How I eased my social anxiety
Social anxiety has been a lifelong struggle for me. Initially, the prospect of living with strangers made me want to back out of going to university but, while I still have difficult moments, I now see that putting myself in this situation has made me a stronger person. Here’s how.
Before university, I couldn’t face getting a train on my own, or even walking down a busy street! But through some trial and error, I learned the best way to tackle these types of everyday tasks is head-on. I’m not saying that you should push yourself to your limit, but small moments of feeling uncomfortable add up until you realise that you have overcome your initial fear.
Whether your anxiety is about socialising with new people, going out on your own, or putting yourself out there, the key is gradual exposure. It’s scary and often challenging, but it opens a world of opportunities and possibilities for you to enrich your life.
I began with spending half an hour each evening socialising with my new flatmates or people on my course. After a while I no longer felt anxious, and wanted to challenge myself further. I decided that once a week I would reach out to one of my new friends and make some plans. This was tough for me as I feared rejection, but, with time, it became more natural.
Gradual exposure only works if you’re continually challenging yourself. Once something becomes easier for you (and with practice, it will), you need to push those boundaries while allowing yourself to feel anxious, knowing it will subside.
Taking time for myself, but keeping it balanced
Having some me-time when you need it - whether that’s exercising, reading, or watching Netflix alone - helps make everyday tasks feel less overwhelming, and allows for more energy to be spent on socialising. It’s a great time to reflect and listen to our bodies and minds.
However, balance is needed. On multiple occasions, I realised I was isolating myself under the guise of having ‘me-time’. In reality, I was allowing my social anxiety to control me. When I noticed this, I started keeping a journal of my feelings and how I spent my day. Over time I saw patterns appear. If I spent most of my days alone with little social contact, I felt more anxious and down than the days when I pushed myself to socialise. This wasn’t a surprise - we all need connection and company in order to thrive.
Getting professional help
At one point, my social anxiety was affecting every area of my life. I couldn’t focus at school, build or maintain relationships, or find the courage to go and get a job. This was when I decided it was time to see my GP and see what support was out there. I ended up getting referred to therapy, and the awareness and skills picked up through this is the reason I have been able to come to university and make new friends.
Opening up to flatmates
Opening up to friends and family about how you feel can be tough, but doing so makes it easier for them to support you. I was terrified to tell my flatmates about my anxiety, but once I did it made me feel much more comfortable. They understood why I was sometimes quiet or didn’t feel like hanging out, and this helped to put my mind at ease. Sometimes a little reassurance can go a long way.
Through gradual exposure, balancing my me-time with social time, and opening up to both a therapist and my friends, I’ve changed my life for the better. I still suffer from social anxiety, but I continue to work hard every day. The strength I now have as a person is owed to the hurdles that I have overcome. The friends I have made at university will remain with me for years to come, and I hope this article has given you hope that this can happen for you too; social anxiety doesn’t have to burden you forever.