Is the newness of college stressing you out? Some people have difficulty adapting to college because they suffer from social anxiety, which includes a fear of being scrutinized, judged, or standing out in the crowd. This can lead to avoidance of classes, diminished social contacts, and a slightly more difficult transition from home to college. Here are some tips for handling social anxiety:
1) Try to find something to focus your attention on when you go to class. In most instances, people who are socially anxious become pre-occupied with self-consciousness. The focus on being scrutinized or judged increases anxiety and becomes the “problem” in and of itself. Fixing your attention on other things will help reduce anxiety by getting your attention away from all the things that might go wrong. Here are some suggestions:
- Bring candy with a strong sensory component (mint, cinnamon Altoids, black licorice) and focus all your attention on the taste. This may work even better if you have a strong flavor you don’t particularly like- because it will be harder to ignore.
- Put a hand on your stomach and- when you breathe- focus on bringing the air down into your diaphragm so that the hand on your stomach gently moves up and down.
- Try to identify as many sounds as you can- and notice where they are coming from. Gently shift your attention to sounds from within the room and outside of the room. See what sounds you can hear that you wouldn’t normally because you aren’t paying attention.
2) Keep your facial expression soft and your gaze curious. Often when people are anxious they close themselves off to social interactions. Their expression might read: Don’t talk to me. A tight and stiff posture may be how you are communicating your anxiety- even if you don’t intend it. Try to soften your face and smile gently at people you don’t know. Remember, if you aren’t looking for connections and friendships, it’s harder to make them happen- thus increasing your fear of being among strangers.
3) Don’t skip classes and make it a point to get to class early. Telling yourself “I will go tomorrow” may be setting yourself up for not going at all. The next morning it will be easier to skip because you will feel behind. When you go early, you have the advantage of not walking in late, knowing where the class is, and gently greeting new people who walk in the door. See if you can make it a point to learn people’s names so you can greet them when you see them. Greeting people make them more likely to connect with you- and when you have friends you are no longer among strangers.
4) If you’ve missed class already, go back. Define a small goal for yourself (ie, sitting through class) and don’t focus on all the information or material that overwhelms you. Instead, make eye contact, focus on your breathing, and sit quietly. Remember that you can solve problems later if you need to- such as meeting with an advisor or the academic support center if you need to change your schedule or drop a class.