How to Navigate Social Anxiety in College
Last updated August 17, 2023
Entering college can be an exciting but nerve-wracking time for many young people, especially if you struggle with social anxiety. The COVID-19 pandemic has only added to the challenges of meeting new people and socializing in college, making it even more difficult to navigate social situations. This is especially true for Black and Brown youth attending primarily white institutions (PWIs), who may already feel isolated or marginalized on campus. We'll explore some practical strategies for coping with social anxiety and offer some reassurance that you're not alone.
What is Social Anxiety?
Social anxiety is a common mental health condition that affects millions of people, including college students. It can show up in many ways, including a fear of being judged or rejected by others, excessive self-consciousness in social situations, and physical symptoms like sweating, trembling, or nausea. If you're experiencing social anxiety, it's important to know that you're not alone and that there are effective ways of treating and coping with this anxiety, such as counseling, mindfulness practices, or medication.
Coping with social anxiety as COVID-19 restrictions are ending however, presents some unique challenges. For one, many colleges and universities have had to change their social protocols, such as limiting in-person gatherings, to slow the spread of the virus. This can make it harder to meet new people and form social connections. Additionally, the pandemic has disproportionately affected communities of color, including Black and Brown youth, who may be dealing with additional stressors related to family losses, systemic racism, economic inequality, and health disparities.
New Social Situations in the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic
For immunocompromised people or students living with ill or disabled family members, meeting new people and socializing in college can feel even more daunting. It's important to prioritize your health and safety and to communicate your needs with others. This might mean asking others to wear masks or maintain physical distance, or finding alternative ways to socialize that feel safer and more comfortable for you.
Historical and Systemic Factors That Contribute to Social Anxiety in Black and Brown Students
It's important to acknowledge that social anxiety among Black and Brown students is not solely a personal issue but can also be a result of historical and systemic factors such as racism, discrimination, and exclusion. These factors can make it harder for students of color to feel a sense of belonging.
Social anxiety can not only affect social situations, but it can also impact academic performance. For example, students with social anxiety may be hesitant to participate in class discussions or group projects, which can affect their grades and overall academic performance. It can also lead to avoidance of seeking help when struggling with coursework.
How to Cope with Social Anxiety in College
If you're struggling with social anxiety in college, there are some practical strategies you can use to cope.
Taking care of your physical and emotional health is crucial when dealing with social anxiety. This includes getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, exercising regularly, and engaging in activities you enjoy. Make self-care a priority and don't neglect your own needs.
Be Proactive in Seeking Support
Don't be afraid to reach out to others for help and support. Talk to your professors and let them know that you struggle with social anxiety and that it may affect your participation in class. They may be able to offer alternative ways for you to participate or provide accommodations to help you feel more comfortable. It can also be helpful to seek academic support. Colleges and universities often have resources available for students who need academic support, this could include tutoring services, study groups, or academic coaching. Don't be afraid to reach out for help if you need it.
Take Small Steps
You don't have to tackle your social anxiety all at once. Instead, try taking small steps to gradually expose yourself to social situations that make you anxious. This could mean attending a small gathering with people you know, or practicing relaxation techniques like deep breathing or trying a mindfulness app.
Focus on Others
Instead of focusing on your own anxiety, try to shift your attention to others. Ask questions and show interest in what they have to say. This can help take the pressure off you and create a more positive social experience.
If in-person gatherings aren't possible or safe, consider using technology to connect with others. Join online groups or communities, participate in virtual events or clubs, or use social media to stay in touch with friends and family.
When should I see a therapist or counselor?
If social anxiety is seriously impacting your academic performance, it may be helpful to talk to a therapist or counselor. They can provide support and strategies for managing social anxiety and academic stress. Many colleges and universities offer counseling services to their students, often at little to no cost. These counseling centers can provide individual therapy, group therapy, and other resources to support students' mental health. If your school does not offer counseling services, there are other low-cost therapy resources that may be available to you. For example, many communities have mental health clinics that offer sliding scale fees based on income. You can also search for online therapy options that may be more affordable than traditional in-person therapy.
Remember, social anxiety is common and seeking support is a sign of strength, and a proactive step towards managing it. Taking care of your mental health is an important part of your overall well being, you deserve to have a positive and successful college experience, and getting the help you need can make a big difference.