Retail for Introverts

If you’re anything like me, sometimes existing as a human being in the same space with other human beings is hard. To make things worse, sometimes we have to force ourselves to interact with people when we really don’t want to. One of those sometimes is if you’re an introvert, you need a job, and the only job you can find is in retail.

If the grocery store is too busy I get scared. I get headaches and nauseous, the noise and general press of people is so overwhelming that the only way I can successfully achieve grocery shopping completeness is to bury my face in my love’s shoulder and have him steer me through the isles and hand me things to carry. Things to carry=distraction.

So if I have that bad of a reaction to being around people in a store, why would I subject myself to working in a stressful environment?

I need money to pay my bills. Living as a successful human being=compromise. Similar compromise=wearing a uniform (I hate uniforms) instead of the clothes you love, etc. in order to achieve the end game. End game=you get to keep your car. Out of the wide variety and varied severity of overwhelms, I have found one of the common discomforts for introverts is just being around people. The people aren’t threatening or doing anything out of the ordinary, they are just existing. Existence isn’t a problem, being around the existing is.

Working retail has stressed me out in ways that I never thought I would be stressed. When I first started working retail (I did a brief, 2 month stint in 2009 in a lingerie shop but I don’t count that anymore) I would bring all my discomfort and stress home with me and I wasn’t always the most pleasant person to deal with. Stress influenced my diet and sleep in negative ways. I felt bad all the time.

And then I recently (10 months of stressful environment did this to me) decided that I couldn’t cope with any of the stress anymore and I said F*** IT. And I let it go. Some people might call this the “head in the sand” effect but I don’t care, I’m making a conscious choice NOT TO BE STRESSED by the retail or the people.
This doesn’t always work, sometimes the stress comes and the overwhelm comes and there’s nothing I can do about it but push through and then cry later BUT for the times when I say “go away” and the stress actually goes away, I experience the best feelings of relief and not-discomfort.

So I made a list of things that help me to not get overwhelmed while working retail.

HOW TO MAKE RETAIL WORK FOR AN INTROVERT:
(you do not have to do these in numerical order)

1 Allow yourself to feel stress but don’t acknowledge it forever. Allow yourself and move on, into the next moment.

2 Try looking people in the eye, the nice people, if you don’t feel comfortable doing that, look at their teeth or their hair, something on the same level as their face and accomplish whatever task you need to accomplish.

3 Remember there are no universal rules, not everything will work 100% of the time.

4 Have a good support structure at home, don’t stop talking to friends and family about how you are feeling even if you think your thoughts are worthless or if you feel like you are a burden to them. You aren’t.

5 Find the humor in every negative interaction.

6 Breathe to breathe, don’t breathe to calm down; focus on a basic task instead of people and/or the stress.

7 Observe your thoughts but don’t get caught up in them, it’s ok to say “I wish I wasn’t here” but don’t make yourself more stressed by obsessing over being in the negative space.

8 Don’t try to predict everything that will happen on your shift, keep an open mind and don’t imagine bad things that could happen.

9 When stressful situations arise, remember to slow down and take your time completing your tasks, that way you can focus on what you are supposed to do and do it correctly.

10 Listen to everything and think about your response before you speak. Some people might get frustrated that you’re taking too long to answer them but don’t let that discourage you and don’t feel that you have to speed up just to make someone else happy.

11 Always have something fun planned for your break or go somewhere quiet and enjoy existing in a quiet space.

12 Be the person you want to be, not the person you think other people need to see.

13 You aren’t responsible for making your customers or your co-workers happy, just do your job and don’t take on the responsibility of worrying about the emotional fulfillment of other people. If you do your job correctly that is enough, if someone gets upset when you’ve done everything you’re supposed to do, that person is going through something and you have no control over how they react anyway, so don’t expend the energy worrying about them.

14 If you have a uniform and can’t express yourself with what you wear, invest in a pair of nice shoes that you enjoy wearing, that also fit within the uniform guidelines, and find small ways, like jewelry or an undershirt, to make yourself feel like your are yourself and not an automaton.

15 When you’re off work, try to stay off work, don’t think about what will happen on your next shift or replay negative interactions from your previous shift. Instead, focus on something small that you enjoy, ex: listen to your favorite song.

Most of this advice comes from my interpretation of the Buddhist teachings of Thich Nhat Hahn. These are all things that I have struggled to do and at some point I have managed to successfully do at least once and found that, yes, even if it sounds stupid it really does help.

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Jessica Halsey was born in Arkansas and has lived most of her life in the United States and Panama. She earned a BA in Sociology from Randolph-Macon Woman's College and an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College. Would you like to know more?

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