How Do I Get Help for Social Anxiety at College?

Getting Help for Social Anxiety Disorder at College or University

Learn how to manage social anxiety at college.
College can bring out social fears. Getty / Oivind Hovland

If you are struggling with social anxiety disorder (SAD) at college, it can be difficult to manage the everyday aspects of being a student, such as making new friends and attending classes. Below are some questions you may have about getting help for SAD while attending college.

Am I Alone?

In a 2007 report, the Anxiety Disorders Association of America indicated that use of mental health services was increasing at college campuses across the United States.

Chances are good that other students feel the same way that you do.

What is Social Anxiety Disorder?

If you have lived anxiety for a long time, it may be hard to understand that your symptoms are a diagnosable illness that can be treated. If you have not already been diagnosed, a good place to start is to read about the symptoms of SAD and criteria for diagnosis.

How Will Having SAD Affect me at College or University?

From approaching professors to making new friends and initiating romantic relationships, much of campus life is social. If your SAD is left untreated, all aspects of your college experience may be affected.

Academics: You may find it hard to participate in class, ask questions, get help with homework, join study groups, give presentations, and approach professors.

Social Activities: You may be less likely to participate in clubs and sports, to initiate friendships or romantic relationships, and to stand up for yourself in difficult situations.

Alcohol Abuse: Students with severe SAD are at increased risk for developing problem drinking if alcohol is used as a coping strategy.

Where do I Get Help?

SAD is a highly treatable disorder with medication and/or therapy.

As a student, you may have access to an on-campus mental health center. Often, these will be staffed with therapists, psychologists, or student interns, and will offer a variety of services such as individual and group therapy.

Therapy is usually short term and may be free or available for a fee.

If your college or university does not have a mental health center, look for a medical center either on campus or in the community and ask for a referral to a mental health professional.

Another alternative is to investigate whether the psychology or psychiatry department at your school offers counseling or medication as part of ongoing research studies.

Often, these types of studies are posted on the departments' websites. Participation is generally anonymous and they will assess your symptoms to ensure that the treatment are appropriate for your situation.

Sources:

Anxiety Disorders Association of America. An Audit of Mental Health Care at U.S. Colleges and Universities: Focus on Anxiety Disorders. Accessed January 27, 2016.

Coping with social anxiety disorder (SAD) at college can be difficult. Receiving a proper diagnosis and treatment is important in managing SAD. The first line of treatment for social anxiety disorder (SAD) is usually medication and/or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). However, as a college or university student, you can do additional things on your own while receiving treatment. Think about using these strategies as you progress through treatment and begin to feel more comfortable in social situations:

Building Friendships

  • smile, nod or say hello to classmates
     
  • make comments about assignments or exams to a nearby classmate; repeat this process at each class gradually including more classmates until it seems more natural to talk with them
     
  • as you feel more comfortable, bring up the idea of a study group or getting together for recreation
     
  • if getting to know others in class is difficult, consider joining a service organization on campus; working together with others toward a common goal is a great way to get to know people
     
  • consider approaching others who seem shy or nervous; they may be less intimidating

Body Language and Speech

  • maintain frequent eye contact with others
  • have a relaxed but alert posture
  • practice speaking in a moderately loud voice

Conversation Topics

  • give compliments
  • read up on current events and campus news
  • be a curious listener, ask open-ended questions starting with why, how, what, or when

    Class Presentations

    Most people get butterflies before speaking in front of a group. However, the initial nervousness usually subsides as they begin speaking and become involved in their topic and with the audience. The opposite tends to happen with people who have SAD. They remain nervous during their speech and became focused on their own anxiety symptoms such as a quivering voice, dry mouth, blushing, rapid heartbeat, and feelings of dread and panic.

    You will probably at some point be required to give a presentation. If you suffer from severe performance anxiety, behavioral therapy such as systemic desensitization can be helpful. You can also do several things on your own to help lessen the impact of your anxiety:

    • If possible, choose a topic that you are really passionate about so that you will get enjoyment from sharing your knowledge.
       
    • Try to get the audience involved at the beginning of your presentation to take some pressure off of yourself. Some activities that you could include at the beginning of your talk are asking your audience's opinion on a topic, having them break into small groups to discuss an issue, or asking for a volunteer to help you demonstrate some aspect of your presentation.

    Positive Lifestyle Coping Strategies

    Some positive coping strategies that you can start using today include:

    Exercise: Regular exercise is good for maintaining both a health mind and body. Choose an activity that you will stick with and enjoy.

    Go for a walk or jog, try out that new yoga video or just play some frisbee! Your college or university may even offer on-campus facilities or exercise classes -- with the added bonus of the chance to make some new friends.

    Proper Nutrition: The typical student diet can wreak havoc with your health. Try to eat regular meals and snacks throughout the day, and avoid caffeine and sugar when possible as these may aggravate anxiety.

    As a student with SAD you will face more challenges at college or university. But with proper diagnosis, treatment and coping strategies, your odds of having a fulfilling experience are very high.

    Sources:

    Anxiety Disorders Association of America.

    University of Texas at Dallas. Self-Help: Overcoming Social Anxiety Disorder. 7 October 2007.

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