It’s little wonder that those searching for jobs for people with social anxiety often end up here at HomeWorkingClub.
If you suffer from anxiety, agoraphobia, depression, or any one of a range of other mental health issues, the thought of being able to freelance or work from home, free from the obligation to leave the house and deal with people, is undoubtedly appealing.
I’ve been planning to write about freelancing, mental health and jobs for people with social anxiety for some time, as I think it’s a very important topic. It’s also a complicated and sensitive topic, which is probably why I’ve taken a while to get around to it!
However, if you suffer from mental health issues and are contemplating your work situation, please read it – because I empathise and would really love to be able to help you.
What Qualifies ME to Discuss Mental Health?
Before I begin, I should mention what “qualifies” me to write about this subject.
Well, first off, like so many people who generally come off as happy and reasonably confident, I’m afflicted with mental health issues of my own. I suffer from anxiety, panic attacks, occasional bouts of depression, and a sustainable yet irritating level of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
I am the polar opposite of those maddening people who think those with mental health issues just need to “man up.” As well as having issues with my own mental health, I come from a family where such problems are widespread. In addition, my life has been punctuated by more suicides and suicide attempts among family and friends than anyone should have to deal with.
However, I’m also someone who’s worked hard to ensure that my mental health doesn’t define me. I feel that working hard is a crucial part of maintaining identity and sanity. I know it’s not the same for everyone, but for me, letting a sense of accomplishment slide is a sure-fire way to make things worse for myself. As such, time off for any kind of ailment – physical or mental – is a really rare thing for me, even if all I can do once I’ve ticked off the things on my list is to collapse on the bed for a takeaway and a Disney movie with my young children!
That theme of hard work continues with how hard I fight against my mental health issues. I’ve attended dozens of hours of private counselling and spent two years doing counselling training myself. My bookshelves are stacked with everything from self-help tomes to weighty reads on the neuroscience behind anxiety. I’ve tried magnesium, CBT, CBD, meditation, power-walking, quitting alcohol, drinking lots of it, tech-detoxes, cutting out caffeine, gratitude diaries, yoga, and every other “solution” you could name.
I’ve come to learn two things:
The first is that mental health issues are usually something you have to manage and not something you cure.
The second is that the right combination of tools and strategies can make life not just tolerable but really rather good most of the time.
So, that’s why I feel I can talk about this topic with some level of authority. And while I’m not entirely comfortable with the level of “self-disclosure” above, I’m a firm believer that talking openly about these things is vital to end mental health stigma. This is especially relevant as a male in my early 40s – which puts me in the exact demographic more likely to die of suicide than of any other cause.
The Link Between Home Working and Social Anxiety
Don’t worry, I will soon move on to discussing actual jobs for people with social anxiety and other such issues. But we need a little more background first.
As you may know if you’re signed up to my email list (you can join at the bottom of the article), I ask all new members what information would be most useful to them. I think I always expected mental health to creep into these discussions (which are, of course, always completely confidential), but I’ve been surprised how much the subject of anxiety comes up.
The key thing I feel I need to point out in these discussions is that while working from home (or freelancing) can be a huge lifeline and a wonderful thing for someone with anxiety, it can be a really bad thing too.
The good thing about working from home is that you don’t have to deal with the real world. The BAD thing about working from home (for someone trying to fight anxiety) is that you don’t have to deal with the real world.
What I mean by this is that while freelancing and home working can provide a money-earning solution for someone who finds it hard to get out and about, you can’t work on social anxiety by avoiding people, any more than you can work on agoraphobia by staying indoors. Home working as a method of avoidance could make you worse, not better.
The Start of my own Anxiety
My anxiety started quite “by accident,” but ironically it did coincide with working from home.
Prior to 2010, I worked for myself, but as an IT consultant. This involved going all over London and beyond fixing computers and networks. I was permanently “client-facing” – and in a pretty intense way – spending most of every day talking to people, coaching them on computer stuff, and attending meetings. I was also zooming between sites on packed public transport. All in all, I lived a life that would send a shudder down the back of anyone searching for jobs for people with social anxiety!
But the thing was, I didn’t have “proper” anxiety then. I’ve always been a bit neurotic and prone to worry, and in many ways that made me a very good IT consultant. Add in the OCD and my attention to detail was absolutely on point! But while I didn’t have anxiety then, I did have bouts of horrible depression and often felt burned-out.
It all changed in 2010 when I moved abroad to Portugal. My life was unrecognisable overnight. Instead of beating the pavements of London daily, I started working from my laptop – nice and cosily doing web work, writing and online marketing. I’d still go back to England’s capital once every couple of months and do some of my “old” work, but these visits became less and less frequent.
And THAT was when I started to learn the difference between “being a worrier” and experiencing genuine, heart-racing, life-changing, truly-horrible anxiety.
It was a gradual process to begin with, and I made a bit of a joke of it; I’d say after a trip to London that my home-based isolation in Portugal had started to “turn me a bit peculiar.” But in reality, I steadily started to find conference room meetings, dealing face-to-face with people, and feeling “trapped” in clients’ offices a genuinely uncomfortable experience.
At times it was embarrassing, complete with unstoppable (and impossible to hide) forehead sweats and incidents of jumping out of my skin at the slightest noise! Human physiology really does like to laugh at your expense at times.
I raise all of this because I love working from home and I love the freelance lifestyle. I wouldn’t own a website about it if I didn’t. I especially love the way that it lets me enjoy the variety of a portfolio career and gives me the flexibility to spend so much time with my young family. It’s also allowed me to be kind to myself in terms of my mental health, which is considerably better now than it would be otherwise.
However, it’s also a massively double-edged sword – because I think the day-to-day isolation and lack of practice in social situations I had after I moved abroad was a huge contributing factor in my anxiety getting bad to begin with. And once it took root, it escalated quickly.
Once the animalistic “fight or flight” part of the brain (the amygdala) starts kicking in at the wrong times, life starts getting really difficult. It’s a fairly stupid part of the brain that was very useful when our ancestors might have needed to run away from a bear or a lion. When it’s making you have a panicky meltdown where you’re utterly convinced your death is imminent just because you’re in a supermarket or on a crowded train, it’s a huge pain in the ass.
So that lands us with quite the conundrum for those looking for jobs for people with social anxiety. In essence:
- Working at home can give people with social anxiety a way to earn a living without having to go out into the world, trigger their fears, and experience discomfort and panic.
- Working at home can leave such people with no exposure to, or practice with, tricky situations, which in reality is going to make things much worse in the long run.
So what are the Best Jobs for People with Social Anxiety?
Clearly, all people are different. Some people love to perform, others tremble at the thought of public speaking, for example.
With this in mind, there are obvious choices of jobs for people with social anxiety. They’re the same kind of things careers advisors might recommend to people who perceive themselves as introverts, such as:
- Creative jobs such as making jewelery.
- Software development.
There’s plenty of content on this site about such jobs, and it’s quite possible to do these types of work without leaving the house and having to deal much with people.
However – and I think this is really important – social anxiety often goes hand in hand with some wonderful personal qualities and attributes. People with anxiety are often highly intuitive, empathetic, compassionate and diplomatic. They can make fantastic counsellors, HR managers, accountants and marketers.
I therefore feel quite strongly that attacking the problem from a perspective of choosing your career based around anxiety or another mental health issue is a rather flawed way of doing things. In an ideal world, you should look at what you want to do, and work out a way to do it. If that means conquering or – perhaps at best – learning to manage a mental health issue, then THAT should be the priority – not finding any means of earning that allows you to stay hidden away.
This perhaps comes across as somewhat hypocritical, given that I do spend most of my own time safely ensconced at home. However, while it definitely makes anxiety easier to deal with, I’ve categorically not made any decisions because of letting mental health be the boss of me.
I choose not to commute into a big city every day because doing so is crap. I did it for years and it’s not a fun way to live! If work requires me to venture into the world, as it sometimes does, I may have some anxiety to manage along the way, but I’ll jolly well do it anyway, and do my best to enjoy it. The rest of the time, I’ll continue to relish the fact I worked very hard to forge a working life I can perform anywhere, and one that allows me to see my children in the evenings before they’re asleep.
I love to help people with anxiety, and I love to help people realise their dreams when it comes to home working and freelancing. However, I firmly believe that people should make decisions for the right reasons. Home working as a means of escape has the potential to make anxiety and depression worse and not better. Lack of social interaction is the number one negative of home working, according to some surveys.
Personally, I’m quite happy with this small world I usually live in, but I’m not someone who turns down appointments or social events due to my afflictions. I may have to do the breathing exercises, take a tablet of some description, or have a private meltdown in the toilet, but I won’t be beaten by anxiety. If you’re the same, and feel that freelancing and home working would improve your life, you’re probably right.
Similarly, if you’re working as hard as you possibly can at your mental health issues, and the outside world is simply “off-limits” to you right now, home working and freelancing could help you keep some money coming in and allow you to retain that crucial sense of accomplishment. Even getting involved in a few side gigs could help with that.
However, if you’re looking for jobs for people with social anxiety (or any other related issue) because it gives you a way to avoid working on whatever problem you have, you’re doing things in the wrong order and not giving yourself the best chance of some form of “recovery.”
If you’re honest with yourself (and you owe it to yourself to be) you’ll know right away which category you’re in.
Some Helpful Resources
I often feel like I’ve read my way through the entire “mind, body and spirit” section of the bookshop! Here are a few titles that have really helped me move forward and address issues with anxiety. All are highly recommended.
Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig is an honest but uplifting memoir of anxiety, depression and recovery. It’s easy to digest and much-loved by many. He also has another book out called Notes on a Nervous Planet, which I’ve not got to yet.
My Age of Anxiety is quite densely scientific at times, but as a thorough explanation of how anxiety works, it’s truly enlightening.
How to Survive the End of the World is the one to read if you need something lighthearted that will truly convince you’re not alone. People with anxiety have a huge amount in common with each other – but are often too anxious to discuss it. This is a good substitute!