You did it! You got the grades, packed your bags and made the decision. You’re off to university, and you should be buzzing – so why do you feel so stressed?
Perhaps it’s the worry about moving, homesickness kicking in or the challenges of university-level academia. But, above all else, you may be nervous about meeting new people, finding your crowd and establishing a whole new social life.
For some, it can go even deeper and manifest as fear and panic about being immersed in new social situations – what’s known as social anxiety disorder, and it’s more than ‘shyness’.
Phychologist Dr Alison McClymont (dralisonmcclymont.com), says: “Social anxiety is the intense feeling of nervousness or thoughts of ‘threat’ related specifically to settings that involve social interaction with others.
“General anxiety is a similar sensation but it is connected to everyday thoughts or situations rather than connected to other people.
“Social anxiety is a phrase that is sometimes used flippantly but it can be a very crippling experience for the sufferer,” says McClymont. While many people occasionally worry in social situations, those with social anxiety will feel overly worried before, during and after them – often to the point where they can think of nothing else.
“They may become so distracted by the belief that the impression they are giving is negative, or that people will make negative assumptions about them without knowing them, they may suffer the physical sensations of a panic attack, or avoid any form of social interaction whatsoever,” she adds.
So, if you suffer from social anxiety and you’re heading off to uni soon, here are some coping mechanisms to try.
Lower your expectations
“Freshers week is an onslaught of new faces, new places, new experiences. For someone with social anxiety this is actually [seen as] a million times and ways they can ‘make a bad impression’, combined with the pressure of being told these will be ‘the best days of your life’- it makes for a stressful situation,” says McClymont.
“Media and society tells us that university years are supposed to be filled with parties, relationships and lifelong friendships- the reality is this is not the case for everyone, and the ‘speed dating’ experience of being thrown into a group of other young people who are also feeling the pressure of making this experience ‘count’, may mean that it takes longer than you imagined to find your feet, and find your tribe.”
Remember Freshers’ Week doesn’t define you
The first week will not define the next three or more years of your university life. You will be attending fairs and tasters, and meeting a lot of new faces, but this is just a small part of the next few years.
“Stand back and remember that this week is unlikely to be the defining moment for you in university, yes it might feel like that, when everyone is running around desperate to make new friendships and make their mark- but university is long, and it’s OK and it’s healthy to allow things to develop organically,” says McClymont.
“Its also OK to find a few people who, whilst they may not be your lifelong friends, might be good to go to a few of the Freshers’ events with. This is just one week and it doesn’t define how university will be for you, or the impression people will have of you.”
Duck out of activities if they aren’t for you
We aren’t all cut out for big nights out or huge social events, so don’t push yourself to do things you don’t want to.
McClymont says: “Take the pressure off. enjoy what activities you want to enjoy and feel free to duck out of those you don’t. Yes there will be people trying to convince to attend every activity or socialise more than you might, but remember this might be reflective of their own anxiety around ‘making a good impression’ – they don’t want to miss out, or appear ‘boring’.
“It’s OK to say, ‘No thank you’. Take time out where necessary, call the person/people who make you feel safest, and do whatever you need to recharge your batteries.”
Don’t be too hard on yourself and seek help if you need it
According to Professor John Sharry, psychotherapist and clinical director and co-founder of SilverCloud Health: “It’s really important that people with social anxiety are not too harsh on themselves. Although their anxiety may feel debilitating at times, you must be aware that these feelings are valid, and that they are unlikely to be the only one feeling this way.
“Universities have designated students to guide and support the new cohort each year – and they are there to ensure that each student has the smoothest transition into this new phase of life, as well as having fun along the way.
“Alongside a support team, there will also be wellbeing services on campus that are available for students should they have any concerns or fears from the moment they join the university, throughout their whole university career.”
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