Inside My Head – Social Anxiety

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I have struggled with mental health issues. On top of the stress of CMU and the intense pressure of my academic program, I have to deal with things like social anxiety, grief, perfectionism, and loneliness that take more than a soothing bath and a cup of tea to fix. But along the way I’ve learned a lot about how to deal with these issues and stay sane in college, and I want to help anyone else struggling with these problems.

 

And thus, Inside My Head was born! This (somewhat) ongoing series of articles is going to be a chronicle my struggles with mental health in college, how I’ve learned to deal with them, and generally to offer advice to anyone with the same struggles I’ve had.

 

And first up on the list is arguably my oldest mental health issue…

 

SOCIAL ANXIETY

Social anxiety is a term most people will say they basically understand – being afraid of people, not liking to talk in front of crowds, having trouble talking on the phone or ordering food. But it’s so much more than a simple apprehension of people or fear of public speaking.

 

For me, my social anxiety manifests as an intense fear of judgment and fear of being judged. I hate talking in front of people because I’m afraid of making myself sound stupid or messing up in front of people. I often have issues in class because I don’t really like to speak up or be the center of attention, especially those that are heavily discussion-based or have a participation grade. When I do talk in front of a group, I can be so nervous that I stutter and stumble through my words and thoughts or even stop talking halfway through, completely freezing up. Phone calls for me are irrationally stressful - I know I have no reason to be worried and I’m even pretty good at actually making phone calls, but the idea of having to call someone or having someone call me can cause my stomach to clench and my hands to sweat, and generally give me a complete fear response.

 

But the biggest issue for me and my social anxiety is my constant fear of being secretly hated or judged by others. I have a very small class group that I have all my classes and group projects with, and I constantly think at least half of them hate me at any time, even though I logically know that’s irrational and probably not true. It makes it hard for me to open up to anyone I don’t immediately click with and keeps me from trying harder to make friends because I’m always afraid asking someone to hang out or testing someone, or even just talking to them, will be an annoyance and make them dislike me.

 

 

I know that my social anxiety can be exacerbated in college because of things like what I’ve mentioned above – a lot of group projects, presentations or speeches, and classes with a lot of discussion and participation requirements. Being aware of what makes my social anxiety worse and knowing how I can deal with it helps tremendously with reducing my personal stress and limiting or avoiding anxiety. Knowing yourself and what can trigger your social anxiety is the biggest advice I can give you. Having an awareness of when you’re in a situation that you know can give you social anxiety can help you be more aware and take a few moments to recognize that what you’re feeling, as well as how to handle it.

 

Rationality isn’t always the best advice, especially if you’re in the middle of a bout of anxiety, but centering yourself can be really helpful. I find it helpful to find a place away from other people, like a secluded staircase, under a tree, or an empty classroom, and take a moment to center and ground myself with some deep breaths. Writing down notes to myself on my phone to use during these situations is also really helpful for me. I especially like to make note of specific things that happen or that people say that remind me I’m not hated or disliked, and little images and quotes that make me feel a bit better or make me happy. This can also be texting a friend you know and trust, which is something I do a lot now that my friends are all across the country at different colleges.

 

Above all social anxiety is the kind of thing that warrants a therapist. All mental health issues mean you should find counseling or therapy, but with something as subjective as social anxiety it helps to have an unbiased and open person to talk to that can help to remind you of what’s happening, help you to work through your anxieties and fears, and develop healthy  coping skills and mentalities. If you struggle with this I highly recommend finding a therapist – it’s helped me a lot, even within a few sessions, and as long as you’re open to it you should definitely give it a try.

 

I hope this helped you, if you needed it, or helped you gain a bit more perspective into social anxiety. If you have other methods you use to help your social anxiety, leave them below, and keep an eye our for the next part of the series!