Social anxiety can be defined as the fear of interacting with others due to anticipation of negative judgement. It is common during the early years of university, especially if you don’t know anyone on campus and are struggling with your own problems of low self-confidence.
In my first year at the University of Saskatchewan, I was a shy and introverted person with stuttering problems. My heart would palpitate in fear when I was asked to introduce myself. I would never raise my hand during class discussions and would quickly walk out when the class was over.
By the time I was in my third year, I had made a friend on campus because of our mutual interest in psychology. She talked to me and made me feel comfortable, and I began to express myself. While this was going on, I was also getting more comfortable interacting with strangers by working part-time at Walmart for a couple of years.
As I started my fourth year as an honours student, my passion for research drove me to overcome my social anxiety and engage in undergraduate research on campus. I became an associate editor for the U of S Undergraduate Research Journal and a research assistant in my faculty supervisors’ lab. I also contacted a sociology professor, who gave me an opportunity to be a guest speaker in her class.
I recently participated in the Undergraduate Project Symposium, and my confidence was also boosted when I won third prize in the social sciences, humanities and fine arts category. I received these opportunities because of my ability to overcome social anxiety, my strong passion for research and my interpersonal communication skills.
Social anxiety is normal but can limit career opportunities for students. Instead of getting involved on campus from the beginning of my undergraduate life, I chose to keep myself isolated.
I believe that the common system of networking negatively disadvantages socially anxious students. For example, when a student emails a professor to seek opportunities, most professors may not respond if they don’t know the student well.
Campus career fairs require students to present themselves to professionals in a public setting — which is quite a frightening situation for those of us with social anxiety. An excellent alternative to this would be to have professionals come to campus for a day of individual interviews with students.
In closing, I recommend that students with social anxiety seek opportunities in the following ways:
1. Make contact with your professors so that they remember you if they need assistance with their research work.
2. Don’t confine yourself within your department, but instead email other professors if their research areas interest you.
3. When you have a community-based learning opportunity in a course, go for it.
4. Browse through the university’s web pages, and inquire about various ways you can get involved on campus. A good source of information for student opportunities in university research is the Undergraduate Research Initiative’s web page.
5. Talk to individuals who you think could mentor you through your academic journey and give you advice on how to make the best use of the opportunities available to you.
6. Attend career fairs with friends who can motivate you to get over your anxiety.
7. Try to mitigate your social anxiety by focusing more on your long-term goals.
8. If you are feeling overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to contact someone for professional help. The Student Wellness Centre on campus, or any medical professional or counsellor, can help either by offering coping strategies or medical treatments.
Reducing social anxiety is not easy, for sure, but it’s not impossible either. People will generally be willing to help you out and work with you in a way that makes you feel more comfortable. University is a perfect place to shape your future if you are brave, diligent and seek out support from those around you.
Graphic: Mike T.