Everyone experiences social anxiety differently and has different triggers.
Some people get anxious talking in front of groups, others get anxious meeting new people — and some get anxious about a million things in between.
But one thing most people can agree on is that college can be a literal minefield for anyone with social anxiety.
So here are some tips that might help with a little or a lot of what makes you anxious at school. For more general advice on protecting your mental health in college, check out this post.
1. First, realize that social anxiety isn’t all or nothing — so it’s helpful to identify exactly what your triggers are.
It’s easy to say that social situations make you nervous, but it’s usually more complicated than that — and it can help you feel less overwhelmed to make that distinction.
Think about which situations typically make you anxious and which ones actually aren’t so bad, suggests Regine Galanti, director of The Center for Anxiety in Brooklyn.
2. But whatever you do, don’t avoid all the situations that make you anxious.
~Get out of your comfort zone~ can feel like the worst advice ever when you have social anxiety, because hello, yeah, if it were that easy, you wouldn’t be anxious in the first place.
But actually, the more you do something, the less anxious you’re going to feel about it and vice versa.
3. Remind yourself that eating meals doesn’t have to be a social event. No one cares if you’re sitting alone.
“It’s totally okay to eat by yourself. Eating is just something you have to do! There’s no shame in fitting it into your schedule even if it means being alone.” —Kellen Dempsey, Facebook
4. In fact, sitting alone might make it easier for other nice people to approach you.
“A lot of the time, people will come over to you and strike up a conversation. I’ve met several people that way! There’s no reason why you should make yourself uncomfortable by approaching people. Let things happen naturally. You’re interesting and that will show.” —ysabeauc
5. Learn a cool party trick that you can whip out in social situations.
6. Leave the door open for people to socialize with you. Literally.
Seriously, leave your door open if you’re just hanging around your dorm.
It’s an easy, passive way to make yourself approachable and invite some socialization — even if you don’t really feel up to making the first move.
7. Write down talking points before classes where participation counts toward your grade.
Think of it as just another step of homework for that class so that it becomes automatic. “Being as prepared as possible makes it so you don’t have to deal with both not knowing the material and your anxiety of speaking about it,” says Galanti.
8. Find your campus mental health center and check in with a therapist before you need one.
9. Get participation points through asking questions instead of answering them.
“This is a little hack I learned around my junior year after struggling through discussion sections. It’s not that I didn’t know the material, I just worried too much about sounding stupid or garbling up my answer to actually speak up. Asking questions was less intimidating and easier to rehearse beforehand, but it showed my professors and TAs that I was engaged.”
10. Lower your expectations for yourself in social situations, because chances are, they’re way too high.
“It becomes a matter of: ‘I want to be really interesting and charming and funny and witty. I don’t want to sweat or blush. I don’t want to show any outward signs of any kind of anxiety at all.’ And those just aren’t reasonable.”
Instead, concentrate on small goals — like showing up, starting a conversation, making a contact — and celebrate those victories. The ~ease~ will come later.
11. Get a study group together for low-pressure socializing.
12. Figure out what your social goals actually are.
College puts a lot of pressure on socializing and meeting a million new people, but guess what? It’s totally OK if you don’t want that. What’s important is that you know what you do want so you can work toward it, says Galanti.
Do you want to be someone who goes to every party? Do you want to make a few close friends? Do you just want to keep your head down and get through classes without combusting during presentations? Mull it over.
13. Then make a few small, attainable goals that will help you eventually achieve your bigger goal.
“For example, if you want to make a few good friends, tell yourself you’re going to introduce yourself to three new people a day in class,” says Galanti.
Or maybe you’ll make it a goal to say yes to two social invitations a week. Or to go out to a new club. Or visit your professor during office hours once a month. Small, attainable increments will add up.
14. Practice presentations during office hours before you have to do them in front of classmates.
Or try it in front of friends or even in the mirror — whatever gets you to practice. “It’s helpful to do trial runs so you’re armed with some knowledge of how it will play out,” says Hambrick.
15. Always give yourself an extra 5–10 minutes to get places — and don’t be afraid to do practice runs of routes so there are no surprises.
16. Prepare an easy out for plans you’re anxious about, just in case — like planning a coffee date right before a class or having your friend call with an “emergency” an hour into a party.
17. Have a supply of easy icebreakers or questions up your sleeve so you have one less thing to worry about when meeting new people.
18. Pay attention to your living arrangements and how they can help or hurt you.
“Going into freshman year with social anxiety, I thought I would want to live in a single room because the thought of having a roommate made me so anxious.
But then it turned out it made it easier for me to isolate myself and do nothing. Looking back, I think I would have really benefited from having a roommate that forced me to be social.” —Mary Hepburn, Facebook
19. Tell your friends what you’re going through so you have a support group.
If you’re not sure how to open up that conversation, Hambrick suggests talking to your friends about your anxiety in terms of how it makes you feel, rather than what it makes you think. Anxious thoughts can be irrational, but feelings are easier for other people to understand.
“Social anxiety makes you think that people don’t like you or will judge you,” says Hambrick. “But other people will say things like, ‘No, that’s not true,’ and that’s not necessarily reassuring to someone with anxiety.
But if you’re saying, ‘I just feel out of control, I feel like it’s hard to talk in class, I feel so uncomfortable when I go to parties,’ that stuff is hard to argue with and it can also recruit better support from your friends. It gives people more constructive guidelines of how to be responsive to you.”
20. Watch how much you’re drinking, because you’ll probably use alcohol to take the edge off socializing sometimes.
Getting drunk might seem like a great tool for dealing with your social anxiety — liquid courage, etc. — but it’s really not, says Galanti.
With anxiety especially, if you use alcohol as a social lubricant, you’ll probably wind up regretting it the next day — and most likely feeling even more anxious about the things you did while drunk.
21. Actually go to the club fair and sign up for something that sounds interesting.
22. Download an app that’ll help you deal.
There are tons of helpful apps for living with anxiety. MindShift (shown), for example, offers strategies for facing anxieties related to socializing and school.
23. Make friends with an extrovert.
“Having a friend who is more outgoing and comfortable than you is a lifesaver for anxiety, because they do the hard work for you. Then you slip in there after the ice is broken and meet people.” —Ellen Parsons, Facebook
24. Connect with other people on campus living with mental illness.
25. And finally, understand that getting rid of your anxiety isn’t the goal; learning to live with it is.
“Anxiety’s OK. It’s human,” says Galanti. “It’s not about achieving zero anxiety. It’s about learning how to be able to do things anyway, showing yourself you can do it, and being the person you want to be while you feel anxious.”