Anxiety · Employee Concerns · Professional

How do I help an anxious employee?

So how do I deal with an employee with high anxiety? Particularly if I believe that anxiety is starting to negatively impact their work?

I have an employee I’m concerned about. Not a direct employee – I supervise the person who supervises this employee. Which makes it even trickier. My concerns are based on reports that I’m getting from this person’s manager. The employee’s anxiety has been a topic of concern since they were hired. We work with people diagnosed with serious mental illness who are often acutely sensitive to minor fluctuations in the moods and feelings of those around them. I think it is a type of survival mechanism many of our consumers develop – being aware of the moods of those around you can help you protect yourself (physically or emotionally). Our consumers are so vulnerable to abuse and mistreatment. I once worked with a consumer who was so sensitive to the tone and inflection in my voice that he could predict when I was getting sick 1-2 days before I noticed any symptoms. He would call the office and about 30 seconds into the conversation would ask if I was feeling ok. Inevitably, within a couple of days, I would start feeling bad. But, I digress.

Back to where I was going before – our consumers know when staff are anxious and sensing anxiety in a staff member can be a trigger for a consumer’s anxiety. We need to do everything we can to ensure a calm atmosphere in our programs to help our consumers maintain their recovery.

This employee experiences a high amount of anxiety. They express fear on a near-constant basis that something they did during his shift will result in them being fired. The employee has been with us for less than 6 months, so naturally there have been mistakes as they were becoming more familiar with our agency policies and procedures. This is expected as someone is learning a new job and hasn’t been a big deal. Frankly, compared to many other new employees, this person’s mistakes have been minor and infrequent.

However, whenever the supervisor brings up a mistake and talks about the way to do things differently in the future, this employee almost has a panic attack. They sweat profusely, their body shakes, and they have trouble talking. The supervisor has tried to be as sensitive as possible to this anxiety but we’re starting to feel that it impairs the employee’s ability to make solid decisions. The fear of losing their job has resulted in the employee sharing important information with his co-workers but not bringing it to his supervisor (out of fear he will get in trouble). This has resulted in an uncomfortable situation between the employee, their co-workers (who of course tell the supervisor when it is a concern about one of the consumers), and the program supervisor. It’s feels like a super-awkward game of telephone. It’s not healthy for the staff dynamics in the home.

So, my dilemma is this, at what point is this anxiety too much for our program? The employee has shared that they take medication for panic attacks so it sounds like they are getting treatment from somebody. As an agency we want to be understanding of someone’s symptoms and support them in getting symptom relief/learning to cope with them. I want to give this employee the opportunity to get their anxiety under control. We’re a pretty relaxed and tolerant program. We give our staff lots of feedback and opportunity to address any performance concerns. In addition, I understand what anxiety is like and I know sometimes it makes it hard for me to do everything I need to do at my job. Heck, at this point I have anxiety about THEIR anxiety which is making it difficult for me to focus on other aspects of my job. The program supervisor is working on getting the team on the same page and trying to reassure this anxious staff that their job is not in jeopardy (yet).

This employee has some important strengths and I think they could do well in our agency. But, if this anxiety continues to negatively impact other staff or we see if impact our consumers, then we will eventually need to let them go. Which will make me feel like a hypocrite. An unfeeling, unsympathetic hypocrite.

What would you do in this situation? Would love to hear some advice on this one.

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.