A Day in the Life of an Employee With Social Anxiety Disorder

What It's Like to Live with SAD as an Employee

SAD can interfere with work.
An employee with SAD copes with daily stress. Ghislain & Marie David de Lossy / Getty Images

If you are an employee dealing with social anxiety disorder (SAD), you know that living with this disorder can make adjusting to work life difficult.

Below is a description of an average "day in the life" of an employee with SAD. Perhaps you will see yourself or someone you know in this description.

Many people with SAD do not work; they find it difficult to go on job interviews, cope with scrutiny from a supervisor and deal with everyday social obligations of work.

Others with SAD are underemployed; they work in jobs that do not make use of their skills and abilities because their anxiety interferes with more demanding work.

For those who do work, the choice about whether to disclose the condition to an employer is often difficult.

Although entitled to accommodations in the workplace, many with SAD feel uncomfortable discussing the disorder with supervisors and colleagues; they may also worry about the stigma associated with having a mental disorder. As a result, those with SAD often suffer in silence at work.

The following description is based on messages from readers of this site about what it is like to work with SAD as well as books such as Daniela Grazia's "On the Outside Looking In: My Life with Social Anxiety Disorder".

I get ready for work with a sense of dread about the day ahead of me. It isn't so much my job that bothers me; I do data entry so I can usually keep to myself. It is all of the other social demands of the day that really get to me.

I try to arrive earlier than everyone else; both because I could not stand the scrutiny I would endure if I showed up late, and also because the earlier I arrive, the less people there are to greet on my way to my cubicle. When I am the first one there I can go straight to my desk and bury my head in my work.

I pass the morning engrossed in my work; both so that I can avoid social contact and also because I worry constantly about whether I am doing a good enough job and if my supervisor is going to negatively evaluate my performance.

I operate out of fear most of the time. I hear other employees casually chatting throughout the morning. They ask each other what they did the night before, and someone always has something interesting to say. I worry that even if I joined the conversation I would be so boring that others would quickly dismiss me.

I will often eat lunch at my desk alone, or sometimes will go out but eat alone in a fast food restaurant. On the odd occasion when I have eaten lunch in the cafeteria with other employees, my anxiety has gotten so out of hand that I can barely finish my food. I worry about spilling my drink, my hand shaking when I hold a fork, and that everyone wonders what is wrong with me.

If someone asks me a question to try and include me at a meeting, or during a lunch break, my face will turn bright red or my voice will shake so much that others notice. This of course has the effect of turning the spotlight on me; the exact opposite of what I want.

There are many aspects of my job that I find challenging because of my SAD. If I have to write in front of anyone, my hand shakes uncontrollably. I have trouble with any communication with superiors; I avoid talking to my supervisor at all costs because I always feel like I am being judged and evaluated.

I know that in my current job, I am underemployed. I have the education and experience to do computer programming but I am too afraid of the added responsibilities and communication requirements that would come with that type of job.

Sometimes I get down on myself, but other times I am just proud to be working; I know some people with SAD are not even able to hold down a job.

Although I have been diagnosed and did receive a course of medication many years ago, I believe it might be time to look into seeking out additional treatment, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

I have heard that treatments like CBT tend to have more long lasting effects; learning how to change the way that you think means having the tools to deal with anxiety even after the improvements from medication are taken into account.

I have struggled with deciding whether to tell my superior about the disorder; I believe if my job entailed more communication or public speaking that I might do so.

It would be important for my supervisor to understand the challenges that I face on a daily basis and why some tasks are harder for me than others. It might also make him more sympathetic during those times when I find myself needing time alone.

I do also worry, however, about the stigma that could come from disclosing a mental illness at work. I know that mental health problems are still not widely understood, and that social anxiety disorder in particular, has not been widely recognized.

The last thing I would want is to be labelled "lazy" or "weak" because I disclosed my condition.

These are the struggles I face as an employee with SAD. I am sure there are many more issues that I haven't talked about, and if you work in a different environment than me, you might face different types of problems.

Despite all of these challenges I remain hopeful about the future.