5 Side Effects of Working in Retail (With Social Anxiety)

By Alexandrea Orozco-Lau


Social anxiety: The fear of interaction with other people that brings on self-consciousness, feelings of being negatively judged and evaluated, and, as a result, leads to avoidance. It causes feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, embarrassment, humiliation, and depression.

Retail: A brick and mortar establishment that causes people to transform into self-righteous lunatics upon entry. Retail also, if you’re like me with extreme social anxiety, is the opportunity for terror to arise with every customer who walks through those sliding glass doors.

But in all seriousness, retail. That little word can either make you go “Oh I know my favorite store!” Or for those (like me) will say “Well crap”. For some, my place of work is just a store. A place you go in, buy your beer and condoms and move on with your life. The transaction is effortless and forgettable. But even with that small exchange, I actually take retail differently. It’s a high stress environment that takes every fiber of your being to stay positive, strong, calm, and (most importantly) have an abundance of patience.  I try hard every day to get up, get dressed, look somewhat presentable and go to work.

Every day, I do my absolute best.

But mentally, it’s draining for someone who works with social anxiety.


5) Motivation is a Problem


Mental preparation and hyping yourself up every day. To some its normal to just get up and psych yourself up for another day of work. But for me rather, its draining. Sure, I know my store and I know my bus schedule. But, I lay there constantly fearing going into work thinking that I might screw up. Something might go wrong. It’s hard to tell those little voices of doubt to just shut up. So, what I do is, I get out of bed and I have a cup of tea or coffee. And I listen to my music as I wait for the bus. Tell myself mentally, I can do this.

I have to do this. I must remain independent.

Not to mention I do get support from my husband which is always nice. But regardless of the support, regardless of knowing that someone is cheering for us. We still dread it every day. It’s basically releasing a bull into a glass shop. Something is bound to happen and if nothing happens you are pleasantly surprised. But also, that little gloomy cloud appears along with that voice of “What if”.


4) Every Transaction Can Torment You on Loop


Oh baby, there were times in my career of working retail that I just wanted to have a mental breakdown and say “I quit” simply because of the unknown. I have been told that I am over thinking many things, that I am over analyzing everything. But trust me when I say, we need to hype ourselves up. Prepare for anything, and mostly try to stay fucking positive.

No matter how hard I work I always go over every little detail of my day. Constantly over analyzing every little detail. Stressing the What If’s. What if I didn’t do enough. What if my co-worker is mad? I find myself saying sorry a lot at work. I tend to lose my voice in some points and when I do speak, it’s to say sorry. Or most of the time, “Yes Ma’am”. No matter how constantly hard we try in retail we will go over everything. I can still vividly recall helping each customer with a problem. Even though they leave with either happy or angry.

I think about it from different angles.

And believe me, it eats away at me a lot.

Case in point: A man walks in and tells me that his wife sent him over really quickly to pick up facial cream because hers ran out. I asked what brand. Oh boy, not only was the man clueless in knowing anything, he also forgot his phone. Inside my mind I am slightly triggered but determined to find what he is looking for. I brought him over to the facial creams and he begins to look at each one. He nonchalantly picks one up and says, yeah this is it. Now either he is just done, simple over this awkward exchange. Or, he really did find it. I always reply with “Oh good! How else can I serve you?”  He thanks me for my time and I ring him up.

Now the second he leaves is when that good ol’ voice comes back:

“Did you give him the best service?” “Did you make sure it was the one?” “What if his wife hates it?” “Oh crap you didn’t ask for a survey.” “They will know what happened.”

And boom just like that you want to rush off the floor to gather yourself. But guess what, you can’t because now a new customer needs your help.


3) A Work-Place Confidant is Required


You know that old saying not all heroes wear capes? Yeah, shout out to that co-worker we can confide in. The one who knows what to say or do, to calm our nerves down. They are able to stop us from having the biggest meltdown in the history of the world. Reassure us that we are doing a great job. And number one, they don’t find us annoying or overbearing.

Before I transferred, I was a cashier and I had this customer come in with her husband and kids. She was constantly picking me apart at the seams. Any little thing I did was bad, and boy was I a mess. To wrap everything in a bright colored package, I was assisting customers because a line a built up. He comes over and has a tea he is going to purchase. In she comes and says not to buy it because (and I quote)

“It will fuck your teeth up. Look at hers, look how ugly hers is”.

And points right at me. She left the store with the man and the kid, he gave me an apologetic look and left right along with her. I stood there for a good twenty seconds, looked over at my friend and I left the floor (practically running) to the stockroom, where I proceeded to cry my eyes out. In comes my companion and she literally calmed me down and did what she could. I will never forget that day, ever. Normally I can hold my feelings in its what I do. But with my teeth it’s a sensitive subject for me. Not to mention the companion of mine was always there for me in every retrospect in my old store. But when she transferred out I was devastated; my warm blanket left and I was alone.

Fast forward to now, I do have a new companion whom I do confide in often. But she is also someone who has to tell me if I am doing a terrible job. It’s her job and I respect that…but you know what?

I fucking love her.


2) Coping with a Safe Space


Sometimes we need that space to just breathe. That one spot in our work that is our safe zone. Not for breaks or to eat. But just to gather ourselves before we step back out onto that floor of the unknown. My place is actually (and go ahead and laugh) is the bathroom. I go in there wash my hands and look upon myself in the mirror. And I give a nod. It seems rather weird to some who don’t suffer from social anxiety. But trust me when I say that it’s wonderful. We sometimes are just so pent up from different things coming after us one by one. Or we are so over stimulated we get agitated. I know I do, so before I go and take it out on one of my co-workers, I exit the floor and give myself a thirty second breather before I join the workforce once again.

Just the other day I had to reset and reorganize the makeup wall. I am already frustrated because the right trays cannot be found. Not to mention the graphics for the makeup were out of control. Boop, here we go, a customer needs help. I go to help them and I’m pulled this way. Boop, I am needed in photo and I’m pulled that way. Boop, a call for me on 101. Oh, change to a page because the pharmacy needs backup. All in a span of thirty seconds.

So, tell me, how would you handle that? I (in all my glory) ended getting agitated, but I can’t let that show on the floor. One by one I quickly went down the list. About five minutes later I am washing my hands a bit rougher now. This time I took my agitation on my husband who was just calling for something. Looking back, I can’t even remember what it was. I was beyond riled up. So if you see us darting for our little safe haven, let us be for about thirty seconds to a minute.

We know what we are doing.


1) Acceptance Pushes Us Forward


Last but by no means least, we have acceptance. We basically have to live with the fact that yes, every day is an emotional roller coaster. There are some things that we cannot control for the life of us. And if we could we would only pick the best of the best. But since the world doesn’t work like that. We have to stay strong. It’s emotionally draining on some days…hell, sometimes more than some days. But you know what? After I get home and change into my pajamas for the rest of the night, I sit there with a small inward scream and think: Yeah, I did it. And I can do it again! Yes, I can!

 Even though we are given an emotional rollercoaster from the moment we walk into that store of choice having to work, we can do this. Because in the end its okay. Sure, we have our days when we feel so bad ass that the world needs to fear our existence. Along with the days of us wanting to wave the white flag and walk away to never return to live on a desolate island with unlimited wi-fi. We accept that some things may be out of our hands. Sure, it hurts to actually admit that to ourselves, but would you really want to know what happens? Not I, it’s a new adventure in my perspective. It’s that thing called life, you have the good and you have the bad. That little voice may nag us. But we have learned it’s a part of us. And sadly…

It will probably stay there for the rest of our lives.

Therefore, I say this to those of you who are going through the same thing. Or maybe it’s different for you. You slay my queen. You have made it this far. You are tough mother fuckers and you can do this. Believe me, we have our days when all we want to do is just stay inside and hide under our blankets but we don’t. Why? Because we need that cash to go buy that thing online that’s still in our cart in some website. You are not alone my friend. We are a nation of awkward people.

The way it’s supposed to be.



Alexandrea has a Twitter.

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