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27th November 2015

Anxiety: The Unwanted Guest

Perisha Kudhail explores the issue of social anxiety that is becoming ever more prevalent in our student society

Alongside the fun and frivolity of university, social anxiety is that unwanted guest at the party. The expectation is that first years will experience social anxiety and then as soon as they make friends it will disappear. Although social anxiety is an experience that most first years go through, it does not mean that it is not an issue for other students.

Social anxiety is an excessive fear of social situations; this may sound extreme, but it is becoming an increasing commonality amongst students. Self-consciousness and fear of being judged is a large factor to the contribution of social anxiety. Classed as the third most common health problem in young adults, it is a surprise that social anxiety can often go undetected. Health psychologist Graham Russell outlines that social anxiety can often be mistaken for shyness and simply considered a personality trait. There are many situations that students encounter that can trigger this state of mind, and in turn it becomes very difficult to break.

A social setting where you don’t know anyone can seem daunting to anybody, yet for someone with social anxiety it can trigger a feeling of self-deprecation. The fear of being judged negatively can impact a student’s decisions and influence them even attending. This avoidance of social settings can prevent a student from interacting with their peers and even impact their educational welfare. Social settings can include parties, gatherings and even lectures.

Surveys have shown that amongst university students, approximately 10% of students were diagnosed with severe social anxiety. Although there is very little empirical research on how social anxiety can affect student well-being and learning, there have been focus groups which give us an insight into real situations that sufferers of social anxiety face on a day to day basis.  Presentations, a common form of assessment in university, triggers fear of embarrassment for 80% of students and for those with social anxiety-induced distress. In order to avoid this distress, students often remain inconspicuous in order to avoid public speaking.

In contrast to an academic setting, the drinking and socialising culture that is deemed a necessity at university can be considered as a challenge to social anxiety sufferers. They may be discriminated against and labelled as anti-social if they do not participate. This was an issue that sufferers raised in Russell’s focus group, and it was suggested that less pressurised social settings ought to be recognised. The notion of forced interaction is one that can be very uncomfortable, hence the focus being placed on proactively forming bonds rather than just the element of communication.

As many students remain undiagnosed regarding social anxiety, the desire for it to be explained more to students in university remains an issue. Many social anxiety sufferers feel that the issue of social anxiety should be tackled by the university. By offering services and support groups, social anxiety suffers may not feel as exposed, and could have access to a port of call.

Indeed, there are many situations in university that can be considered a challenge and maybe even a trigger for students with social anxiety.  Even in your friendship group, there may be someone suffering from social anxiety.

The University of Manchester offers Nightline as a way to chat about anything, no matter how big or small. The issue of social anxiety is often misunderstood, and Nightline is one way to speak about it, to a non-judgemental receiver, anonymously. The number can be found on the back of your student card.

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