How Do I Get Help for Social Anxiety Disorder at College?

Social anxiety can be a problem at college.
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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.

You Are Not Alone

According to a 2011 national survey, more than 62 percent of students with mental health problems who withdrew from college did so because of those issues. Anxiety disorders are among the most prevalent mental health problems experienced by college students today.

Understanding 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 Having SAD Will Affect You 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 social anxiety are at increased risk for developing problem drinking if alcohol is used as a coping strategy.

How to Get Help

SAD is a highly treatable disorder with medication and/or therapy. Receiving a proper diagnosis and treatment is important in managing this illness. The first line of treatment is usually medication and/or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

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 is appropriate for your situation.

Coping with SAD at College

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 healthy 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 on your health. Try to eat regular meals and snacks throughout the day, and avoid caffeine and sugar when possible as these may aggravate anxiety.

A Word From Verywell

As a student with social anxiety disorder, you will face more challenges at college or university. However, with proper diagnosis, treatment, and coping strategies, your odds of having a fulfilling experience are very high. Remember to take every day as it comes, be mindful of your anxious thoughts, and focus on your goals both in terms of your education, making friends, and growing as an individual.

View Article Sources
  • Anxiety and Depression Association of America. College Students.
  • University of Texas at Dallas. Self-Help: Overcoming Social Anxiety Disorder.