I've always been an anxious person, but obsessive thinking is my jam. To some people, this just reads as typical perfectionist tendencies, dedication, and maybe even passion, which I'm grateful to say has worked in my favour. But the reality is, I couldn't care less when it comes to most aspects of organisation and colour-coordination, I just need to make sure my door is locked tight . . . even if it takes two, three, or four checks. Plus, I need to double check that the cabinets are closed, that I drank five sips of water (not six, are you serious?!), and that when I kick off my shoes, their fall is perfectly synchronized. Most importantly, I need people to like me. (Did they laugh at my joke? Are they looking at me weirdly? Did I say the right thing? Oh man, they probably hated me.)
As you might imagine, starting an internship — an instance in which your job essentially depends on what people think of you — was something of a living nightmare for my anxiety and OCD.
Internships are an anxious time for most people to begin with, but given my background, I felt like I was already off to a rocky start. What I learned during my first internship, however, was that you can live with anxiety and still successfully navigate the "real world." It might still be harder for people with anxiety than it is for others, and everyone will have different tactics that work best for them, but these were some reminders that were most effective for me. If you're about to start your first job or getting ready for your first internship, take these tips with you to help work through the experience with the kind of confidence I wish I had at the time. You got this!
1. Asking Questions Doesn't Make You a Burden
In the mind-blowing, never-before-seen case that you don't know everything about your job on the very first day, don't panic. The day-to-day tasks sometimes have a learning curve to them, and even if they seem overwhelming at first, most everything can be mastered with a little bit of practice. Your manager knows this and is here for you if you need any reminders or clarifications. Remind yourself that asking questions is a baseline expectation, not an annoying irritation, and having questions proves that you care about your job enough to want to do it right. When a question comes up, channel the energy you would usually use for stressing over whether or not asking something will get you fired and take notes instead. Apply what you learn and remember that good communication will ultimately work to your advantage and help you do your job correctly.
2. You Don't Need 1,000 Exclamation Points in Every Email
The fear of coming off as rude or inconsiderate over email is real, especially for women who are taught to be extra sweet all the time. If you find yourself hovering over your 12th exclamation point of the day, or even (heaven forbid) an emoji, take a minute to ask yourself what your language is saying about you. It's a great thing to be polite and friendly to your co-workers, but you owe it to yourself to speak assertively and professionally. You're here for a reason, and no one is going to hate you for not adding a smiley face at the end of every sentence (in fact, they might thank you for it). If people-pleasing is a part of your anxiety, consider looking in the mirror and taking one thing off — except instead of a mirror, it's an email, and you're just taking off all your unnecessary exclamation points.
3. There Are Resources Available to You
On a particularly stressful day, it's helpful to have people you can talk to. Whether it's the fellow interns in the office or a trusted mentor, odds are you'll be surrounded by people who are currently going through your same situation, or who have gone through it before. Ask for advice, see what other people are doing to manage their own anxiety, and resist the urge to shut down. Lots of people are here for you, so don't be afraid to make friends, grab coffee, and take a moment to unwind. You don't have to go through everything alone.
4. It's Nice to Know About Where You're Working
Why do people like working here? What makes this place so special? If your anxiety has you feeling like an outsider, try researching more about your company and the people within it. Soon, you'll start to familiarize yourself with how the company operates, who everyone is, and what they all do. Eventually, things will feel less foreign, you'll be more confident in the company's expectations, and you'll have the ability to identify unique opportunities you might not get anywhere else. Do your homework and your company will start to feel like a fit a little faster, which is great news for people with anxiety.
5. Not Everyone Is Watching You All the Time
Although it can sometimes seem like everyone is peering over your shoulder for the first few weeks of work, take a minute to bring yourself to reality. The truth of the matter is, everyone has their own work to do, and a lot of people are just as worried as you are about meeting expectations. When your anxiety is acting up, try to pour that energy into your work and keep moving forward. If at all possible, it can also be helpful to deal with obstacles as they come instead of worrying about every hypothetical situation you can conjure up. Tell yourself that the spotlight isn't just on you, and take that weight off of your shoulders.
6. You Are Capable of the Work You're Doing
In my experience, my anxiety usually tries to convince me that I'm not enough. Whether you hear the same message or not, it's useful to know that anxiety is not rooted in reality, but in negativity and fear. In a high-stress situation like your first internship, acknowledge your anxiety and allow yourself to feel it, but work to ground yourself in reality as much as possible. You deserve to be where you are, you are more than capable of succeeding, and there are people around you who can make it easier. Worst comes to worst, fake your confidence until it starts to feel real! Because truthfully? Everyone else is doing it too.