Tracy Fields Counselling

University and Social Anxiety

One of the worst things for me in university was walking into a class that already had students in it. The idea of all eyes on me as I walked in was so overwhelming. I found this so frustrating and confusing.

My heart would be racing, I would quickly scan to find a seat away from others, I would do my best to avoid eye contact so I didn’t have to talk to anyone. It felt as if I was dealing with about 1000 little pieces of information and had to quickly make decisions that felt life-threatening.

Once I found a seat, sometimes it would take me the whole class to calm down. If it was a longer class, I then also had to contend with the break, meaning idle chit chat or looking busy so no one would notice how paralyzed I felt inside.

And what if I ran into a fellow student in the bathroom or the coffee line up??? Do I pretend I don’t see them??? Do I say hi and then look away to indicate I don’t want to talk? Do I try my best to have what should be a simple conversation???

Sometimes the worry of this was enough to keep me seated during break, but sometimes it was worse…it seemed no matter my choice, the anxiety showed up either way.

When I would head home after class, I felt deep shame and embarrassment. I often left the class not having talked to anyone. I wanted to connect with my classmates, I wanted to discuss what we were learning. I wanted to be part of this group. But I just couldn’t get the anxiety to calm down or the negative self talk to go away so I could just be myself.

People in my classes learned who I was; this quiet, awkward, strange woman. I know this wasn’t who I was but just couldn’t show up as myself.

And I felt like a failure, such a failure.

I’m guessing the only reason I didn’t drop out was my love for helping people. I knew I wanted to be a therapist; I knew that this was how I wanted to spend my life. So I continued and was so relieved to finally graduate.

Why university was hard for me

  1. Most universities are large, meaning lots of students. The more people, the more stimulation. The more stimulation, the more we are drained as introverts.
  2. With so many people, it can be hard to connect and make friends. This can mean for some introverts, they can go the whole school term with not knowing anyone well. This leads to feeling invisible. Feeling invisible on an ongoing basis can lead to depression and anxiety.
  3. Some introverts struggle with asking for help. University is a new way to learn, and often the expectations of assignments are much higher. When we need help but don’t ask for it, we struggle. After a while, it might seem that it’s best just to give up.

Tips on how to succeed at university

One reason introverts struggle is that we try to live like an extrovert, meaning we try to do what we see them doing. This might mean always trying to be with people. Pretty quickly you will likely be drained. Once we are drained, we then avoid people. So any relationships we were starting to form, might be lost as the person has moved on to building connections with others.

To help with this, it’s important to make sure you are taking care of yourself, meaning taking time on your own. You might feel weird about choosing to eat lunch on your own or choosing to stay in on the weekend to recharge but it can be well worth it.

What I have discovered for myself is that when I do things on my own that I enjoy, I find it so much easier to be social.

If you are interested in a bit of support in learning how to do some self-care, here’s a link to sign up to receive a worksheet that I use with my clients: