Making Friends and Dealing with Social Anxiety in College

This article was written in Spring 2020.

I remember getting ready to head off to college just a little over a year ago. I remember the excitement, the trepidation, the anticipation, and most of all, the anxiety. Anxiety over whether I truly belonged at a place like Duke, whether I would be able to make friends or not, and what would happen to me now that I’d moved to a completely new and entirely different environment from what I’d grown up in. 

You see, I’m a really shy person. Like, socially-awkward, avoid-crowds-at-all costs, plan-routes-to-avoid-people, type shy. That said, making friends my freshman year was not something that came easily to me. I couldn’t bring myself to leave my bubble—where I felt safe and free from judgment—long enough to make meaningful connections. I wasn’t, and am still not, one of those people who could go to the dining hall and strike up conversations with strangers. I couldn’t bring myself to go to parties or clubs, where I knew there would be hordes of warm bodies pressed up against each other in suffocating heat. 

In short, I was bogged down by self-consciousness and irrational fear that I would “do something wrong”. Whatever that meant. 

I couldn’t do it, I told myself, and so I didn’t. 

Flash forward to my sophomore year, and I can confidently say that I wish I had. 

This is my second year at Duke, and while this may be the time that most people finally feel as if they’re finding their way, I feel more lost than ever. Sure, I have a few friends here and there, but I would be remiss if I didn’t say I often feel as if I’m missing out on that quintessential “college experience” so many of my peers have. I let my social anxiety—which I was actually just diagnosed with a few months ago actually—get the best of me, and now I’m paying for it.

If you’re someone that suffers from anxiety—which I’m now learning is a lot more people than I previously thought—trust me, you can get through this. I get it, and I mean I truly get it. 

I was, still am, struggling too. But if there’s one piece of advice I can give, it’s to try and put yourself out there. Push your limits. You are a lot stronger than you think you are. It may be a little awkward at first, it may get a little uncomfortable, it may feel overwhelming. But you know what? That’s okay. In fact, that’s normal.

You won’t become a social butterfly overnight—I mean, are you kidding, I wish—but…baby steps. Take it from me, if I could go back, I would rather have tried, made a few mistakes, learned from them, and met a few people along the way, rather than having completely closed myself off and losing touch with those around me.

If you’re still not convinced, here are some things I find helpful to keep in mind:

  1. People are often a lot nicer than we give them credit for, and if they’re not, you probably don’t want them in your life anyway.

  2. The important stuff often doesn’t come easy. Friendships take work.

  3. You’d probably rather have a few embarrassing stories under your belt, but some great friends to relive them with, than no stories and no one at all.

And remember, in college, where most faces are new, there isn’t anyone to coax you out of your shell. You have to do that for yourself.