Summer ought to be a time to relax, forget about schoolwork and kick back – but for many people living with social anxiety (perhaps like yourself) – then the sun, sea and sand simply aren’t enough to blot out the fear of going to college or university in the fall.
College is a tough environment to live in at the best of times – it may be your first taste of living away from home, and then there’s the stress of meeting new peers, living up to the financial expectations of attaining a college degree, tackling new subjects, sharing living spaces such as dorms and dining halls, and all while living through your turbulent late teens and early 20s.
And all those anxieties can be compounded when you’re naturally introverted and shy.
Here are some tips from me to help you cope with social anxiety at college:
(and yes, I know it’s summer right now for a lot of you – but knowing these tools might just help you relax a bit more during the holidays)
1. Pick the right place to live
Your first reaction might be to find a small apartment off campus but this is unlikely to help you with your anxiety, your studies or your chances of benefitting from the college environment. Shared dorms can be daunting places though so look at your options for quieter shared rooms or apartments in and around college – these might give you a better chance of meeting people in a calmer environment.
2. Set realistic goals
Some people will jump right in to their new college lifestyle by joining societies and clubs, speaking up in class and hosting parties left, right and centre. Don’t think you have to move at the speed of light though: set yourself small goals of meeting people individually, and research new pastimes and interests before trying them out. Classes and parties are just part and parcel of college life – don’t avoid them, just set goals around how you approach them.
3. Build a relationship with tutors
Your tutors and professors have usually seen years’ worth of students and will understand you come in all shapes, sizes and levels of sociability. By talking to them outside of the class and discussing your anxieties, you’ll let them help you through issues such as group-participation and presentations.
4. Create space to breathe
If your college years are supposed to pass by in a flash, imagine how speedy the days and weeks are! This is why it’s important to make time for yourself to take stock of your surroundings. Mindfulness techniques will not only help you control your anxieties (just think about how natural it is to be nervous of a new environment – you’ll certainly not be alone in that) but may also help you in your capacity to study.
5. Don’t use alcohol as a coping mechanism
Heavy drinking and college is a pretty clichéd idea but research shows “a clear relationship between social anxiety and drinking” among students that may be moderated by understanding alcohol’s effects and appreciating how to deal with situations which make you anxious without resorting to drink.
6. Know the system
Because colleges bring together hugely diverse ranges of people, they are also incredibly well suited to dealing with most things those people throw at them. Most campuses have therapists and counsellors on site and statistics show around one in 10 students use them. Knowing what’s on offer to help support you can be your most potent weapon against your anxiety.
7. Build a network
As well as having a college-worth of expertise at your disposal – you will likely also have a large number of like-minded people around you. As well as training yourself to reject your own negative triggers, try to be open with friends about your anxiety so they can help you negotiate your way through those triggers.