Making peace with my (social) anxiety

I got a promotion recently, and to put it bluntly the transition has been terrifying.

I mean that in the literal sense: I have spent most of my days, for the duration of the transition period thus far, in a state of anxiety. Like, I have lost my appetite to such a degree that I’ve lost 10 pounds in two months, my mouth often feels dry, and if I don’t clasp my hands to hide it, others notice that I am trembling much of the time.

The reason? My new job requires learning a whoooole bunch of social skills. New social skills which I have no basis of experience in or foundation to build off.

To be clear: my boss knows that I have social awkwardness and anxiety. And when the opportunity came up, he made it very clear that I did not have to take it, but that he was offering it to me because he genuinely thought I could do well at it, given the time to gain the social skills I need. He told me he knew it might be hard for me, and that I was a better judge of whether I was ready to take this on than him, and that if I changed my mind there was no judgement coming from him and that there is another position I could move laterally into if this one doesn’t work out. So he and I both went into this with our eyes open, and there was no pressure on me to take the job.

And I took it anyway, because the fun part of the job is worth the anxiety of a transition and new social situations. But the side effect is that I’ve been having a crash course in actually coping with my social anxiety lately.

Previously, my strategy for “dealing” with my social anxiety was not to deal at all: I avoided. Don’t do new things, don’t meet new people, don’t get into unfamiliar situations. And that worked well for a long time. But I was getting to a point where my life felt stale. I was frustrated with where I was and where I was going. I needed to change.

Needing the change is a big part of why I took a job with my current employer. Wanting to see where the change could take me is a big part of why I accepted the promotion (the other part, to be frank, is simply ambition: I do not want to work the same job forever. I want to make it to a leadership position in my industry. In the past year, I’ve decided that I don’t think my ambition is a shameful thing, and that I will be frank and forthright about it to all who ask, and those who don’t like an ambitious woman can go pound sand. So yes, I will say it frankly: within a decade, I want a job like my boss’s. Not necessarily his job, but I want to be leading a team in a tech field).

I knew going ahead that I was in for a scary few months as I learned the ropes of my new job. I went in with my eyes open, fully expecting to feel varying degrees of anxiety and fear for the six months or so after the transition happened (what I had been told by others is the time period it generally takes to get used to this sort of role). Even still, I wasn’t really expecting how tiring the transition would be.

My coping strategies include a couple of things: I am trying to eat well and exercise regularly, as well as keep my chronic illness in check. I am doing these because I deal better with stress when I am feeling well. I am also making time for self-care and relaxation because one can only be in performance mode so much of the day before you start to decompensate. I am planning my days strategically, so as to make the best of my mental resources – in the morning, I am more in the mood for quiet work, so I focus on stuff that does not involve as much face-to-face. In the afternoons, I am more social, and so I try to schedule all important appointments and meetings then.

But mostly, I have made a conscious shift in my attitude toward my anxiety. It’s hard to explain, but I treat it less like a natural hazard to be avoided at all costs and more like the wind in my head: It is there. I feel it. I accept that it is there… but I keep doing what needs to be done anyway. It flows through me and out, and does not weaken my resolve to move forward, even if it does motivate me to carefully examine my situation and make sure I am not making an obvious blunder.

This is much easier said than done. And honestly, I have no idea how I was able to make the shift in my attitude about anxiety, but I have. No longer am I living in fear of my fear – it still exists, and I accept that it’s there, but it doesn’t dictate what I do anymore. For now, it seems that anxiety and I have buried the hatchet. It feels like I’ve made peace with it.

I wish I could describe what it was that made the shift in my mindset happen, but I can’t. Regardless, the shift has allowed me to move forward with my life and career goals, and I couldn’t be more grateful.