Friday, May 16, 2014

An Anxious Introvert in the Workplace

I am an introvert. I also have social anxiety issues. Which may come as a surprise to any of you who have met me at craft shows or classes or exhibitions. Then again, maybe not.

 I have survival techniques that I use to get me through social situations.  At craft fairs, you may notice that my booth is set up in such as way that I can stand behind my display. This is really important for my energy levels. It gives me guaranteed personal space within a crowd. It kind of acts like a buffer zone, from behind which, I am an expert on what's around me (my pots), and I can stay focused on the pots, thus distracting me from the throngs of people coming and going all around me. And while this, in combination with some prescription help, allows me survive a show, I'm still completely drained by the end of it. Doesn't matter how short the show is, I will be completely wiped by the end. To the point of just needing to sit in my living room, stare out my window at my bird feeders and just breathe. It's all I can do to have a conversation with my husband, I just don't have the energy left. I need solitude and peace and quiet to recharge. I can usually get my mojo back within a day or two, unless it's a giant show like the NY NOW show (5 days) or (shudder) the One of a Kind Show (11 grueling days). For these types of shows, I can easily spend a day crying after it's all over. (I don't know. Pure exhaustion I guess) But it can take up to a week before I have enough energy to get back into the swing of things.

I've been thinking about this lately because of the recent spring sale for the Potter's Guild of Hamilton and Region, where I was the featured artist. I had two tables (instead of the usual one) front and center and there was some expectation that I was to be by my tables because undoubtedly people would want to meet me and talk to me.  Now the only problem with this is that I had no table to stand behind. I was right beside my work, in the middle of the crowds, totally unprotected personal space. And it kicked my ass. My anxiety came on hard, and for anyone who suffers, you can completely relate: nausea, trouble breathing, fast heart-rate, light-headedness, all the while smiling and answering questions and trying to hang on for dear life until I could leave. I couldn't stay for the whole show. I made it through half of the first day, one third of the second day, and the whole last day (which was really only a half day).

I'm proud of myself for managing what I did, and I had an absolutely amazing show! But I was completely wiped. And since the show ran Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and I had exactly 4 days to frantically get ready for yet another show the following weekend, I had no time off for recovery time. I had to drag myself outta bed, force my way into the studio and keep on going. I hate doing this. I can see the results in the quality of my work and all I can think about is needing to take a break.

I guess this is where burn out can become a serious issue.

I've been trying to do all the things you are supposed to do. I do yoga about 5 times a week and I can't recommend it highly enough. I meditate - though I've been slacking off a bit lately. I go for walks around my parent's farm as often as the weather allows, but sometimes that just doesn't cut it. I would love to hear how other introverts manage the stress of craft shows, or how other people cope with social anxiety in situations where you have no choice but to be outside of your comfort zone. And of course on the burn out topic - how do I nip this sucker in the bud? I'm pretty sure there's no easy answer.