Imaginary Audiences: Dealing with Social Anxiety in College

Imagine that you hear about a great party going on tonight — you’re pretty excited for it and spend an hour jamming out to pump up tunes and getting ready. You start to head out the door, and fear sets in. What if you say something foolish? What if people don’t like your outfit? What if something goes wrong? Suddenly you’re in a panic and decide that it’s best if you stay in for the night, convincing yourself that you didn’t really want to go anyway. This is a simplified picture of what those with social anxiety in college and elsewhere can face.

Social anxiety is defined by WebMD as a condition that causes a person to experience “an excessive and unreasonable fear of social situations. Anxiety and self-consciousness arise from a fear of being closely watched, judged, and criticized by others.”

Many college students struggle with social anxiety

Many college students have to battle with this, myself included. I’ve missed several fun nights, or have gone home early because of one minuscule mishap at a party that caused a sudden overwhelming fear of the people around me. Even hanging out with someone new has me on edge, which typically causes me to mess up my words more than usual, fueling the anxiety. Oftentimes, students don’t realize they have social anxiety until they come to college and leave their close friends from high school behind.

Social anxiety is much more than being shy or uneasy in new situations. Blair Morton, a junior communications major at Ohio University, shares her feelings on what it’s like to have social anxiety. “I think of it like walking a tightrope — I feel uneasy and imbalanced. If what I say is wrong or not good enough, I fall off the rope and into a panic…I am so afraid of generating reactions and getting the attention that I hold back from putting forth my best work or the work I want to be doing.”

Kent State University psychology sophomore, Alexa Young, has had similar situations. She shares how she has waited to go to the bathroom for over 5 hours, solely because she didn’t want to excuse herself in front of a room of people she didn’t know. “Being noticed in any accord is petrifying. Compliments, glances, any acknowledgment is a terrifying notion.”

Anxiety can creep up on those in college who never felt they were socially anxious in the past

Having anxiety does not necessarily mean you don’t like parties or that you dislike your personality. Even if you know you are probably overreacting, anxiety can still hold you down. There are some days where the anxiety won’t be there, allowing you to be more like yourself. Morton shares, “Some days I feel great. I am charming, energetic and confident. My class discussion comments are on point and I feel like I am being productive at work.”

For many, it’s getting past the initial small talk and “getting to know you” before they can feel comfortable with someone. You can be confident in your personality and thoughts, and if people can see past the exterior, they will discover that those with social anxiety have a lot more to say.

While medication is an option for social anxiety, there are other ways to cope with it. A small step is eye contact, which can be difficult for those with social anxiety. Young says that typically if she wants something badly enough, the longing will outweigh the fear, and she can talk her way through it.

Morton has taken similar measures: “I stay in if I feel overwhelmed and overly anxious. I have reduced by friend group, cutting off anyone who bothered me when I was too anxious to speak up for myself.” Having a close friend who can be patient and aid you through the night can be helpful as well.

* Article originally published by Korina Meister in Fangle Magazine.

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Latest update: December 14, 2016
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