In my first year, I didn’t go out too much (nor did my introverted self make any extra attempts to socialise). But, I certainly enjoyed my evenings out; meeting new people and grabbing meals. Second year came, and, despite prior mental health issues, the new rush of anxiety when invited to an event where I did not know all of the attendees always threw me. Signing up for new societies (read: any group that had new people) had me far too stressed to be a normal reaction. It was then the psychology student in me self-diagnosed my social anxiety, which was very different to just being introverted.
#SpoonTip: Don’t be afraid to go to a doctor or counsellor about any issues you may be having - they really can help!
Social anxiety is the most common anxiety disorder. It refers to anxiety (fear, discomfort, worry) about interactions, social situations and the opinions of other people. Most people reading this can probably relate, to an extent. However, my fears suddenly increased when I realized that this didn’t match the "sociable" person my friends perceived me as with who I actually am. After all, what did it matter if I turned down a group meal? I was constantly grabbing coffee with people.
For me these types of socialising have huge differences. Coffee with one person meant their full attention (read: not worried about being left out of the conversation at any point). In contrast, group meals meant a possibility of having to make uncomfortable small talk with strangers.
Nights out left me having panic attacks, and, eventually, I just stayed at home. Joking about being a hermit wasn't quite so funny anymore. That’s not saying people with social anxiety can’t make friends or talk to strangers, it's just that it pushes them way out of their comfort zones.
I grew anxious about speaking in groups with people I didn’t know; even in tutorial groups, for fear of what others thought of me (read: I panic when people look at me while speaking) and that was difficult to deal with, especially with the way the University of St Andrews curriculum is structured. I enjoy making friends and suddenly I physically couldn't.
Having now entered my third year I can’t say I have done much about my newfound anxiety. I attempted to go to a pub quiz with summer co-workers – which resulted in calling two of my university friends and downing vodka to get through. Strangely, this was a sort of win for me. I didn't have to go home early nor did I have a panic attack.
#SpoonTip: Drinking is not a good way to self-medicate or have handled this situation (something I ignored at the time).
But I have made an effort to push myself out of my comfort zone.
Talking to groups of freshers shouldn’t be a big issue, but sometimes it can be, and I’ve persevered. Equally, going out to new society events has been difficult, but being open about my issues means that I have managed to explain my actions to a few of my friends who are willing to let me drag them places.
I have found that I can get around anxiety by finding a comfort zone (coffee one-on-ones) or creating one by bringing friends along. It's also okay to stay at home and not go out, because you don’t have to push yourself all the time, but there’s nothing wrong with trying.