Working as a Nurse with Social Anxiety

Updated: Jan 28

The Up's and Down's of working in a field built for the extroverted




Part of adulting is getting a job. A requirement of most jobs is interacting with those around you. Whether that be your supervisor, manager, or colleagues. At some point during the day, it is likely that you will have to talk to somebody. What does that mean for those of us with social anxiety? Well, it often means that we have to make some adjustments.


I didn't fit the stereotypes expected of me and found myself playing different roles to fit in. As a result, I never felt fully confident being my authentic self with others.


However, what happens when not adjusting fast enough means the difference between someone living or dying? What do you do then?


Working as a Nurse with Social Anxiety


Healthcare is a booming industry that employs Physicians, Nurses, Technicians, billers/coders, etc. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s County Business Patterns (CBP), "the 907,426 businesses in the Health Care and Social Assistance sector topped all others with 20 million employees".


Any new job requires getting to know people and building rapport with your boss and co-workers. However, for people with social anxiety this, quite literally, terrifies us. As a result, our work environments can be overstimulating which can make it difficult to focus. However, in healthcare, having focus is key.


In my previous job (my first nursing job), I worked nights on a fast-paced, understaffed covid/cardiac unit. It required a complete presence of mind, superior critical thinking skills, and calmness under pressure. All things I quickly realized I had difficulty with because of my anxiety.


According to OLLUUSA.edu "Introverted learners like to brainstorm and seek theoretical exploration. They like to think out a problem and weigh options before moving forward." Introverts are deep thinkers by nature. We like to take our time to mull things over.


My social anxiety also made it difficult for me to stay fully present because I was constantly monitoring and overanalyzing my words/actions. I wanted to make sure I said and did the right things. However, when your patient's oxygen levels are falling, they're telling you they can't breathe, and they're already on 60 liters of oxygen (that's a lot of oxygen folks), there's not much time to think. You must act. Now.


I was having daily anxiety attacks before going into work and often shutting down completely while I was there. I did my best to interact with my co-workers. However, it was difficult for me to put equal amounts of energy into caring for my patients and mingling.


As a result, I had a difficult time forming relationships. I would often get jokes about how "quiet" I was, or people asking me if I was okay because I was in the corner by myself. I was knee-deep in self-pity and felt like everybody hated me. I felt completely out of my element and didn't want to be around people. I could feel my social anxiety getting worse by the day.


It would often take me twice as long to prioritize and sort out my tasks because of my anxiety. Moreover, because we were short-staffed I didn't always have the luxury of asking for help. My co-workers tried to help the best they could, but they also had their own patients to take care of.


As time went on, things did get easier, and I felt more at ease with my co-workers. However, due to my anxiety and perfectionistic tendencies, I would often find myself leaving work up to two hours late (on top of already working 12 hours). I wasn't sleeping regularly and lost almost ten pounds. Everyone, including me, could tell I was overwhelmed, so why couldn't I leave?


Pride and People-Pleasing


The first reason I couldn't leave was that I felt like I had to prove that I could "make it". I was this ball of nerves, and I felt like everyone could tell. I thought everybody was assuming I wasn't going to make it (and some actually were as I would find out later). As a perfectionist, I would go over minute details again and again. I would beat myself up and didn't want anyone to see me sweat. I would show them all, and most importantly, I would show myself.


The second reason I stayed is because I am a top-tier people pleaser. This has been one of the biggest factors holding me back in terms of overcoming my social anxiety. I need people to like me, and if they don't, it means there is something wrong with me. I often wonder what I did wrong without ever questioning anything about the other person or their character.


Growing up shy, and black in a predominately white neighborhood, I always felt like the odd man out. I didn't fit the stereotypes expected of me and found myself playing different roles to fit in. As a result, I never felt fully confident being my authentic self with others. On the job, I found myself trying to overcompensate for my perceived awkwardness by going out of my way to help co-workers when it wasn't always reciprocated. I would also go completely out of my way to help patients, even if that meant taking time away from another patient.


I was also trying to please my family and parents who viewed a job in the healthcare field as a golden ticket. I thought that if I quit, they would think less of me. In my mind, I already had the disapproval of so many others. I didn't want my family to feel the same way too.

The Final Straw

One morning, on my way home from work, I had been dozing off behind the wheel. I must have closed my eyes for one second too long because I was immediately jolted awake by the sound of metal scraping against metal. I had hit the side of a tunnel wall with my car. Right then and there, I decided that was it for me. No job was worth my safety and wellbeing. A few weeks later, I handed in my letter of resignation and by the end of August 2021, I was out the door.


More Anxiety + Depression


I had lasted only 8 months, and I felt like a HUGE failure. I didn't want to talk about it with anyone and isolated myself even more. I had been having suicidal thoughts for months that were only made worse by quitting. I had no plan, felt mentally and physically exhausted, and completely alone. I found myself questioning my decisions, then applying for and accepting job offers only to resign as the date drew near out of complete fear and anxiety. If it wasn't for my savings, my sisters, and therapy I don't know that I would be here right now.


Finding Balance

Now, I am learning to take everything one day at a time, and trying to figure out what it is that I really want. Taking time off to reflect and reframe, made me realize how much I was getting in my own way. I was holding onto something that wasn't serving me, for others, and that never ends well. However, I am grateful for that job, as it taught me a lot about myself and life. I start a new nursing job this week. It is better suited for me personality-wise and in terms of mental and physical demands. I look forward to waking up in the mornings and I am becoming more of the person I want to be. Most importantly, I am learning to lead with love toward myself and others to be a better person and a better nurse.




Sources:


https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2020/10/health-care-still-largest-united-states-employer.html


https://onlineprograms.ollusa.edu/resources/article/learning-styles-of-introverts-and-extroverts/#:~:text=Introverts%20generally%20have%20a%20shy,solve%20problems%20on%20their%20own.&text=Introverted%20learners%20have%20the%20following,take%20action%20%E2%80%93%20sometimes%20too%20slow





#socialanxiety #anxiety #socialanxietyawareness #introvert #mentalhealth #mentalhealthmatters #socialanxietytherapy #socialphobia #nursing #introvertednurse #healthcare #covid #hospital

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Hi, I'm Muni

A nurse with a BSN and BS in psychology. I am now also a podcaster and blogger here to give others like me tips and tools to help navigate the world.

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Recognize. Embrace. Grow

I am a self-proclaimed awkward, introvert, with social anxiety. Those three things are mutually exclusive by the way, I just happen to be all three.  I have been labeled as "quiet" and "shy" for as long as I can remember, and when people call you things your whole life you eventually start to internalize them. However, in our culture there is often a negative stigma attached to these labels. As a kid this is cute, and people won't bother you much about it, but as you get older, being quiet and shy makes people uncomfortable…and I was a pro at it. However, I have recently realized that I'm not alone.

 

So, I decided to start this blog and podcast to help shine a light on people like myself. I plan to do that by talking about the unique issues we often face as a result of our "conditions". Then I will discuss valuable tools I have learned and that you can use to recognize negative thought patterns and reframe them in a positive way so you can learn to embrace your awkward!

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