How introverts cope with anxiety at work
I’m an avid and proud introvert. Confident that processing my feelings internally has never prevented me from thriving at work, being a leader or being liked and respected by colleagues across the spectrum of hierarchy. Contrary to what so many hiring managers sadly seem to think, I’ve never once viewed it as a disadvantage to achieving – and it never once has been.
Other than those awkward teenage years, and the first couple of years into my working life when I wished I was more of a ‘talker’ like all the other successful people, I’ve loved being an introvert. Actually, I really recommend it.
Where it hasn’t served me so well is when anxiety crept up on me after a personal event changed my lifestyle and routine overnight. I was knocked for six. Stupidly, I gave myself just a few days to adjust, with an intense sense of panic and sadness nobody knew about, told my colleagues my new situation in frank, unemotional terms, and carried on.
People tend not to ask too much when you’re an introvert, from a misunderstanding that you don’t want to talk about it since you don’t usually offer the information freely. The truth is, mostly we just need to be asked with sincerity. Though, if I’m being honest, I was working hard for a promotion and like so many sufferers of yesteryear, believed that my anxiety would be viewed as a weakness. I know, so silly.
I kept on top of my work and took on bigger and more frequent projects than ever before. I stepped in for my seniors when they weren’t available, I kept a motivating and supportive atmosphere for juniors, I handled work pressures like never before. Everyone thought I was fine.
What they didn’t know was that I had completely stopped eating and was only sleeping 2-3 patchy hours a night. In two weeks, I’d lost a stone in weight and every night became longer and tougher. I had regular faint and dizzy spells, and a few moments of panic disguised as ill physical health. I saw a doctor, convinced it must be a rare form of flu, and after various tests and a Q&A, he concluded it was stress, made a note in my records and sent me on my way telling me to see him again if the weight loss continued.
I got back into mediation, I took up yoga, I got out and about socialising and did all the textbook things anxious people are supposed to do. What I failed at, miserably, was telling work how desperately I needed to slow down the pace for a little while. Dropping hints that my doctor had diagnosed stress, probably from a subconscious desperation for someone to offer help, didn’t work. I was acting like it wasn’t a real issue, unknowingly hoping someone would see that it was.
What I really needed was for someone to notice and say, ‘you can’t possibly be ok’. The issue is, people refrain from asking introverts if they’re ok from fear of prying where they think someone is very private. That’s nobody’s fault, but we should all look at becoming real active bystanders to this sort of thing. Myself included.
It’s become really cliché to hear that if I’m suffering, I should talk about it. That method is tougher for some than others. So, spot your introverted colleagues today and pry a little. Once the sun has risen over their grey skies, they’ll thank you – probably via text message, on a weekend, when they don’t have to say it to your face.