share the things that help me. I would love to hear ways other people make it through their day when it’s an extra struggle?

Physical Health · Self-Care · Social Anxiety

Summer Self-Care Plan

The past couple of weeks have been a roller coaster for me and my family. First there was the usual end of semester research papers to write. By the time my last paper is turned in, I am drained of mental and physical energy for at least a week. Several days after finishing my last research paper, my father experienced some health problems and spent 5 days in the hospital. The icing on the stress and anxiety cake was a bedbug scare at one of our programs at work. This series of stressful events left me in need of some serious self-care!

Over the past 6 months my self-care has gone down the drain. I became out of shape because all I did was work, study (sooo much sitting and staring at screens), and stress eat (so much stress eating). Now that it’s summer I’m determined to get back to feeling healthy again. My summer plan has 3 components:

  • Increase the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables I eat each day, preferably from my vegetable garden
  • Practice home yoga (Yoga with Adriene!) two times each week, a minimum of 30 minutes per session
  • Complete 8-week Couch to 5K training program

I discovered the Couch to 5K around 10 years ago and I have completed the program several times. It is basically what it sounds like – it takes you from “couch potato” to running a 5K through a series of run/walk intervals that gradually increase until you are able to run a 5K (3.1 miles). There are two different ways to do the program – time or distance.

  •  Time: You will run your interval based on a fixed amount of time (90 seconds, 3 minutes, etc). This means that your distance will    depend on your running speed. If you’re a slow runner (like me – I call what I do running but honestly, it’s more of a slow-to-medium speed jog) then you will probably not be running a full 5K in the 30 minutes that the program trains you for.
  • Distance: You will run your interval based on a fixed distance (1/8 mile, ½ mile, etc). This means that the time it takes to complete each interval depends on your speed. If you choose this route you may find that you take longer to complete each interval than is projected by the program.

I choose to run for time. I find it easier to bargain with myself (when I’m tired and want to stop) if I’m aiming for an amount of time. It’s easier to convince myself to keep my legs moving for a specific amount of time, even if it means my speed is super slow. I figure that as long as I’m technically moving (even at a snail’s pace) it counts as exercise.

If you decide to try the Couch to 5K, I recommend downloading one of the many Couch to 5K apps available in iOS or android. If you do not have a smartphone or don’t like exercising with one, you can print out the training program here and use a watch to time your intervals. I prefer to use an app because it provides a voice prompt that tells you when to run and when to walk. There a multiple apps to choose from. Just a heads up – some of them are only free for the first 2 weeks of running and then require an upgrade to access the remainder of the training program. If you’re like me and prefer to keep your apps free then you can download the C25K app from Zen Labs. There is an upgrade option but you can still access the entire basic training program with the free version.

C25K is an acceptable app – I won’t lie and say that it’s the prettiest one out there to use. The free version has ads which can be annoying and the app is a little clunky. It is persistent about prompting you to post everything to social media, something I see no reason to do. But, if that’s your thing then it’ll let you show your progress to your friends. It also lets you access your music library from the app. Alternately, you can use a different music app if you don’t want to listen to your library. I use Rock My Run (the free version, of course) and I love it!

I don’t run on sidewalks because it makes my social anxiety act up and I get distracted thinking about whether the people in cars are judging me (it’s not a pretty picture when I’m running – lots of sweat, bright red face, I probably look like I’m about to collapse). There is a park that I’ve been exercising and playing in since I was a child. It’s not very big – the running trail is only a mile so I end up making multiple laps.

The others I see in the park are mostly older people taking their dogs out for a leisurely stroll. Occasionally there is a little league baseball game in the park and I alter my running path. The steepest part of the path goes by the baseball bleachers and I don’t enjoy dodging parents and younger siblings during the hardest part of the run. The park does have a great swinging bench on top of one of the hills that looks over the park and the nearby houses, I like to sit there after my run is over and enjoy the view for a few minutes before I leave the park.

I’m happy to report that in the past week I have managed to run (ok, more like jog/walk) twice and have done yoga twice. I’m aiming to go for another “run” tomorrow. Wish me luck!

Uncategorized

First Guest Post – Learning from Dogs

The death of Zeke: A guest post.

via In memory of Zeke — Learning from Dogs

Hey everyone! Check out my first guest post over on Learning from Dogs. I write about the experience of losing our Rottweiler, Zeke, last year as well as the grief and healing that has occurred since. It’s not as sad as it sounds!

Though we could never replace Zeke (and would never try), we did get this bundle of cuteness in January so that we would be a 3 dog household again:

Pierce Bed

His name is Pierce, after the street my husband lived on when we first met. I’m sure I’ll mention Pierce and my other fuzzy creatures again at some point! Until then, you can learn more about them over on Learning from Dogs.

I promise I’ll have more content soon! This is the last week of the semester so it’s crunch time but after Friday at 5 pm I’ll be FREE for the summer (kinda….not really….it’s complicated)!

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.