Sometimes one of the easiest places to hide is in a crowd: all those people worried about leading their own lives are highly unlikely to be thinking too much about anyone else jostling amongst them.
While some people with social phobia can find crowds a serious trigger to their anxiety – others are more troubled by small groups, places where you can’t shrink into a corner or hide behind others.
And college can provide a whole host of environments in which you have to deal with standing out. Social anxiety in college can be a real problem for a lot of young people.
Dorms: You might have been used to having your own room for much of your life, but dorms are part and parcel of college life for many. But choosing between single rooms, doubles, triples and quads means weighing up issues around personal aspects of your life, privacy and losing that concept of your bedroom being your “refuge” against gaining new friends and learning to fit in.
Classes: Smaller groups make for better learning – so don’t run from subjects which attract fewer fellow students just because you’re uncomfortable with being part of a select group. But once there, you’re not going to be able to duck out of giving presentations or speaking up in discussion groups, so you’re going to have to learn a few techniques to get you through the classes. For example, talk it through with your professor so they understand how you feel when it comes to participation grades; note down any questions you have before the class and don’t be afraid to read them off a sheet; ask to practice presentations in the room where it’s going to take place; ask a roomie or a friend to listen to a presentation first.
Social life: Finding new friends can be intimidating – especially if they all seem to be hooking up into small groups. But, equally, your college years can help forge some of your longest-lasting relationships so it will pay off if you develop techniques which help you fit in. For example: try to meet people one-on-one to start out and then talk to a close friend about how you feel in groups; arrange to meet within strict timelines (“say, let’s grab something to eat before my class at 3.30”); don’t feel like you have to give your own opinions on everything – take part in conversations by asking questions.
Just remember that the greatest impediment to overcoming social anxiety (and, annoyingly, one of social anxiety’s greatest fuels) is avoidance, and avoiding situations where you have to deal with small groups will not only prevent you from succeeding in college but also set up spirals of behaviour which you will find it tough to break later in life.
Being mindful of why you’re in college and who you’re there alongside will help you deal with situations which you’re bound to find tough to start with. But by working on ways to confront and beat them, you’ll reap the rewards of your years of study.