Overcoming Workplace Anxiety

Ever since I began working my first job in high school, I worked jobs that weren’t very introvert-friendly. Because of this, I was forced to work through my workplace anxiety and shyness pretty early on. Though I was shy when I started working in high school, I was still very social and was used to (painfully) giving speeches in front of large classes, participating in group projects, and being called on in front of the class to answer questions I didn’t know the answers to. By the time I started working, workplace anxiety and shyness weren’t a huge issue for me. However, looking back, I remember feeling very nervous and uncomfortable going to work, so I think it was probably more difficult than I can even recall. 

Even though my first job sucked (which consisted of me working at the McDonald’s down the road from my home), it probably could’ve been much worse. They didn’t put me at the front register or the drive thru; instead, they put me back in the kitchen and forced me to open on the weekends, which meant that I had to be there at 4 am to open the store and start breakfast. It was horrible on so many levels. That experience only lasted a couple of months before my parents made me quit once school started (whew, thank you Mom and Dad)!

My next couple of jobs went as follows: Walgreens, Burger King, and then back to Walgreens for a second time (the first manager I had at Walgreens was horrible, so I quit and went back once she left). Unlike my brief stint at McDonald’s, working at Walgreens and Burger King required me to work at the register at all times, so I was constantly interacting with different people. Plus, I loved my co-workers so I spent a lot of time joking around with them and getting to know everyone. 

After I finally said goodbye to fast food, customer service, and retail, I began my first job as a receptionist at a small office. As a shy introvert, working as a receptionist would generally be difficult. However, it was a breeze coming from a customer service job, where I was forced to interact with new people every few minutes. Plus, I was constantly getting yelled at (by managers and customers) working in customer service and fast food, so my skin was pretty thick at that point.

Working as a receptionist, I had a front desk to myself, the phone hardly rang, visitors hardly came in, and the owners let me read books and do my college homework while I was working. I basically had it made at 20. Unfortunately, the lack of phone calls and visitors eventually meant they no longer needed a receptionist, so I got laid off. I loved the job and the people I worked for so I was super bummed about that outcome.

Fortunately, I received a new part-time job as a receptionist just a few weeks after becoming jobless, shortly after I turned 21. I ended up staying at this receptionist job until I graduated college at 23 and started working full-time. This receptionist position required me to interact with the company’s consistent flow of visitors, phone calls, and 100+ employees on a regular basis. At first, I hated paging the other employees over the company’s loud speaker, but I finally got used to it and didn’t mind it. I even started to become more and more outgoing the longer I was there. I enjoyed talking to the company’s visitors when they came in, and I actually didn’t mind answering the phone and talking to people (today, my throat actually feels like it’s going to close up when I need to talk on the phone and I can hardly muster the breath to speak!).

Post-College Workplace Anxiety

When I graduated college, left my job as a receptionist, and started my “dream” job as a writer for a small nonprofit, basically all my hard-earned social skills seemed to go right out the window (along with my phone confidence and my desire to interact with people I don’t know). On my first day of work, I was introduced to my very own office (which was actually more comparable to a closet with no windows). However, all I cared about was that I finally got a great job as a writer (after about 30 terrifying job interviews), had an “office” of my own, and the office had a door. Plus, I could put my headphones on and listen to music during the day. I didn’t have to sit out in the open with no privacy, talk to people, answer the phone, and spend my whole day interacting with different people. It felt like a total dream come true. And in a way, it was. I got exactly what I wanted in a first post-college job.

But even dreams have their downsides, and in this case, I ended up slipping back into my old ways of extreme introversion and shyness. In fact, I started experiencing extreme anxiety that I had never experienced before. In my defense, several traumatic life events took place during this time period, so everything started to take its toll on my mental and emotional health and I began to avoid social interaction as often as possible. I avoided visiting the office’s kitchen area if I knew anyone was over there (which was diagonal from my office, so I could easily keep watch), I never made small talk with other employees, and I hardly even looked up or glanced at anyone I didn’t really know. This was a far stretch from the bubbly, social, upbeat and smiling receptionist version of myself. I guess you could say this was my first “real” adult experience with social anxiety (which lives on, by the way – except now I work from home as a freelance writer). Some days I’d go a full day without talking to anyone at the office until I got home. Plus, I hardly ever spoke up or contributed during meetings or company lunches, and my heart raced and I suffered from extreme anxiety basically through the entirety of the meeting. 

Eventually, Robin was hired, and we immediately bonded over our similarities and became friends. We ended up sharing an office (not the closet-like office I once had), and discovered that we had a ton in common. Work was no longer lonely and isolated, and I now have an amazing friend for life! 

Tips for Overcoming Workplace Anxiety & Shyness

If you’re shy, introverted, or have social anxiety (or all three – like I seem to), then this infographic from Quill should help. Check out the infographic, apply these tips to your daily life, and do your best to push through. I know from personal experience that it’s not easy, and living (and working) as an introvert with workplace anxiety and shyness is an every day battle.

For additional tips, check out these office job survival tips, or find out if working from home may be a better fit for you. Remember, what you do for work and how you behave at the office are only a very small part of who you are, so try to be gentle with yourself. Sure, there are always going to be those co-workers or managers who don’t understand why you’re so quiet and “closed off”, but then again, we introverts don’t get why people like that never seem to stop talking and can’t seem to mind their own business. 🙂 


Alex Beane

Alex is a freelance writer who holds a BA in Professional and Creative Writing. She has a strong interest in veganism, holistic health, and emotional and physical wellbeing. When she isn’t reading and writing about health and wellness, Alex is trying new plant based recipes in the kitchen or can be found volunteering with a Minneapolis-based animal rights organization or local rabbit rescue. Find Alex on LinkedIn or view her writing portfolio.