Living and Dealing With Social Anxiety

While anxiety is one of the most well-known mental health disorders in psychological history, I feel as though many people still do not understand it. This isn’t too surprising, given that in order for someone to fully comprehend something, they usually have to experience it themselves. Though anxiety is easy to explain in a general sense, it can be difficult to put into words just how debilitating the disorder itself can be. 

As someone who has been dealing with anxiety for years, I thought writing an article about the medical condition could do two things. One, I could provide myself with a safe outlet to recount my first year as a university student with social anxiety, and two, I can offer some solace to fellow readers who also have anxiety. If you’re someone who doesn’t have anxiety, I encourage you to read on so you have a better understanding. You might not know it, but there could be people in your life who also have an anxiety disorder. 

With that in mind, though, I would like to say this: not everyone deals with anxiety the same way. For instance, there are several types of anxiety disorders out there. According to the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, there are five major types of anxiety disorders. These are Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Panic disorders, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD) and Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD). There are also phobia related disorders, such as fear of heights, spiders and enclosed spaces. 

Of the aforementioned, I was diagnosed with SAD in addition to “slight OCD” (therapists words, not mine). My anxiety is not only triggered in social situations, as I do experience bouts of anxiety in non-social ones, but it is in these where it is most frequent. So you might wonder, what does it feel like for a person with anxiety to engage in new, social situations? Well, I will explain it to you by recounting my first year at the University of Kentucky. 

For starters, I cried the first two weeks of the Fall 2019 semester. I was fine the morning of moving day and sometime after my family left, but after finishing celebratory activities with the iRock LLP (my new family for the time being), it sunk in that I was in a completely new environment. Save for a few high school classmates who lived in the same dorm as me – that I wasn’t even close to to begin with – I was utterly and completely alone. I felt anxious and sick, and wanted nothing more than to pack my bags and go back home.

During those first few weeks, I isolated myself in my dorm room. I’d leave to go to class, then come right back. I didn’t even go to the dining halls because I was so afraid of being around a bunch of people I didn’t know. Whenever someone in my LLP would speak with me out of the blue, I felt as though I were a deer caught in headlights. I’d keep conversations short and to the point so I could get out of them quick. 

I felt bad, but I was never the best at sudden social interaction. Before I’d enter a conversation or approach someone, I’d need to psyche myself up and rehearse what I wanted to say. If I even messed up my wording by a little, I would dwell on it for the rest of the day and kick myself because of it. 

 I felt safe in my room away from everyone, but I was also beating myself up on the inside. 

“You can’t just stay here all semester!” I’d exclaim inside my head. “You have to go out and explore!”

I wanted to explore. I really, really wanted to, but I was also scared. That’s the difficult part about having anxiety – you want to do so many new things, but you’re also terrified of doing them. It makes you look back at the past and think: “What would have happened if I did this?” or “Maybe if I hadn’t been so scared, I’d be doing something else now.” 

Slowly, but surely though, I began to roam freely. I did so little by little each day. I’d go to class, go to one of the dining halls and then return to my dorm where I’d do coursework. After a while, I began to realize that my dorm wasn’t the best place for this. It was too noisy and I associated my room with sleep, meaning I’d feel tired after a while. 

So, I started going to the library after getting a bite to eat at the dining hall. After a couple of months of slowly branching myself out, I began to feel a bit more comfortable on campus. I still felt anxious here and there, but I was doing better than before. 

In October, when my Resident Advisor had one-on-one meetings with hall residents to see how they were doing, she told me about Her Campus and how great the experience had been for her. I’d never done non-fiction writing before (I’m more a fiction kind of a gal, as I’ve mentioned in previous articles), but I decided to give it a shot despite the anxiety I felt. I’d never been part of an organization or club in high school due to my anxiety, and I wanted to see what being in one as a college student would be like. Maybe I would be able to make friends and come out of my shell a bit, I reasoned with myself. 

Honestly? I’m glad I took the big step forward. Being a part of Her Campus UK has helped me a lot with my anxiety, which is something I didn’t expect to happen. The chapter has allowed me to meet all kinds of interesting people, and it has also allowed me to take on a leadership role – something I’d always been afraid of doing because I often doubted my ability to lead. With Her Campus, I have been able to learn a lot about myself and do things I never thought I would be able to do, such as being in charge of editing the articles and keeping other things in order. It’s a lot of responsibility, but I love it. 

Overall, living with social anxiety is difficult, but it’s not the end of all things. There are bad days and good days, and fortunately, most for me have been the latter as of late. Social anxiety isn’t something that goes away at the snap of one’s fingers, yet with the right supportive systems, it can be easier to manage. If you’re someone who feels as though they have social anxiety, or you are someone who has one, and feel as though you’re trapped, I was once there. 

If you're a student who finds themselves struggling, I encourage you to reach out to the UK Counseling Center. They have great resources and have been nothing but kind to me when I would visit to talk with one of their therapists. If you don’t feel comfortable speaking with the Counseling Center, though, finding a friend, family member or other trusted individual to talk with can be helpful, too. 

Once you begin picking apart what the root cause of your anxiety is, then you will have a better understanding on the next step you should take in order to manage it. I wish our readers with social anxiety the best. You’re not alone.