As someone who has struggled with severe anxiety from the age of 11, I’ve constantly looked for ways to help me to overcome it. When I left school I tried to throw myself into work in the hope that it would force me into becoming more sociable and more confident. It seemed like that was the only option. After all, it was what everyone else around me was doing and they coped just fine.
But it didn’t work.
I went from job to job feeling miserable, severely depressed, defeated. I never stayed at a job for long because I simply couldn’t control my anxiety. It was overwhelming to the point where I would have preferred to not exist than be in the working environment.
And then I started volunteering at a charity shop and it’s made me realise a lot of things about myself. What I can do, what I can’t do, and what I expect from a job.
It’s given me a much needed boost
Even though I’m still struggling with my anxiety and I’m not currently working because of it, volunteering has still given me that boost in the right direction. It’s made me realise that I’m not useless, not at all. I’m capable of much more than I realise. When I’m there I hardly feel anxious at all and that’s such a good feeling. It’s something that I’m not used to. I usually get anxious in most places, so I find it a miracle that the charity shop is my happy place.
I get to talk to more people
Volunteering often involves quite a bit of social interaction but the good thing about it is you can control just how much socialising you do. I usually find that the more I interact with people, especially the regular customers, the better I feel about myself. I’m aware that it’s not an easy thing for me to do, so the fact that I’m able to make conversation with others is a really huge thing and not something that should ever be minimised. Often those with anxiety need some social interaction but it can be overwhelming at first, that’s why volunteering is a good way to ease into it.
I’m always learning new skills
Since day 1 I’ve been making an effort to learn as much as possible so I can get as much as I can out of the experience. And I can say that having experience of using a till, serving customers, labelling and pricing, and all of those things that help to run a business, are really good skills for me to have under my belt. I feel proud that I was able to gain so much from it. And I’m still learning all of the time.
It feels like a family
Without a doubt, volunteering provides a sense of familiarity and comfort for someone like me who struggles a lot with anxiety. Everyone wants to be there and that’s something that I love to see. It doesn’t feel forced there, like everyone is just pretending to be happy and awaiting the moment they can all run home. We’re all there for the same reason – to help raise money for a good cause. I’ve built some really good friendships through volunteering and they are people who I’ll never forget.
Provides a healthy environment
The big telltale sign that I’m working in an environment that I feel comfortable in is actually wanting to go. I’ve never experienced that with any other job before. In fact, I’ve usually dreaded going in to work. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve sat in the bathroom and cried because the thought of going in to work was making me feel ill. With volunteering, I often feel excited to go in. No two days are the same and there’s always something for me to do.
It’s given me some ideas for the future
Despite still being unsure about what I want to do career wise, volunteering has at least shown me what I’m capable of. I’ve discovered that I work well within a small, friendly environment because it erases a lot of the pressure and anxiety, so if I can find something similar then that would be ideal. Working for a charity would be an amazing opportunity and I’ll keep my fingers crossed that my hard work pays off.