Anxiety · Gym · Physical Health · Self-Care · Social Anxiety

Braving the gym

I almost let my anxiety run me out of the gym without working out this afternoon. But first, a little backstory.

First, I HATE GYMS. I think they are awful. I’ve yet to meet a gym that I felt comfortable at. So many people I don’t know, so much spandex, I sweat profusely, so much…everything. Did I mention I once passed out in my college gym while on a treadmill and broke my nose? I absolutely hate gyms. However, desperate times call for desperate measures. Over the summer I started jogging again both to lose some weight (the Freshman 15 is nothing compared to the Ph.D. 40) and to help with my stress level. I completed the Couch to 5K plan and kept up the jogging for 2-3X/week through the first couple weeks of the Fall semester.

Then, as usual when I’m stressed, my exercise (and self-care) inevitably trailed off until I wasn’t exercising at all. There was weight gain. I’m talking the kind of weight gain that keeps you from wearing 85% of your clothing (at this point, I’ve only got 4 outfits I can wear to work). I was eating sweets every day and using the drive thru with too much frequency. In addition to not looking great, I felt gross and uncomfortable in my clothes. I kept telling myself that when classes ended I would get back to jogging and yoga. Not surprisingly, when classes ended a few weeks ago, I did not start jogging (it’s cold!) or doing yoga at home.

I have a professional conference I’m presenting some of my research at in Washington, D.C. in mid-January. My first one so of course I’m anxious about the whole thing. It’s a requirement for school. Adding to that anxiety is concern (terror) about whether I’m going to have anything appropriate to wear. All my “professional” clothing is too tight. I don’t mean a little snug, I mean that it looks borderline obscene and rips if I try to sit down. I’m really strapped for cash, shelling out for this conference already added over $1000 to my credit card, so I really can’t afford to go out and buy a suit in a larger size.

That’s how I ended up with a gym membership. I knew I wouldn’t be able to make myself start jogging in the cold weather. So, I joined Planet Fitness because they are the least expensive gym in town (see above comment about lack of funds) and I’m desperate to lose weight so I can fit into my clothing. I broke down and did that on Friday (today is Monday). I’ve been each day since Friday (except Saturday – we helped a friend move which counted as my daily workout). The first couple of days weren’t too bad – I managed to find times that the gym was relatively empty. The physical set up is not great for me – I wish there was a set of stairs that didn’t require me to walk across an open floor to get to the second floor– the workout equipment on the second floor is less intimidating.

Today was very unpleasant. It was a bad day at work. I went to the gym as planned, changed into my workout clothes, and looked in the mirror (MISTAKE). I realized that, what was an appropriate workout shirt to wear outside in the August heat, showed more of my body than I was comfortable with now that I was inside of a building with a bunch of people I didn’t know. I wanted to put my regular clothes back on and run out of there. I almost did. It took me several minutes to convince myself to walk about of the locking room. The walk to the stairs was so uncomfortable – I felt that everyone was staring and judging me. Logically I know that most of the people in that gym didn’t give a flying **** about me or my clothing, but it felt as though they were all looking in my direction.

I managed to make it up the stairs and onto an elliptical machine in the corner. Which was fine until ten minutes later when two women started using other machines near me. I heard them and almost stopped my workout and ran back to the locker room. The idea of them being so close when I was feeling vulnerable because of my clothing and crappy day was a lot to handle. I didn’t fully do my cool down because I was so eager to get out of there. I called my sister before I left the locker room, so I didn’t have to make eye contact or interact with anyone on my way out.

So, obviously today was not a pleasant experience for me. However, I want to try to identify some positives in the situation to lessen the memory of my anxiety

1. Despite my mind and my body telling me to run away, I did not. Yay for
me!

2. I managed to walk across the open space to access the stairs to the
second floor…twice. Despite my fear and discomfort.

3. I was able to continue using the machine when surprised by other gym
patrons. My anxiety was present but did not prevent me from
accomplishing my goal.

Tomorrow, the real test comes. After such an unpleasant experience, will my anxiety convince me to skip tomorrow’s workout? It will be a battle between my desire for health and my desire to not be around people. Who will win?

As always, ending on happy doggie note. Check out the picture of the pup above. He’s so sweet when he sleeps.

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.

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.