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September 03, 2022

Everyone feels anxious entering into new, unknown settings however, some feel more anxious than others. Whilst this article is aimed at those entering university, the messages and methods discussed can be applied to everyone going into new social settings and for those in known social settings but who have always found them difficult to navigate.

A freshers guide to tackling social anxiety

The idea of university Freshers week is terrifying. You are dropped in a new environment, often a city that you have never been to before, full of new people and a new structure. There are huge expectations, both good and bad, for what your university experience will hold. These expectations are multiplied ten-fold for those with social anxiety.

What is social anxiety?

A helpful way of understanding social anxiety is by imaging that there is a little monster sat on your shoulder telling you all the horrible things that could happen when you socialise. These thoughts must be confronted for what they are – thoughts. Social anxiety tells us that all the terrible things we can think of going wrong can and will go wrong. These intrusive thoughts can also be accompanied by physical side-effects such as shaking, panic attacks, breathing difficulties, and nausea.

Social anxiety effects everyone differently so it’s important to understand

d why you feel this way. When you feel panicked, try asking yourself some questions: is it because there are too many people? Is it because you don’t know anyone here? What is your brain telling you? What physical feelings are you experiencing? This questioning will help you pin-point what exactly is causing you to feel this way and then you can begin to tackle the problem head on.

How can we tackle social anxiety?

Situations like Freshers present a real challenge, and opportunity, to tackle social anxiety. So, what are the various ways that we can reduce social anxiety? I have outlined a few options below – but remember, not every method will help everyone so shop around, try one and if it doesn’t work, try another, the most important thing is that you keep trying.

Remember that others are nervous too: As much as everyone likes to remind freshers, you really are all in the same boat. Everyone is nervous. When you are chatting to new people and you feel anxious – say so. Communicating with others about your anxiety helps you open yourself up and helps others open up to you in return. Chances are that they are just as nervous as you are!

Don’t stress about making friends in the first week: It may appear that by the second day everyone is best friends and cliques are already formed and impenetrable. But remember that it’s the first few weeks – everyone wants to make as many friends as possible and friendships come in their own time.

Don’t be scared to go up to someone: Again, everyone wants to make friends so they won’t think you are weird for approaching them. Try to think of a common interest, maybe you’re in the same seminar group so you could ask them something about the reading material, or maybe you both live in the same accommodation.

Check out clubs: Freshers Fairs can be quite overwhelming as every new student is trying to pack themselves into the venue hall.  However, this should not put you off of joining a society or club altogether. Either go with a friend or check out the society pages online. Joining clubs is a great way to meet like-minded people who are interested in the same things you are. If you want to join a sports club, don’t worry about being a star athlete in it, these societies always welcome beginners. Also, don’t worry if you aren’t a big drinker; societies won’t force you to drink nor will they think any differently of you.

Don’t plan too much or too little: The Freshers schedule is normally packed with hundreds of events on top of your course inductions and seminars. Take some time to sit through and see which events you are interested in and discuss with new friends which ones they are going to. Try to push yourself and go to an event alone or make a deal with yourself to go to at least three events a week.

Set yourself goals: A way to consistently challenge your social anxiety is to set yourself goals. For example, if you notice you have not spoken to that many people, set yourself a goal of chatting to 5 new people this week, or chat to a person in a seminar. Or if you find yourself avoiding events, tell yourself you will go and stay for 30 minutes, or invite a new friend to the event with you. This provides you with small, achievable goals to aim towards, and allows you to quickly see your improvement.

Challenge your thoughts: Whenever an intrusive thought pops into your head telling you all the horrible things that could go wrong, don’t ignore it but confront it. Yes, theoretically you could fall over or spill a drink on someone, but that doesn’t mean it will happen. By questioning the logic of the thought, you can come to recognise how illogical it is. These thoughts shouldn’t stop you from going out and having fun – it’s a lot worse to miss out on opportunities than to stay at home over something that could have happened.

Keep on top of work: Anxiety over workload effects your mental health, especially social anxiety. You may be feeling stressed over learning new topics and having a busy timetable, so try scheduling times to both work and socialise. You could try combining both by chatting to someone in your course and creating a study group. Check out our article on Academic Stress for more information.

Going Forward

All new social settings are stressful and bound to make anyone with social anxiety nervous. Hopefully this article and the methods outlined will help ease any fear over the uncertainty and anxiety building over this time. Remember, pushing yourself will only benefit you and allow you to have some fun. Whilst Freshers can be scary and anxiety-inducing, it can also be exciting.

If your feelings of anxiety become worse, try talking to others. Often, mental health issues leave us feeling isolated and hopeless, but talking to those you trust will help you feel supported and empowered. Check out or article on supporting college students struggling with mental health for more information.

Therapy and counselling is an important option to consider. Counselling can help identify issues and provide effective solutions in tackling them to improve your mental health and wellbeing. MindSpace 247 is committed to breaking down the barriers to access to mental health and wellbeing services for colleges, universities and their students. Our trusted and highly skilled licensed therapists are available 24 hours a day. We can help you take the steps to improve your life, no matter what challenges you are facing in complete confidence. Get some MindSpace, call us on 0207 553 5010.