Dealing with Social Anxiety in a Sorority

I’m going to turn 19 in about a week, and lately I’ve been thinking about how much my life has changed in the past year. Because I moved away from home and live independently, I’ve had a lot of personal growth, and I’m really proud of myself for some of the habits I’ve developed since coming to Kenyon. My past self would definitely be surprised about a lot of my life, though, especially the fact that I joined a sorority.

Initially, I was put off of Greek life because of the stereotypes. I didn’t see myself as shallow or outgoing, and I didn’t want to compromise my academics for my social life (spoiler alert: I didn’t have to). The one reason that I knew for certain would keep me from Greek life, though, was that my social anxiety made any interaction with strangers a nightmare. Even participating in class was hard—social anxiety makes you constantly dread that you’ll be perceived as stupid, annoying, or, at worst, antisocial—so how was I supposed to “put myself out there” during rush and at all the social events that came with Greek life?

One of the parts of my life that I take pride in nowadays is that I’ve managed to conquer a significant part of my anxiety. Mental illness, though, is an unending process, always changing and finding new ways to affect lives. Although I don’t experience nearly the same degree of terror in social situations as I did a year ago, I still feel anxious when I take even a single step out of my comfort zone. That can be overwhelming.

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When I pledged my sorority, I thought I had most of the anxiety covered. Of course, rush was pretty terrifying, but I was able to get through it, wasn’t I? I figured that if I could do that, I could do anything. To a certain degree, it did give me a lot of confidence in my ability to communicate effectively and get to know people, and I’m so grateful for the friends I’ve made in my organization. But now that I’m a sister, I have a lot more opportunities to engage in the very experiences that trigger my anxiety, and it can be really hard to say no.

The very basis of Greek life is social: those within an organization bond like family, and organizations are encouraged to have strong relationships with one another. I do feel like my sorority sisters are some of my closest relationships on campus, and I have no regrets about making so many new friends. I’ve found, though, that situations where other organizations are involved (which occur at least once a week) make me so anxious that I question my involvement in Greek life as a whole.

Of course, this is just my anxious brain talking, and I’ve learned how to tell when it’s being irrational. Whether or not the cause seems silly, though, I have to pay attention to my anxiety; I have to constantly decide whether to heed what it makes me feel or try to overcome it at the risk of panic. This decision comes up so often in Greek life that I’ve begun to feel overwhelmed every time one of my sisters proposes a mixer or a party. These events can be really enjoyable, but if I don’t already know a few people within the group of strangers, I almost immediately go into a panic. When this happens once a week or more, I question whether or not I’ve given up too much time I’ve put aside to be alone—which I desperately need—and then I feel like joining a sorority was a shallow choice that compromised my mental health.

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Can social anxiety and Greek life coexist? I think so. I’m definitely not the world’s most enthusiastic sorority girl, and sometimes I even feel like I’m letting my sisters or our organization down for not wanting to socialize as much as I signed up for. I really like the other aspects of my sorority, though, like our community service activities and the sense of empowerment we foster in our organization. For me, it’s worth it to sit out of social functions when I need to. The hardest part is convincing myself that this need is actually a need: helping myself avoid anxiety and panic attacks, especially in public, is something essential to my mental health, even when it makes me feel like I’m missing out on the fun. This is all part of a larger picture that I’m starting to see after a year of personal growth that comes with being independent. When you can rely only on yourself, you’re forced to know yourself much better, and I know that I need to give myself the security of avoiding these social situations once in awhile. It’s difficult to accept, but sometimes you need to do what’s best for your mental health. The next step is understanding that that security supersedes the guilt it brings you. This is something I’m still working on, and I believe that Greek life can help me do that.

 

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