One of the most difficult challenges for people who have social anxiety is finding employment or getting a job that they like. For many, just the idea of going to work and meeting with a boss becomes a nightmare and a very frightening situation that they’d rather avoid at all costs.
This social anxiety often stems from our fear of disapproval – not just from bosses or managers, but also from coworkers, customers, or anyone else that we may need to interact with on a daily basis while at work. This fear of disapproval can be so strong that we try to avoid these situations entirely.
For many people with social anxiety, we actively avoid trying to find a job because we have such a great fear of having to interact with people. Often staying unemployed just seems more “safe” and “comfortable.”
A great summary of research published in the journal Psychiatric Services has identified several ways that people with social anxiety experience job-related problems. These include:
- Reduced productivity and job performance
- Lowered educational attainment (not finishing high school or college)
- Increased unemployment
- Financial dependence (more likely to live at home)
- Reduced income
- More likely to decline a job offer or promotion
- Increased absenteeism (not going to work, even when not sick)
These are the many ways that social anxiety can hurt our work and career, and even stop us entirely from finding a job and being able to financially sustain ourselves.
A lot of our social anxiety is caused by an area in the brain called the amygdala. In many ways, the amygdala can be considered the “home of anxiety.”
Neuroscience research shows that the amygdala plays a big role in our emotional reactivity, especially our “fight-or-flight” response when the brain senses danger. Studies have found that an overactive amygdala often correlates with higher social anxiety and social phobia. In theory, a more active amygdala triggers increased feelings of fear, worry, uneasiness, or dread.
In a worst case scenario, our amygdala can be conditioned to have such a strong emotional response to a stimulus that it completely overrides our logical thinking or reason. We may rationally understand that a fear has no basis in reality, but the amygdala’s reaction is so strong that we feel this fear anyway.
Neuroscientist Daniel Goleman coined this phenomenon the amygdala hijack. Other researchers on emotion, like Joseph E. Ledoux, have further elaborated on this concept, describing it as when “emotional reactions and emotional responses can be formed without any conscious, cognitive participation… because the shortcut from thalamus to amygdyla completely bypasses the neocortex.”
The neocortex is usually associated with the conscious “thinking parts” of our brain, so when our fear response bypasses this region, then we often feel as though our emotions are emerging from a deeper part of our brains that lies outside of our conscious awareness.
We often have an extreme “fear of disapproval” from others, especially those of us who have social anxiety or social phobia.
This can often be driven by our evolutionary history (our ancestors depended on social approval from members of their tribe to cooperate and survive), as well as social conditioning at a young age (such as from bad experiences during childhood, like being bullied at school or rejected by a close friend).
In Abraham Maslow’s popular theory on our hierarchy of needs, he defines “love and belonging” as one of the essential needs of any healthy and happy human being.
We don’t just have physical needs (like food, water, and shelter), but also social needs like healthy and trusting relationships, acceptance from our peers, and a feeling that we belong to a group that cares about us.
Our family and close relatives are often times one of the strongest factors in shaping who we are and what we become later in life.
You can’t fully understand yourself if you haven’t first looked at the patterns that run through your family. This is true for both genes and environment, both of which interact together from generation to generation.
One of the first key factors that influence our family patterns are learned behaviors. These are the habits and routines that our grandparents taught our parents, and our parents taught us, and we teach our own kids.
Some of these learned patterns can be traced back to past generations that you probably haven’t even met or don’t even know exist. And other learned patterns may be something that was just started from your parent’s generation.
Are you single?
If so, it’s not necessarily the worst thing in the world.
At times it’s often very important to go through a “single phase,” because it gives you an opportunity to focus on different priorities in your life.
For example, you may want to stay single for an extended period of time so that you can focus more on work, family, health, or your own personal goals.
Most importantly, being single gives us a chance to better understand ourselves and become more comfortable with who we are.
If you are always jumping in-and-out of relationships, you can very easily become too dependent on having a partner. You begin to put ALL of your self-worth on the idea of “dating” someone, and that can often lead to an unhealthy life and unhealthy relationships.
Being single teaches you how to be more independent and it teaches you how to enjoy life without always needing someone by your side all of the time. And that can be a very powerful thing.