Feeling anxious? You’re not alone.

Feeling anxious? You’re not alone.

Let’s have a conversation about social anxiety. This is obviously a bad idea, but dry your palms and stop avoiding eye contact because it won’t be that awkward to get through. College is the breeding ground of networking and establishing new connections. But for some students, just saying hi may be harder than you think.

What is social anxiety?

Social anxiety is the nervous or uncomfortable feeling people experience in social situations. The awkward stuttering, long rambling, and clammy hands you get trying to have an average conversation—small talk—is social anxiety.

It’s not uncommon. The National Social Anxiety Center (NSAC) reported the approximately 12 percent of Americans (that’s around 15 million people in this country!) will experience social anxiety at some point in their life. And even though it’s something many will experience, when it’s happening, you feel like it’s you’re all alone in the world.

Some symptoms of social anxiety may include a physically uncomfortable reaction to social situations, overthinking how you’ll approach every word you say in a conversation, or not being able to function conversationally at all.

Though these are just a few symptoms, social anxiety can look different in everyone. While you get a shaky voice speaking to a professor, someone else may fumble their words every time they meet someone new. It depends on the kinds of circumstances each person is intimidated by.

Whatever the case, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that more than 30 percent of the 15 million Americans affected will not seek treatment until about a decade after the symptoms arrive.

Officials at the NSAC suggest that the core of social anxiety is the fear of judgement. The insecurity or self-consciousness someone with social anxiety feels is a function of the fear of them being judged as awkward, an “other,” or just offbeat from everyone else. And, ironically, the reaction to that fear is often what causes the awkwardness.

Being socially anxious in college

Being socially anxious as a kid might can be brushed off as being shy, but once you’re standing in front of a lecture hall giving a presentation in college, it’s clear that the problem is bigger than shyness or intimidation. There are so many triggers around a college campus that a student with social anxiety has to face in order to succeed not only in their classes, but personally as well. And the added pressure coming from mandatory class presentations and daily interactions with new faces is no help.

The NASC points out some of these common occurrences students see on a regular that may trigger someone with social anxiety. Performing for an audience, interviewing for a job, presenting, asking or answering questions in class— the list goes on. A major issue is that those uncomfortable situations can negatively impact students’ grades if they suffer from anxiety.

For example, someone with social anxiety is most likely going to drown in a group-work situation. Communicating extensively, sharing ideas and arranging to meet up outside of class can all become overwhelming and extreme triggers for someone with social anxiety.

Students’ defense mechanism of maybe staying quiet or never having strong input can come off as carelessness or failure to prepare with the other group members. And even past that, if it’s a presentation, they may not have the skills to contribute to the conversation at the right points, so it’s all a potentially detrimental process.

But casual social settings are often inevitable in college. Partying, meeting friends for lunch or even talking to a roommate can be stressful for someone struggling with social anxiety, often prompting students to miss out on important social experiences. The stress can put a damper on a student’s social life if it’s difficult for them to reach out and get to know more people.

Taking yourself out of social anxiety

While social anxiety isn’t like a common cold you can just get rid of in a couple days, there are some ways you can work at feeling more comfortable in social situations. What’s more is that even though clinical help is the best first step to take, there are things you can do that may be a little more feasible on a college budget.

Firstly, share your thoughts. A friend, a professor, a coworker or anyone who can stand by your side during social engagements can be a useful resource if they know what you’re struggling with. A friend my help introduce you to some people they know you’ll mesh well with. A professor may be little more understanding of you struggling in class discussions and not fail you on presentation requirements. It may be difficult to talk to someone, but it’s important to remember that social anxiety is a common phenomenon and nothing to be ashamed of.

Finally, here’s the last thing someone with social anxiety wants to hear. Put yourself out there! Start out simple but encourage yourself to build up to larger social situations and challenge yourself to talk and interact with more people.

One good conversation does not make a social butterfly, but it goes a long way for your confidence. Start slow, like by asking a question to your professor one-on-one to spark a small exchange or just greet whoever you sit next to in class, or learn to smile at passersby.

Whatever the case, social anxiety does not have to be the end of your social life, academically or personally. With clinical options, as well as personal strides you can make to step out of your comfort zone little by little, networking, making friends and working collaboratively is still possible.

This is part of a collection of new Feature Articles online. Read last week’s Feature Article, Swing Into Spring.