How to tackle social anxiety at university

By Maria Baker on 15-08-2016
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When someone mentions university you may imagine the clichés you see in movies, professors with patches on their elbows, giant lecture halls, everyone sitting outside laughing while studying on the grass, sadly these are only partly true and real, but they are filled with new opportunities, independent paths and a whole new level of education and learning. It is also a hotspot for partying and clubbing all day, every day. Something which some of you may feel your heart leap with joy whilst others with fear and the thought of trying to find like-minded people may cause you to squirm and put you at unease. I will be highlighting situations that may trigger your social anxiety while being in university and how to reduce such fears to the point you can enjoy your stay in higher education a lot more.

Living at university
Starting a new route in life would cause natural anxiety for anyone, after all, it’s a new beginning. The good part here thought is that everyone is the new kid on the block, not just you. Everyone is starting with unfamiliar surroundings and new an environment, this means they are also hunting for new friends also. To help with any anxiety you may have this particular part, it is best to try and prepare as much as possible. Not every situation is under your control but being prepared as much as possible is the next best thing for expecting the unexpected. Make sure you list all the supplies and furniture you need to bring when moving in, organise the list into rooms to separate the long list. Give yourself a weekly budget for food, necessities and extra money to spend on yourself, this will refrain you from blind guessing if you got enough money to last for the next time your money from student finance and a job comes in. Researching the location around the university and your accommodation, especially how far everything is on foot is important, make sure you can get to a supermarket without a struggle just in case you need an emergency item. You also need to know if there is entertainment out there for you. Not everyone likes clubbing, but this seems to be a very advertised activity to do for every university, if you prefer other things make sure there are enough places to keep you entertain throughout your university years. For someone like me who has social anxiety, I prefer more of the cinema and restaurant locations, with my university it was very night club centred, therefore, I hadn’t had enough entertainment to last for three years. Remember to enjoy yourself! 

For the university accommodations itself, for some universities allow you to choose if you want a quiet room or floor, or whether you would like the same gender floor. The former would help if you want to avoid the partying scene and want more general quietness.
As you settle and especially during Freshers’ Week, you will have a lot of invites to party, but there are no obligations to go, don’t force yourself into something you feel very uncomfortable with. There are activities and other types of social events that are a lot quieter and calmer during this week which will help you find more people that you can connect with. There will also be a chance to join clubs and extra-curricular activities which will also help push you to find someone to befriend with. If you join a sports team, there may be an initiation at the beginning, again you have no obligation to join in if that is again something that would make you uncomfortable, there are a lot of extreme activities during these nights where you are dared and forced to do things to join the team (a lot like what you see in a movie about American universities and their frat parties and initiation!)
It is a good thing to remember, that universities are a lot more diverse with interests, a lot more laid back with accepting one and another and therefore there will be a high chance you would find someone a lot like you, you’re probably not the only that feels a certain way.

Classes and meeting new people
As classes roll in, you will realise why you came to university in the first place. There is more to the classes though, you will meet new classmates that may also become the friends you will spend most of your time with for the rest of the academic years.
Don’t fret if in the first week or so, the first people you meet don’t stick, it is the natural transition as everyone moves about and tries to settle and find more people that work well with them.
Being a larger class than you may have been used to back in school is a scary step up especially when you get picked on to answer a question in front of all of them. Keep note it is good to make mistakes, you are here to learn after all, and that means making a lot of them. Not everyone is going to get an answer right so don’t worry if you do fail to answer correctly, just work hard and remember the right answers. It may feel daunting as all heads turn to you, but focus on your lecturer and focus on the question, imagine it being an intellectual conversation with them and no one else in the room.

Tips to help general anxiety
Although university may make you feel powerless over your social anxiety as you live and study away from home, there is a way to at least control your fears. It is good to have some concern and worry to an extent; this is natural but anxiety is something you want to bring down to a level to get to this.

1) Talking to someone about it: Sounds like a cliché I know, but talking really does help undo all those concerns mashed into one and to also hear some outside advice. There are a number of ways to do this, you can go to your university’s councillor which is the best bet as they’re under the obligation to keep everything you tell them to themselves. You could also talk to your tutor, this is a good option if you feel you get severe anxiety attacks that may later cause a lot of absence days, giving them that heads up helps them understand your situation. If talking to someone face to face or on the phone isn’t your thing then you can also go to a website such as Blahtherapy.com, this is a great website for anyone who wants to talk to kind strangers about your issues.

2) Every time you feel anxious about an event that will happen do the following: Anxiety is mostly about being out of control of a situation and not knowing what to do. Before going to an event or situation you are concerned about in any way, imagine up the worst possible case scenario, then the best and lastly imagine the realistic case that would happen. If anything this will help you prepare for what could happen.

3) Write down in a daily log: Even when you don’t want to talk or got no one to talk to about the day, this is the best place to vent and let out all your emotions, good and bad. This will also help feeling fresh and new for the next day.

4) Acknowledge the fact you can’t and shouldn’t attempt to get rid of anxiety completely: As stated before you need a little bit concern but not too much. Try to level your anxious mind with these tips and breathing exercises, even just counting to 3 as you inhale and counting to 5 as you exhale a few times will help slow down your racing heart.

5) Lastly, give your anxiety a time slot: Anxiety is a mess in your mind trying to scramble up reasonable thoughts and making all your problems and concerns, big or small into one giant mess. Giving each worry a time slot in the day would spread out your concerns as well as being able to tackle each problem one by one.

Maria Baker (22)
Student: Journalism
London

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