How to Overcome Social Anxiety When You Work From Home

how to overcome social anxiety
Share to Facebook Share to Twitter

I could tell that my hovering without speaking was making her nervous, and yet I couldn’t seem to move away. Good manners compelled me to thank this woman, an Internet acquaintance and hopefully future colleague, for inviting me to her event.

And not just inviting me, either, but comping me a ticket, which is how I justified prying myself out of my home office and driving 15 miles on a weeknight.

When we finally spoke and made it past the introductions, things got even more awkward. I couldn’t seem to form a coherent sentence, and mumbled something about traffic being good.

Fortunately, she was gracious about my incoherence, but it wasn’t until I sat at a table in a dark corner of the club, waiting for the proceedings to begin, that it hit me — full-time freelance writing is turning me feral. If I was going to keep from losing my social skills entirely, I would need to figure out how to overcome social anxiety.

An introvert at heart

I’ve always had some social anxiety, and as a child, my natural introversion was reinforced by interactions with bullies. But I worked hard at getting over it, first in the theater and then in journalism.

Journalism helped the most, since nothing gets you over your shyness faster than having to ask a government official if he’s embezzling money. And newsrooms may no longer be the chaotic caverns portrayed in old movies, but they’re not quiet places where anyone can hide. Even so, for years working from home was my dream.

But since I left the newsroom and fulfilled that dream, things have been quiet, so quiet that I often turn on the news for background noise, or play music. This surprised me, since I’ve always needed to get away from noisy situations, if only for a few minutes, to regroup.

The downsides of working from home

But all this solitude, while productive writing-wise, is definitely eroding my social skills. Unless I take some action, will there be a time when I’m reduced to grunting, unable to make conversation unless it’s in writing?

It doesn’t help that, several days a week, the only person I’ll talk to is my husband. He has an exhausting job outside the home, so we don’t even talk that much. When I do get out, I mostly interact with retail workers, who have no interest in chatting, and frankly, I return the sentiment.

It also doesn’t help that, while I’m lucky to have dear friends, many are in different time zones, while the ones nearby are swamped with work and childcare. We mostly connect via social media, hours or days apart.

So it’s not surprising I was making my poor hostess uncomfortable. I’m just not used to small talk — that social lubricant that helps turn strangers into at least friendly acquaintances — anymore.

And as someone who is working hard on building a brand as a freelance writer, I know there is only so much I can do online. Eventually I’m going to have to meet people face to face.

Reclaiming my social self

And so, here is my plan for turning myself back into a social person. If you’re feeling similarly feral from your own freelancing solitude, I urge you to consider it as well.

It won’t be easy, because, as anyone who’s ever freelanced knows, it’s tough to stop working, whether it’s on the weekend or at night. Keep reminding yourself that efforts to reverse your ferality won’t hurt as long as you make sure to meet your deadlines.

After all, wasn’t setting your own schedule one of the biggest reasons you started freelancing?

1. Try to attend one social event with mostly strangers each month

This may not sound like a big step, but it’s terrifying enough to inspire excuses. Take baby steps to reverse your ferality by connecting with people in real life, rather than through a screen.

No, an event being on a weeknight is not an reason to shirk it. And not being able to bring a date isn’t either, nor is feeling icky and/or unkempt, though a raging flu is a forgivable excuse.

Speaking of forgiving yourself, it’s okay to be a bit awkward at your first few events. Just try not to spill anything on the host. You’ll be amazed at how many people can relate to social anxiety, especially if they’re also writers.

2. Become the friend who plans social gatherings

Yes, it’s exhausting, but it’s usually worth it. Have difficult schedules? Try to plan a few weeks ahead, and offer different alternatives.

Whoever has the least rigid schedule should be the most accommodating, but just because you freelance doesn’t mean your time isn’t important. Work to find a time that fits into everyone’s schedules, whether you’re planning a drink with one friend or a dinner party with eight.

Not every meetup needs to be large or elaborate; even a brief coffee date will get you out of the house and socializing. Remember, only you can prevent your friends from feralizing.

3. Pick up the phone

Even if it’s just a rambling voicemail, I always enjoy hearing a friendly voice, and I’ll bet your distant friends do too. If they do answer, it’s a great chance to catch up.

If someone is always hard to reach, try to make a phone date, or get an idea of his availability over social media first. Spontaneity is overrated.

4. Find other freelancers and form your own newsroom

I’ve started doing this with a local writer I met through social media. Her social skills are far less rusty than mine, but she, too, is concerned. We meet up at venues away from our own homes, and get a surprising amount of work done, and feel less isolated than if we were in a cafe by ourselves.

Some freelancers rent office spaces together, some choose coworking spaces, and others try services like ShareDesk that allow you to rent desks in different venues. Beware, though, that those options cost more money than just writing in a cafe, and that the culture may not suit you. (Also, working in pajamas is probably not an option.)

5. Think like a journalist at social events

It can be hard to strike up a conversation at social events, but I find going back to my journalism roots helps me out. I’ve had my share of reluctant sources in the past, and my job was to get as much information as possible before they shut me down.

While there’s no need to be so aggressive in a social situation, I find it helps to have a plan for what you want to learn about your conversation partner. What’s her name? What does she do? Where is she from? What brings her here?

If the conversation goes no further, move on. It’s all practice — and you’ll be working your way back from the precipice of ferality.

Have you struggled with isolation or started developing feral tendencies as a result of freelancing? What do you do?

Share to Facebook Share to Twitter

A.K. Whitney is a freelance writer in Los Angeles. Follow her on Twitter at @AKWhitney... .

One Female Gaze | @AKWhitney

Find Your Freelance Writing Niches

Featured resource

Find Your Freelance Writing Niches: Make More Money for Less Work

If you’re not satisfied with your income from freelance writing, you need to start specializing. This ebook by John Soares will show you why and how.

Comments

  1. I guess I’ve always been mostly “feral”. Living on the edge of nowhere doesn’t help (the nearest Starbucks is over 100 miles away). I, too, can go for a week or longer without seeing or speaking to another human being besides my husband. It’s nice to know I’m not the only writer who finds social situations awkward–though for me even the internet and social media are frightening. Leaving blog comments takes nearly all my fortitude!

    I very much like your fifth suggestion. Thinking like a journalist is a brilliant idea. The event becomes a “story” for me to sniff out, not a gathering of strangers. Who knows, it could even spark ideas for my writing. Thanks for the insight.

  2. So, yeah. This can be me. Last night, I went to an event and told a participant later that, the moment I sat down, I wished I was at home in more comfortable clothes than the suit I was wearing front of laptop! It’s not that I’m antisocial. It’s that I’m introverted and, frankly, I love my own company! I can so relate and I’ve decided I need to get out at least twice a month to attend events; one total new one and one “regular” event. Great piece!

  3. “No, an event being on a weeknight is not an reason to shirk it. ”

    Are you absolutely sure about that? Hahaha. It’s crazy how often I just freak out over this and try to get out of it. Even if I’m the one who planned it!

  4. Thank you for talking about this. I never had social anxiety until I became a writer. The struggle is real and your advice is sound. I do force myself to be more social, which definitely helps.

  5. A.K.
    Great topic that doesn’t get talked about a lot.

    I think many freelance writers struggle with social anxiety or being an introvert. This is probably why we decided to be writers in the first place!

    I’m fortunate enough to have met a freelance writer/blogger online that actually lives in my town! So now we make it a “thing” to meet once or twice a month.

    I look forward to my monthly outing as it’s a time to be social and have fun.

    Thanks for the post!
    Elna

    • Elna, you have said everything that I wanted to say myself, word for word.

      I think this is a topic that most writers can relate to. I, too, have found myself struggling with spoken words ever since i started working from home in 2010.

      Lastly, Im very happy you found someone local and befriended her. This is actually one of my goals.

      Elvis

  6. That’s so interesting. Since my whole goal is to be able to work full time from home, the idea of it having any negatives had never even crossed my mind.

    Great tips on overcoming social anxiety as well, by the way. Nice post!

  7. Great subject, thank you. Right now I am bouncing back and forth… I go from spending too much time alone to not enough. For me, balance is the task.

    Thanks for letting me know there are others who struggle with the social/anti-social dilemma.
    deb

  8. Susan Korah says:

    Do volunteer work! Teach a class once a week.
    I am on the Board of the Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom, and also teach. I’ve never had a problem with social anxiety even though I am a freelancer.

    • AKWhitney says:

      That’s a great idea, as is taking a class. Note of caution, though: it can suck up a lot of time that might be better spent writing.

  9. This is actually true. I’ve found that when I’m not around people very much, and rarely talk to anyone outside of my family, I have this problem, too. I realized it a couple of years ago, when I didn’t see anyone in person for several months. Awkward.

  10. HOW TO BREAK OUT OF ISOLATION: My writing group saves me from total isolation. Plus, it gives me a writing deadline. The input of other writers also enriches my writing.

    My advice is to open yourself up to new situations. Currently, I am writing essays and performing them in a storytelling series called Oral Fixation. How did this come about? I took a creative non-fiction class and then submitted one of my essays to Oral Fixation. Three of my essays have been accepted in the past six to eight months, and I’ve enjoyed performing them!

    What did this do? It allowed me to get in touch with my background in acting. It made my spirit come alive, as well as improving my writing.

    If you make up your mind to not bury the past, creative juices will begin to flow. Integrating your talents improves your writing and editing skills. And possibly, your “selling” skills when you are in the midst of finding an agent or publisher.

  11. A social event with strangers once a month, why? Sounds like the guy who “fought” his fear of flying so hard that he ended up being an airline pilot–and was still afraid of flying. I happen to like solitude, and for me, a social gathering, especially if the “ruling topic” isn’t some subject I have an interest in, quickly becomes a chore. It’s not FEAR, it’s FRUSTRATION that I’m wasting all this time “being sociable” when there’s so many other things I could be doing.

    • AKWhitney says:

      Hi Wendy,
      Author here. Obviously, all these solutions aren’t going to work for everyone. The reason it’s on my list is that networking has become a big part of my job, and expanding my network means going to social events with strangers. When I take a friend, I often stick to them, which is not good. Going alone forces me to talk to new people. If you don’t need to network, it’s definitely a waste of your time. Thanks for reading!

  12. GREAT advice! I’ll never stop cringing when people envy my work-at-home life. Of course it has its benefits, but especially for an introvert with anxiety, it can come with its own host of problems.

  13. Great article. The share on twitter buttons aren’t working, just so ya know.

  14. Alisha Freeman says:

    Great post. I really thought I was the only one dealing with social anxiety. Luckily the anxiety for me decreased when I started working from home. It gave me much more time to reflect and think about what kinds of people I want to hang out with now and in the future…and what kinds of people I will absolutely not tolerate anymore.

    But you have to keep your social skills up. A thing that helped me was looking for events and things to do in my area at meetup.com. I joined a few public events (a picknick and a movie night) and was scared beyond belief…but felt so much better about myself after I did it and glad I met some people that I liked. Just do it if would be my advice. Especially if you’re the kind of person like that likes to think things over 100 times.I also started a social anxiety program after reading a review about it on feelgoodreviews.com. I’m already seeing changes although its a slow but satisfying process. Hope this helps somebody 🙂

  15. I try to be ative in my church in order to work for the Lord and get some social connection. Hubby and I deal with health issues and getting out at night is not the best thing for me.

  16. Excellent article, Whitney (a lot of us can relate to this).
    I recently started exploring a social website called MeetUp, where we can meet with fellow writers and just about any other group. I will use it to help overcome any social anxiety that may be building in me.

    Take care!
    Elvis

  17. Great post! This is exactly what happened to me. Since starting freelance work (not as a writer but as an artist) a few years ago I realized that my social skills were dwindling. Working from home sounds perfect to everybody else and people tell me how lucky I am to be my own boss. But of course the more time I spend in my own company leaves me feel more and more anxious whenever I find myself in a social situation. For me it got so bad that I even began hate doing simple things such as going to the supermarket or anywhere else busy with people. This was the final straw, I realized I needed to do something before I turned into a hermit.

    The problem was that everybody I knew worked regular 9-5 jobs and were unavailable for me to call upon for a midweek lunch/coffee if I needed to get out of the house. I tried to make new friends who lived nearby, but that didn’t happen. So I eventually plucked up the courage to go back to university (a huge step) and further my skills, choosing a course that was only a few half days a week. This gave me a reason to leave the house and at least have contact with other human beings, but also allowed me to continue my freelance work from home.

    Although the thought of going back to uni was scary at first (and at my age 36) it did help me with my social anxiety a little, and I was pleasantly surprised at the mixed age range of other students.

    Having said that, uni is now finished for the summer holidays so I’m back to working from home full time again and I can feel myself turning into a little hermit once more. Often thought that maybe I’m just not cut out to work freelance, but to be honest I do enjoy it apart from the isolation which in turn triggers my SA. Also I think having worked freelance for so many years now I’d probably struggle to go back into the regular working environment.

    Johnny

Trackbacks

  1. […] How to Overcome Social Anxiety When You Work From Home [The Write Life] […]

Speak Your Mind

*