In a poll with Unidays Students, 67% said they were super-anxious about returning to Uni and making new friends – or not making new friends.
On a walk the other day, a friend nonchalantly said that she didn’t know a single person who hadn’t struggled with anxiety at some point in their lives. Anxiety seems to be a red thread that links all ages, classes, and cultures. The more we speak about it, the more it is unearthed. And while it seems like we’re in an anxiety epidemic on top of good ol’ Covid, the good news is that you can struggle with anxiety without having an anxiety disorder. Face it. Being anxious is a smart thing for the brain to dip into now and then. It’s a bit of our built-in life insurance. If making friends has been a challenge in the past, it’s good to be a bit anxious about it, put your best foot forward, and maybe try something new. That’s how you grow. That said, it doesn’t mean there aren’t helpful strategies we can use to help us deal with anxiety in a mentally beneficial way. We’ll introduce a few of these strategies here, so you can have them at hand when you walk into class and a hundred new faces turn your way (for example).
Rate your anxiety from 1 – 10. Rating your anxiety on a scale puts your current emotion into perspective. If you’re focused on the imminent experience of being anxious, you’re very likely to overestimate it. But if you have to rate it, you’ll remember that time you were so anxious you couldn’t think straight – and suddenly, the feeling is manageable.
Position your anxiety. It’s crucial to assess whether you’re in danger. Meeting three strangers in an alley could be social anxiety, but it might also be your brain rightly telling you you’re in trouble and need to call for help. Don’t hesitate! One call too many is better than one too few.
Break the anxiety wave. When you’re experiencing anxiety, your lizard brain, the Amygdala, is firing away and flooding your body with stress hormones to get you and your butt out of the threatening situation. This has served us humans well enough to allow us to overpopulate the earth, but it’s mostly not accurate anymore – mostly, it’s over-firing. To stop that, we need to override it with the ‘smart’ part of our brain that uses reasoning. Counting in difficult steps backwards will help with this.
Dive into past times of strength. Right now, it may feel like you’re never going to be okay again. How can you not feel this awful? Remembering times when anxiety was not an issue will help put things into perspective. This, too, shall pass, and despite or because of it.
Dive into past strengths. You’re anxious now, but you aren’t always anxious, even in similar situations. Recalling those times of relative calm allows you to realise that, while your anxiety might be understandable, it is not all-encompassing and that the situation is overcome-able. You’ve done it before!
Dive into resources. This is a classic resilience exercise. You’re good at something. Probably many things. It doesn’t mean you need to be a virtuoso at something, just that you’re good at it. List five things you’re good at. Go ahead, we’ll wait, even if you’re giving yourself a hard time with coming up with them. Now choose the one that may be most likely to help you cope with the anxiety, even if it doesn’t seem to be a match.
Dive into action. You’re a good listener, for example. Yippie, yay! How will that make you feel less anxious about making friends? EVERYBODY loves to be heard. You’re going to tap into that skill to make new friends! State that out loud. Your brain will register it as more meaningful than if you just think it. Wanna amp up the power?! Write it down!
Now re-evaluate your anxiety. On a scale of 1 -10, how anxious are you? You’ll most likely have a lower score, but if not, talking to a trusted friend or family member, your GP, or your therapist about your anxiety should make sure it’s not here to stay!
Have a great week,