Socialising: When anxiety takes over

Iona looks into what social anxiety can look like from the outside and some ways to handle social anxiety from the inside.

By Iona Craig

It’s the breaks I dread, when we are expected to chat together. I don’t know what to do with myself or what to say. Everyone else seems to just be able to, well, chat, while my mind goes blank and I can feel my whole body tense up. If my name is ever said, my cheeks begin to take on red. My words are brief even though I don’t mean them to be and it often comes to nothing. I tell myself I don’t care what they think, I just have to get through this five minute break, but a part of me wishes there wasn’t this barrier. That I could chat the way I can chat to my friends at home rather than stand here. They probable all think I’m boring or something like that and well, what if I am? What if I don’t chat about the right thing? Or the words come out wrong? 2 minutes left and then this is over…

Social anxiety is a type of anxiety disorder defined by a fear of ‘social performance’ or embarrassing oneself in a social scenario to the point the fear is excessive and can prevent the individual engaging in social events. There is a range of severity from nerves around social settings making them hard to engage in, to complete avoidance of social scenarios all together, often due to the onset of panic attacks during any social interactions. There’s really two viewpoints to social anxiety that are worth considering. Firstly, the interpretation of social anxiety behaviours from those on the outside and secondly, coping with social anxiety from the inside.

Social anxiety: A view from the outside

From individual’s who do not experience social anxiety, behaviours can come across hostile, uninterested or even rude. For example, social anxiety can lead individuals to give brief or abrupt responses to questions rather than engage in the conversation, purely due to the panic in their head of having to speak. However, this may come across hostile if someone is putting a lot of effort into make conversation with them and feels the effort is not being returned.

A group of young people standing round a table of food and talking.
Social anxiety can be interpreted badly by people on the outside. Image: Lisa Fotios.

A lack of effort to join in can even come across as arrogant as if the person thinks they are better than everyone else when inside the idea of trying to be involved in the social group makes the individual feel anything but arrogant. We are likely all guilty of not replying to the odd text here or there but for those with social anxiety replying to a text can be an agonising, half an hour activity filled with self-deprecating thoughts and overwhelming guilt. As such, texts that may be easy to reply to for you or I, are an impossible task that never gets done when social anxiety is looming over. Especially when friendships are being built in the early days, this can be seen as a sign the individual does not want to be friends or even a rejection and as such individuals may stop pursuing the friendship.

Social anxiety A view from the inside

Social anxiety can feel all absorbing and somewhat defining in the light of day. However, there are a few small tips I’ve outlined below which can help alleviate the symptoms.

An open lined notebook with a blue pen.
Writing things down can help reduce anxiety around potential scenarios. Image: Jessica Lewis Creative.
  1. Write down every scenario: Next time there is a social situation coming up that is bringing about anxious thoughts, try writing down all the possible outcomes. You falling over, saying something embarrassing, having to leave early – but also it going well – you leaving happy with new or deepened friendships, interesting conversations or just a generally nice time not in your head thinking about everything.  
  2. Pre-plan: think of a few topics you like talking about and think of a few questions you might be able to ask others. Some ideas include ‘Where are you from?’ or “Are you part of any sports/societies?”. This way if you are put on the spot then you have something to say!
  3. Sit with the uncomfortable feeling: It may feel uncomfortable going but exposure is one of the best ways to minimise future social anxiety. Try your best, as hard as it is, to acknowledge the feelings and be okay with them being there.
  4. No one is looking at you: Just a reminder people are generally much more focused on themselves than on you!

If social anxiety is something you experience, you can always talk to the Student Union Advice Centre or Wellbeing Support Services. The section Looking After You on our blog is dedicated to supporting wellbeing in your studies.

Do you have any tips for dealing with social anxiety? Let us know in the comments below, by tweeting us @warwicklibrary or sending us a message on Instagram @warwicklibrary, or by sending us an email at

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