Finding the right career path for yourself is a daunting process under any circumstances. If you suffer from anxiety or similar challenges in your everyday life, career choices can seem downright overwhelming sometimes. Everyone faces situational anxiety occasionally, but clinical anxiety (disorders that include social anxiety, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and phobias) has the potential make professional life more difficult.
The good news is that your career is something you can take control of, regardless of a diagnosis—and sometimes making the right decision comes down to being flexible, and honest about what works best for yourself.
That means that not every career is created equal. If you’re prone to anxiety, you likely don’t want to add too many potential stress triggers. After all, if your job is making you miserable day in and day out, that’s not a healthy professional arc for anyone. The key to balancing your career with your anxiety (whether it’s general or social) is finding that sweet spot of doing something that you’re good at doing, and that makes you feel comfortable.
Some tips for juggling your anxiety and your professional life.
Be realistic about your strengths and limitations. For example, if you have social anxiety, a job working with directly with the public could make you totally miserable for 40 hours a week. Knowing up front what triggers or aggravates your particular brand of anxiety can help you figure out potential danger zones at work, and make choices accordingly.
Be flexible. Let’s say you always thought you wanted to be an astronaut, but when you get further along the path, you realize that the stresses and claustrophobia of being in a spacecraft are giving you panic attacks and making you dread whatever comes next. Just because you always thought you should be an astronaut, or you’ve already gone through training, doesn’t mean you have to stay on that exact path. Be open to similar jobs that might not be exactly what you envision doing, but also don’t have the same obligations and stresses. NASA also needs people working in logistics, planning, math, all sorts of other departments. Don’t get locked into a specific idea of what you should be doing.
Make your workday work for you. Don’t be afraid to look for accommodations that can be made to minimize anxiety-inducing factors. If constant multitasking and getting pinged all day with email requests spikes your anxiety, try to set up your day in blocks that can be set aside for specific tasks. Find ways to help curve the overwhelm before it happens.
Be honest, but not TOO forthcoming. If you have an anxiety disorder, it’s not a good idea to put this in your cover letter or resume, or mention it in an interview. It’s actually illegal for potential employers to ask you about a disability or medical condition, so you don’t want to open that can of worms yourself. Instead, focus on the positive: the skills and processes you’ve developed to handle previous jobs, or ways of doing things that have worked best for you in your professional life. For example, if you’re asked about how you handle your daily workload, you don’t have to explain that you prefer emails over phone calls or stand-up meetings because you have social anxiety. You can just note that you’ve found it to be a more efficient and productive option in managing your day-to-day. Focus on the coping mechanisms that make you a better employee all around, not just a better employee with anxiety issues.
Look for unorthodox or more flexible work arrangements. If you have severe social anxiety or OCD that makes going in public difficult, think about jobs that let you telecommute or work directly from home, or may be otherwise flexible about the more traditional “9 to 5 in the office” template.
Remember that you’re an individual, with important strengths and skills. Everyone has Life Stuff that can interfere with everyday work life. Maybe yours just happens to be an anxiety disorder. Whatever your Life Stuff is, never forget that it’s just part of you, and that you bring plenty of skills and qualifications to the table that are not defined by your Life Stuff. Embracing it as part of who you are can help you develop a more fulfilling career for yourself.
So if you do have anxiety, what are some jobs and fields that might work well with your anxiety, rather than against it?
Medical Laboratory Technologist
Healthcare careers are absolutely booming right now, especially ones that deal in cutting-edge technology. Medical lab technologists collect samples from patients (blood, other body fluids, tissue, and other body substances) to help make a diagnosis or determine treatment. This job typically requires a bachelor’s degree in the sciences, and may require additional licensing or certification, depending on the state. The median salary for medical laboratory technologists is $50,550, per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Why is it good for anxiety? If you suffer from social anxiety and do better in an environment with limited interaction with others, a lab can be an ideal setting. Working in healthcare can also help provide concrete goals that let you concentrate on the patient or test at hand, and tune out other anxieties.
Veterinary technicians (or vet techs) provide day-to-day medical care for animal patients, working with veterinarians to diagnose and treat conditions and injuries in animals. To become a veterinary technician, you’ll need at least an associate’s degree in the field, and likely state licensing/certification as well. The median salary for veterinary technicians is $31,800, per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Why is it good for anxiety? If the idea of working with humans stresses you out, animals can be a good alternative. You’ll always have human coworkers (unless you’re Dr. Doolittle), but being able to focus on the animals and their care may help alleviate some stress and anxiety for you.
Elementary School Teacher
Elementary school teachers are on the front lines of educating our youth. These teachers are typically responsible for teaching general topics to kids (English/reading, math, science, and social studies), or may specialize in particular subjects or disciplines (physical education, art, music, school library, etc.). Teachers have bachelor’s degrees in education, and often a master’s as well (though many teachers complete their master’s degree after they start teaching). The median salary for elementary school teachers is $54,550, per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Why is it good for anxiety? To some, the idea of standing in front of a classroom full of expectant young faces, ready to learn, can be terrifying. But hear me out—working with kids may be less intimidating than working with adults, and having the structured goals of curriculum and classroom schedules can help with anxieties.
Fitness instructors work with classes or individuals to develop and maintain physical fitness. They can be trainers who work one-on-one with clients, or teachers who lead classes at gyms, spas, fitness centers, etc. There is no specific education requirement to become a fitness instructor or trainer, but many states do require that instructors and trainers become licensed or certified in the areas they want to teach. . The median salary for fitness instructors is $31,160, per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Why is it good for anxiety? Many people find that working out, eating right, and performing advanced self-care helps with anxiety. If that works well for you personally, why not have it work for you professionally too? A career as a fitness instructor can help you channel your personal challenges and anxieties into helping others achieve results as well. This also has the benefit of being a very flexible job, letting you set up class schedules and appointments based on what works for you (full-time or part-time), and specializing in particular area of fitness expertise. If Extreme Bootcamp Monster Fitness isn’t your thing, teaching early morning yoga classes might be more your speed. It’s a field that can be tailored to your personal strengths and talents.
Additionally, it is not a field with a lot of distractions. If multitasking is your biggest trigger, teaching fitness lets you focus literally on what your body (or your clients’ bodies) are doing at this moment in time.
Landscape designers are responsible for planning and designing outdoor spaces like yards, gardens, lawns, and other outdoor spaces. Landscape designers typically complete a bachelor’s degree, plus an internship or residency program. The median salary for landscape designers is $63,810, per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Why is it good for anxiety? Plants are known soothers, and like working with animals, it is kind of a built-in stress reliever. For people who have OCD or similar disorders, it can also be a way to focus on planning and details productively.
If you have an anxiety disorder, you don’t have to suck it up and spend your career reacting to stressors. You have the power to choose a career path that works for you—and whether that’s in a field you’ve always wanted to go into, or an industry you hadn’t really considered before, you have the ability to make it work for you. Good luck!