University is a time where we start over - new school, new friends, and new challenges. This can be one of the scariest things to experience and having social anxiety makes it twice, even three times, as hard.
I remember the nights leading up to my first day of fresher’s week. My mum and aunt accompanied me on the trip to the UK so I could bring extra baggage and whilst they were excited for me and couldn’t stop talking about my life here, I could not be more quiet.
All I could think about was “Will I make any friends ?”, “Will they like me”, “Will this be like high school all over again ?”, “Will I succeed at University or disappoint my family?”.
I remember calling my parents routinely at 2 AM, after my family had left the UK, just to feel less anxious about not making friends yet. I remember feeling sad because I see everyone else somehow finding friends so easily and going out to parties and yet I wasn’t.
It’s been 4 years since this moment and looking back all I can remember was how amazing my university life was and how funny life turned out as I was blessed with a small but an amazing set of friends during my time there. With them by my side, I was able to grow my confidence in facing tough situations and even help me learn how to manage my mental health.
I know having social anxiety can feel like a challenge when facing situations that force you to go out of your comfort zone like fresher’s week. It’s also normal to feel like you need to avoid the situation to not feel as anxious but sometimes this can be a double edge sword which could lead to missing out on important parts of university.
If you feel like your social anxiety is getting the best of you during fresher’s week or beyond, here are some things I learned along my journey that really helped me manage my social anxiety and I hope will help you too:
Challenge yourself to interact:
As best as you can and without judgement, set yourself a goal to talk to the person standing or sitting next to you during class or social situations or even through an online forum. You can start with small conversations about the experience at fresher’s week. It’s important to remember that they are most likely in the same position as you and trying to make new friends of their own. When you grow more confident, you can start going to bigger, in-person events outside of school obligations. The key here is to dip your toe in to the pool and not cannon-ball in, so do so as comfortable.
Be kind to yourself:
Please remind yourself that it’s normal to feel like it can be difficult to socialise and should always find ways to be kind to yourself in the process. A great question you can put it into perspective is: What would I do if I was to advise myself like I would a good friend? Usually we judge ourselves very harshly and this question helps to treat ourselves like we would treat others who we care about.
Stick to a healthy routine:
Having a healthy routine that works for you can help with managing general levels of stress and anxiety. This might look like some exercise in the morning, a power nap in the afternoon, or even to taking evening walks can be beneficial in boosting your mood throughout the day. When you’re in a good mood, this can also positively impact your social interactions. Not to mention, it teaches you to have discipline in yourself and can help you when you’re feeling the pressures of school.
Did you know that 90% of serotonin, also called the ‘happiness chemical’, is primarily produced in the digestive tract? (source)) You can increase your serotonin levels by keeping your gut is healthy what will have a positive impact on your mood. Eating well doesn’t mean to only eat salads or vegetables but rather maintaining a good balance in your nutrient intake. You can do this by cooking or prepping meals with good amounts of protein with your vegetables and carbohydrates and switching it through the week. In fact, for some people, prepping and cooking for meals can be quite therapeutic. But don’t forget to enjoy other meals outside of home-cooked food, treat yourself from time to time. You can also consider eating certain vitamins and foods that are higher in nutrients such as the vitamin B complex (e.g., vitamin B12 supplement, chickpea, salmon, etc.)
Check out Your Student Counselling Services:
This is an important service you can seek out early on. These services were so helpful when I was a first year international student as they guided me through my emotional feelings and provided me resources that helped me manage my mental health throughout the year. For some people, there might still be a stigma towards counselling however it is important to remember that there is no shame in this as talking to a professional can actually be very freeing and validating in a way that boosts perspective and emotions.
Do activities by yourself:
This might be a counter-intuitive one but I’ve learnt that enjoying my own presence in activities where I’m by myself has really helped me build confidence in myself and ignore outside thoughts or opinions that don’t matter. Take yourself on a date to a cafe, to the park, or go shopping. By doing things by yourself, you learn more about yourself that you can share with other people later on.
When you feel ready to take the next step of meeting new people, I find that one way to meet like-minded people is through joining societies that you have a passion or interest in. When you meet these people, it can be easier to make conversation as you already share a common interest and you never know, you might find yourself more similar than you thought.
Put your best foot forward with the best version of yourself. I know sometimes it feels like you need to put a mask to bond with others but I learned that it’s when I am actually just being myself is when I find people who share my quirks and humour!
Everyone’s experience will no doubt be different from person to person but it’s extremely important to remember that you are not alone in this.
So, enjoy your experience as much as you can and take it day by day. In a few years I hope you’ll feel just as amazed at how far you’ve come.
Feel free to react and share your comments below on your own fresher' experience ❤️