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Starting college with social anxiety disorder

This time of year students are receiving offers to go to college which should signify a new phase of their lives. Unfortunately for those young adults with social anxiety disorder it does not disappear just because they are starting college and often it can get worse if not addressed. All too often people will say things like “ah they are just shy and college will change that”, “sure everyone that goes to college makes friends automatically” or worse still “when you go out drinking you will feel better and make friends”. These are not the words of people that know what it is like to live with social anxiety.

If you or someone you know is thinking of starting college this year, we have provided some practical tips below which should help you on your journey to having a happier, more productive and less anxious college experience. Note; These tips very much apply to people that have started college already and may be returning after the summer holidays;

• You are not the only person that feels this way. Social anxiety disorder is an extremely common condition that affects at least 1 in 8 people. Not only are you not the only person in the college feeling this way but there will also be numerous people in your course who live with social anxiety.

• When most students start college it can be easy to be drawn into relying on alcohol for social interactions. It cannot be overstated how important it is to know from early on that alcohol is not a cure for social anxiety disorder. It may provide a temporary reprieve in social settings for your anxiety however it will only make your day to day anxiety worse and result in a dependence that may be difficult to escape from.

• Find out who your college welfare officer is and what support services are available i.e. one to one counselling. Often these services will be free for students or will be offered at a greatly reduced cost. Availing of dedicated services early on in your college experience will make an untold difference to your mental health & wellbeing as it provides an opportunity to openly discuss your social anxiety and understand how the condition affects you.

• Club & society days provide an excellent opportunity to meet people that have similar interests to you and often lead to friendships that will last through your entirely college journey and beyond. These are usually held at the start of the college year and can ensure that you have an outlet to interact with other people outside of your course.

• Try not to compare yourself to others. It is easy to look at people that seem to make friends and socialise easily with envy however this will in no way help you. Concentrate on making the positive changes that you have control over to make your experience one that makes you happy.

• Try to identify and begin to understand what your main triggers for social anxiety are i.e. it may be particularly bad when someone you don’t know speaks to you, giving a presentation in a class, walking to college, etc.

• Making small, attainable goals linked to your triggers that will eventually help you achieve your bigger goal. These goals may range from speaking to new people where possible, take up a new hobby that involves interacting with others, participating more in classes that you attend or others that are important to you.

• Focus on the positive interactions and experiences that you have rather than those that didn't go as planned. Concentrating on the positive will make each day more manageable and allow you to reflect on things you done well.

• If you are living away from home, try to avoid shutting yourself away in your room all evening and not interacting with those that you live with. This will only make you feel more anxious in a place that you should feel at ease in. If you are eating or completing an assignment try to make an extra effort to do this in the common area where possible.

• Always remember that having social anxiety disorder does not have to define your college experience but rather it can mark the point that you take control over your social anxiety. It does not make you any less intelligent, funny, caring, imaginative, and helpful or countless other traits that do make up the person you are. Social anxiety disorder is a battle you will win once you begin taking the right steps but like many of life’s battles these are steps which you must begin yourself.

Step Out Ireland support groups are available in Dublin, Cork & Limerick for anyone that is 18 or older. The latest events can be found here and take place throughout the year.

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