Life of a College Student with Social Anxiety Disorder

What It's Like to Live with SAD as a College Student

Unhappy teenage boy leaning over rural bridge.
Socially anxious teens need lots of support. Mark Webster / Getty Images

As a continuation of the "day in the life" series, this article describes firsthand what it is like to live with social anxiety disorder (SAD) as a college or university student. This account is based on books (including "What You Must Think of Me" by Emily Ford and "Fear is No Longer My Reality" by Jamie Blythe) as well as stories from readers of this website.

Perhaps you are a college student and this story sounds a lot like you.

Or, maybe you are the friend, parent, or professor of someone you believe may suffer with social anxiety disorder. If so, maybe you will consider reaching out to that person today.

This is a fictional account and not based on the experiences of any one person.

I was terrified to start my first year of college, and it has been a struggle from the start. Although I have never made friends easily, I was at least somewhat comfortable being around the same people in high school.

Leaving for college meant leaving behind everything that I knew and starting over. For someone who suffers with social anxiety, this is my worst nightmare.

I am lucky enough to have a private dorm room. I could not imagine having to share my space with a perfect stranger, and having to make small talk day in and day out. The only drawback is that I end up spending almost all of my free time alone in my room.

Other students in my classes have started to make friends; I hear them talking about going out on the weekends and making plans. Although a part of me wants to fit in, I am also terrified of what everyone thinks of me; to the point that I freeze and can't speak when anyone tries to make friends. It's a vicious cycle that I can't seem to get out of.

When I do leave my dorm room to go to class, I talk to no one. I sit in class and worry that everyone is looking at me and judging me. Everything I do is awkward.

Sometimes I feel like I am breathing too loudly; like everyone can hear me. I can't walk naturally down the hall; I feel the eyes of everyone on me and it makes me self-concious. Do I swing my arms? Hold them still? Where do I look? And on, and on.

During class I keep my head in my books to avoid having to make conversation with other students. Giving presentations in class is my worst fear; I have had to do one so far and I know there are more coming.

I shake uncontrollably and can't catch my breath; I am sure everyone must think I am crazy. I know when we do group presentations the other students will be embarrassed that they have to work with me.

One very astute professor stopped me after class one day and asked to speak with me in his office. He told me that he was a clinical psychologist in addition to a professor and that he was trained to look for problems that people suffer with such as anxiety and depression. He asked me how I was feeling and whether I was overly worried about anything or feeling down.

I was too embarrassed to tell him the truth, so I just mumbled that I was okay. I noticed from that point onward he made a point of calling on me in class and asking difficult questions.

I think he was trying to do a bit of exposure therapy in the classroom setting; although it was uncomfortable I was actually glad someone took an interest in my problems and wanted to help. I just wish I could have been more honest with him; I might be in a different place at this point.

My mother knows something is wrong. I have missed a lot of class and my grades are slipping quite a bit.

When I went home for the holidays both she and my father tried to talk to me about what was wrong. They suggested that perhaps I should visit the university counselling center , just to "have someone to talk to."

I told them I would think about it, but I knew that I wasn't actually going to do it. The thought of telling someone... anyone... about how I was feeling was too much.

So I continue to suffer in silence. I am afraid that if I continue down the path that I am on now, I will end up leaving school. If I can't handle the social pressures and the speaking demands of academic life, I will need to make a decision.

But I am scared. If I don't finish school, won't I be a failure? How will I ever support myself? How will I find work?

My fears are very real. Beyond not finishing school, I worry about what will happen if I do graduate.

Who will hire someone with so many fears?

How will I go for interviews?

How will I handle the demands of a day-to-day job?

These are the thoughts that spin around in my head every day. When you spend a lot of time alone, it is easy for the thoughts to get out of control.

I know that I need to get help, but I don't know how to take the first step.

Perhaps one day I will gather the courage to go to the university counselling center; I think perhaps I need to hit rock bottom first, but I don't know what that is. Maybe if it gets to the point of actually leaving school I will make that decision.

I have done a lot of reading on my own about social anxiety and know that medication and therapy (such as cognitive-behavioral therapy) can be very effective.

I also believe some sort of support group would do wonders. It would feel really good to be able to talk with other people who have the same problem. Right now it feels like the whole world has life figured out except for me. It would be nice to know I am not the only one.

For now I will continue what I have been doing. I will go to class when I feel able, and try to leave my dorm room more than I have.

Although I know it is hard, I need to push myself in order to see progress. I also know that there are people who have worse social anxiety than me, and I should be grateful to have made it this far.

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