How To Not Let Social Anxiety Stop You

If you’re low key trembling as you get ready for this semester, you’re not alone. As a therapist that works with college students on a daily basis, social anxiety is at an all-time high.

In fact, about 1 in 4 students struggle with social anxiety disorder and almost half of students report at least some mild social anxiety symptoms.

What does this tend to look like? It can manifest in a variety of ways but here are some potential signs:

  • Feeling sweaty, shaky, and/or struggling to speak up in class, ask a question, or give a presentation
  • Not wanting to go to the dining hall because of anxiety around people watching you eat or having food in your teeth
  • Avoiding going to parties or joining a social club because it’s so uncomfortable to be around new people
  • Not making eye contact with others and looking down constantly when walking on campus
  • Feeling like your mind goes blank when trying to speak and/or an inability to process what others are saying
  • Ruminating constantly after a conversation about everything you said and worrying that people do not like you

Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list but the key thing to note is if social anxiety symptoms are causing you distress and if they’re interfering with your ability to engage fully in your life.

So, what can you do?

As a psychologist, I practice this treatment regularly with my clients. The strategies include some tools from Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy (ERP) but essentially, it’s as simple as this:

We need to face our fears.

That doesn’t mean we flood ourselves and jump into the pool before we’re ready. The idea is that we start small and build our way up gradually. So, for example, if you had a performance-based anxiety, we’d start with asking a classmate a question in a discussion group before eventually getting to the big goal of asking a question in a lecture hall.

You can practice this yourself by writing out what you’d like to be able to do this semester. If your anxiety wasn’t calling the shots—what would you do? Would you like to…

  • Go through recruitment?
  • Go on a date?
  • Make a new friend with a classmate?
  • Go to the dining hall by yourself because you’re hungry, dang it?

There’s another key thing to remember here—because so much of social anxiety is centered around the fear that others are judging us.

Know this: the right people in your life will appreciate you for who you are. They won’t judge you, even if you are visibly anxious. In fact, they will have empathy and compassion for you.

If people do make fun or make you feel uncomfortable, they are clearly not your people. In fact, they’re meeting diagnostic criteria for textbook rudeness. (No that’s not actually a diagnosis—sorry to disappoint—but all the same, you don’t need to accept that treatment let alone try to earn that approval).

The truth of the matter is that we’re all in our heads. We all want to be liked. We all want to be accepted—it’s human nature. It’s just when it comes to social anxiety, we’re hyper aware of this need.

Give yourself some compassion. Trust that you are a likeable, worthy person that people would love to get to know. Give others the chance to see you in all your amazingness. Your presence can make the world a better place, so don’t keep that glitter within. Shine bright, friend.