Some jobs for people with anxiety are better than others. Take me, for instance: Every time someone asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up, my answer was always the same. “I’m going to be a spy,” I’d tell them, and I actually came pretty close.
After graduating from college, I earned a full ride to a university in England for my master’s degree, traveled extensively, and promptly applied for a job with the Central Intelligence Agency. I don’t know what I expected, but when I received a phone call from a blocked number one day asking to schedule an interview, it definitely threw me for a loop.
This was my dream job. When I was a kid, I used to make up “spy lessons” with my best friend, and I’d spend hours reading the encyclopedia and dictionary to learn everything I could on any topic my 12-year-old self deemed relevant. After the phone interview, I discovered I’d made it through the next round. My dreams were coming true, except… clearly, that didn’t happen. (Or I’m the worst spy ever.)
So what happened? What stopped me from pursuing my lifelong dream?
I realized the job was the absolute worst fit for my personality and what I wanted out of life. I’m a fairly anxious person, and—two years after I withdrew my application from the CIA—I was diagnosed with a panic disorder. A life of intrigue, albeit nothing like what they show in the movies? Probably not the best for me.
It’s not that having anxiety means that I wouldn’t do a great job in that job or any other job I decided that I wanted to have, but that—when it comes to anxiety—there are certain jobs that make coping with anxiety at work a little less hectic.
“Finding a job that you enjoy doing can be incredibly difficult. For anyone who struggles with social anxiety disorder (SAD), finding a job that you simply feel comfortable doing can feel almost impossible,” says Kara Fasone, Ph.D., SHRM-SCP.
“Jobs that involve flexibility and a degree of control over the level of social interaction will provide environments least likely to aggravate SAD symptoms. This doesn’t mean that you should avoid any job with even a hint of social interaction; rather, you should prioritize finding a flexible role that encourages you to interface with others from time to time.”
So, What Are Good Jobs for People With Anxiety?
“It’s really important to understand what your particular anxiety struggles revolve around to begin thinking about a work environment that will be an ideal fit,” says Julie Gurner, Psy.D., a doctor of clinical psychology. “For example, if you struggle with social anxiety, there could be a number of options that would make a solid income while not causing you undue duress.”
1. Remote Worker/Self-Employed
“It seems like more “digital, dispersed workplaces” are popping up each day. Companies like Buffer and Zapier offer potential employees the ability to work 100 percent remotely in a wide variety of positions, ranging from software development to human resources to marketing, Fasone says.
The downside of working remotely? It’s easy to get stuck in your own little bubble, which Fasone explains might end up making your anxiety worse over time.
2. Dog Trainer/Animal Care Worker
Another great option for people with social anxiety: working with animals instead! While this doesn’t eliminate human interaction entirely (since, you know, pets have owners), it can reduce the amount of social interaction you have on a daily basis. Jobs involving animals, less customer-facing interaction (sorry, retail), and increased independence are all great options for anyone with anxiety.
3. Computer Science Professional
“While there will be some degree of social interaction required as you partner with a client or collaborate with a team, you’ll be able to flex your analytical skills without having to fret too much about constant communication or customer service,” Fasone says.
Tech workers—whether software engineers, database administrators, or even graphic designers—spend a lot of time focused on what they’re doing or building, which means less face-to-face interaction on the regular.
4. Other Jobs with Solitary Settings
There are plenty of jobs that require less social interaction without being high stress. That might mean landscaping, maintenance, working as a mechanic, or even choosing a job that’s a little more low-key, like a massage therapist or florist.
If you’re looking for a job opportunity that allows you to work independently, it’s just a matter of finding the right fit for you. Personally, I love working remotely, but I know other people with anxiety who need some sort of office structure to keep them motivated.
Either way, anxiety at work is bound to happen—yes, even if you work in your pajamas—and just because you’re feeling stressed or anxious at work doesn’t necessarily mean you need to swap your job for a new one. (Although that’s totally fine too.)
It’s Important to Learn How to Cope With Anxiety at Work Too
“People often don’t realize that their work environment doesn’t always have to “happen to them,” but that they can take an active role in helping to shape it in small ways for a better experience,” Gurner says.
“Be sure to advocate for yourself in setting realistic timelines and workload expectations when agreeing to tasks. People who struggle with anxiety will often want to please others and can have a tendency to take on too much or too many tasks in short timelines.”
I’m totally guilty of avoiding people and situations that make me feel anxious, but that can actually make it worse. Instead, Fasone suggests confronting your anxiety head-on in small stages. Whether that’s volunteering to lead a small team meeting or simply complimenting a coworker before leaving for lunch, the more you make an effort, the easier it gets to deal with anxiety on a regular basis.
No matter what type of job you’re looking for, the important thing is to do what works for you as an individual. For me, reducing anxiety is an ongoing process, and—while discovering what type of job works best for me was only one piece of the puzzle—it made a huge impact overall.
Jandra Sutton is an author, historian, and public speaker. She lives in Nashville with her husband and their two dogs, and Pluto is still a planet in her heart. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.