Dealing with social anxiety as a student made me who I am today.

Everyone has this notion that the so-called “student life” is vibrant and care-free where you get to party all week, skip classes and still meet your deadlines, well some deadlines. But that is not always the case. As far as I see it, student life presents itself with three main challenges.

Firstly, there is adapting. The move from a familiar space like high school to a whole new world on campus can be daunting. It’s about revisiting your own personal social skills all over again. How does one speak to a complete stranger, or start a positive relationship with lecturers and more importantly, get around on campus.

Secondly, you have to establish your role as a student. You could be the fun fanatic that lives on the edge and has a social group on campus that becomes a priority. You could be the dedicated student that lives in the library and has the lecturer on speed dial. You could even do both if you have your time management down to the tee, however, I find this could be slightly impossible.

Lastly, confidence is key! We’ve all heard that saying before. Confidence is the foundation of one’s self-esteem. Unfortunately, not everybody knows how to make this happen. That’s where I come in.

Introducing, social anxiety.  The basic definition for social anxiety is the fear of social situations that involve interaction with other people. It is an inescapable disorder that affects almost every aspect of one’s life.

I have never struggled with the whole anxiety thing before. I’m generally the easy-going type, always avoiding conflict yet open to the environment around me. Making friends came easy in school mostly because I spent most of my time there.

It was not until I got into university that my world seemed a little more foreign to me. I found it extremely hard to get myself out there, to enjoy the buzz and make the best of my experience. Instead I withdrew myself because I could not understand what was going on.

At first I thought the whole varsity vibe was stupid and unnecessary to get into, I had convinced myself of this, but actually, it was just me. I realised for the first time that I could not adapt, I could not establish my role in this big institution, I lacked simple confidence. How did this happen? I wish the universe would tell me.

The thing is, something as simple as the fear of adapting to an unknown world may not seem like a big deal to some, but to others, like myself, it consumed me. It did not knock on my door, instead it knocked my door down, I was never prepared, I could never be prepared, and nobody can be.

For the first six months of varsity I struggled. I put myself under so much pressure that I just fell into a deep whole and stayed there hoping that when I came out the world would cease to exist. Keeping up with my grades was almost impossible, making friends failed on so many occassions, and more importantly, my health became a concern as I could hardly eat anything as I was always stressed out. This would go on for a good five years. How I graduated through all that is still mind-boggling to this day.

So how does one even begin to get over this huge hurdle? To be honest, the biggest step in helping yourself is accepting that there is something wrong. As cliché as it may sound, it is the utmost truth. Admitting to yourself that you’re not okay gives you more reason to seek help, to trust others instead of the confusion in your mind.

In the end, I focused on me, I focused on how to move forward. I let people in more often, I took myself out of my comfort zone more times than I wanted to, I discussed my issues with other people and surprisingly enough they discussed theirs with me. I was not alone anymore, I was not secluded.

In the end I could adapt, I found my role as a student, I found my confidence. Today I am far better than the person I use to be. Challenges still present themselves but today I know how to handle them.

Five years down the line and I am finally able to say “I did it!”.

It is important that one defines their struggle before avoiding it. These life challenges will never go away, so it is important to grab it by the horns and show it who’s boss regardless of how big they may seem.

At the end of the day we’re all human, our main instinct is to survive in a complicated yet beautiful world, and that experience in itself counts for a lot.