Five ways to overcome social anxiety at uni this semester

February 22, 2017
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Uni can be stressful and overwhelming at the best of times. You’re navigating new classes at the start of each semester, juggling an enormous workload and trying to maintain a personal life. There are so many people everywhere it’s hard to understand how they all fit on campus. Add a dash of social anxiety into the mix and uni can be an absolute minefield.

Thankfully, there are ways to cope with and conquer social anxiety disorders to make things like uni life just that little bit easier. From someone who’s dealt with it for longer than I can remember, here are five of my go-to tricks.

Work out what’s scaring the crap out of you

You might be afraid people won’t like you or that you’ll just straight up embarrass yourself no matter what the circumstance is. Whatever it is, sit down before uni starts and write a list of all the things that make you anxious and what you can do to make yourself less uncomfortable in those situations.

For example, I always felt awkward and self-conscious AF when put at the centre of attention in tutes, so I never spoke up or asked questions. This ended up putting me behind in class, so I wrote a list of goals for the semester, things like ‘say something in a tute once a week’, and after sticking with them it made me realise how irrational my fear was.

Smile and make eye contact with familiar people

Whether it’s that girl from that tute you always see around or the barista at your favourite coffee place, push yourself to smile and make eye contact with them. It’s a small step, but it will make you more approachable and it’s a great way to practise interacting with strangers – something you unfortunately have to do while at uni.

Just like mastering anything, becoming comfortable in social environments takes practice. Avoiding social settings is only going to set you back.

Recognise the anxious thoughts

According to beyondblue, 15.4 per cent of Australians aged 16 to 24 have experienced an anxiety disorder in some form over the last year. So just remember having a social phobia is actually common and you’re not alone.

Having said that, accepting your new status as ‘normal’ doesn’t change the fact that anxiety can continue to cause negative thoughts. The only way to combat them is to challenge them and think rationally.

Chances are you’re personalising what is happening so it feels like all eyes are on you, or you’re blowing what someone has said way out of proportion. While these are stock standard things for anxious people, remember to recognise what you’re doing so you can work on it later.

Focus all your attention on other people

Everyone loves talking about themselves and you can use this to your advantage. When talking to a new person, channel all your energy into what they’re saying, be the best listener ever and ask a whole heap of questions.

This takes almost all the pressure off you to keep the conversation going and the other person will have a great time talking to you without you being in the spotlight. It’s a win-win.

Don’t avoid social settings

Just like mastering anything, becoming comfortable in social environments takes practice. Avoiding social settings is only going to set you back. Pushing yourself to join a society or attend uni events will help you get used to talking to new people. Plus, you’ll probably make some new friends and great memories.

It’s a hard mountain to climb, but don’t let your anxiety hold you back or make you miss out on essential uni experiences.

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If you or someone you know is experiencing anxiety, you can find help by seeking advice from a counsellor or calling Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Penny Robinson

Penny is a Philosophy and Media and Communications student at the University of Melbourne. She enjoys travelling, snacking, and not going to the gym.

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