Remote work may seem like the perfect fit for people who have social anxiety, giving them an opportunity to work at home, away from situations likely to cause stress.
While that may be true for some people, others find that their social anxiety actually worsens when they work virtually. It’s a problem worth exploring as more companies move positions out of the office and into the home.
In an article for news.com.au, Melbourne-based psychologist Catherine Madigan says working from home can be a “perfect storm” for people who already suffer from social anxiety disorders.
“Anxiety is a disproportionate level of fear, worry, or nervousness in a particular situation,” Madigan says in the article. “The isolation and social deprivation of working from home can exacerbate the condition of a socially anxious individual and lead to them retreating further from society.”
Madigan also notes that anxiety and perfectionism are linked, which could lead some people to struggle as they try to balance work and home responsibilities in the same location.
“For some it may be the ideal way to focus completely on their work free from the distraction of co-workers, etc.; however, often the reality is they may experience constant distraction from family, housework, visitors,” she says in the article.
Anyone who has spent even one day working from home has likely experienced stress related to these kinds of distractions. You’re preparing to call into a videoconference, but your children are getting home from school just as it begins. You really want to push through a challenging project, but the mountain of laundry in the corner is tormenting you. Or you know you need to communicate with your colleagues to meet a tight deadline, but you’re worried about doing it the right way and without bothering them.
That last example is a huge problem for someone with social anxiety. Even if working in an office is challenging for them, they can at least look for visual cues to help them communicate.
“These social behaviors are reliant on sharing space with those around us,” says an article from The Medium. “The information that guides our interactions cannot, to date, be recreated through technology. Text is terrible. Video is better. Neither is sufficient.
“The result is that remote workers often experience an incredibly high level of anxiety. Remote work requires a high level of trust to be successful, yet, in remote work, we’ve eliminated the social cues human require to develop trust. It’s relatively easy to trust someone you’ve spent years sharing a physical space with. It’s much harder to trust a digital avatar.”
That lack of trust can lead to feelings of isolation and even guilt, as remote workers feel pressure to prove themselves worthy of their work arrangements by being available all of the time.
If you’re a remote worker who has struggled with some of these feelings of anxiety and isolation, you can take steps to overcome those challenges.
First, consider whether working from home is really the best fit for you. It’s not the right answer for everyone, and that’s completely OK. Maybe you’d be better off completing your tasks in an office setting, or splitting your time between home and office.
“It’s especially important to consider your mental health history when making the decision,” says an article from HuffPost Healthy Living. “If you struggle with depression, for example, working from home has the potential to exacerbate feelings of isolation and perpetuate inactivity.”
In such cases, finding a supportive work culture in an office setting may be the answer.
If you decide that working from home is the best situation for you, talk to your manager and colleagues about the communication styles that work best for them and for you. Determine how and when you will get in touch with each other, and set some ground rules so everyone knows what to expect. This could help you feel more comfortable with reaching out to your coworkers when you need them, removing some of the anxiety involved in those interactions.
Getting out of the house on occasion and attending a social event with strangers could also help you overcome some of the isolation and anxiety that can come along with working from home.
“This may not sound like a big step, but it’s terrifying enough to inspire excuses,” says an article from The Write Life. “Take baby steps to reverse your ferality by connecting with people in real life, rather than through a screen.”
In a similar vein, spending a day at a coworking space may help with feelings of isolation while minimizing feelings of anxiety.
And don’t forget the assistance that can come through professional counseling. Regardless of where you work, struggles with social anxiety are real, and it’s good to seek help. A counselor can give you tools to help you understand and manage those anxious feelings.
With the right mix of counseling and other actions, you might find that remote work is the perfect fit for you, even if you struggle with social anxiety.
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