Heart beating, palms sweating, stomach churning, intensifying fear: These are all symptoms of social anxiety. Socially anxious students may be avoiding these symptoms this semester with the aid of the current era of remote learning.
“It feels like my body is frozen…(like) a bucket of water drops on you. I want to speak but I can’t.”
Claudia Juárez, UT Austin Sophomore
In the age of COVID-19, pre-recorded classes are used to keep students safe from the pandemic, but these classes could also benefit students with social anxiety. Pre-recorded classes can reduce or eliminate the triggers of social anxiety present in in-person classes. There is currently an online petition created by members of the UT student government to continue the offering of distanced learning for students with disabilities such as social anxiety even after COVID-19 has eased.
“I was having anxiety attacks my first day (of class) every time I went somewhere new,” said Mackenzie Ulam, president of the UT chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Approximately 12% of Americans will experience debilitating social anxiety defined by significant impairment in regular functioning during the course of their lives, the National Social Anxiety Center reports.
The emergence of an anxiety disorder can occur at any age but often will surface during a person’s teens or 20s, the UT Student Affairs Division wrote on its website. This age range means students often experience the emergence of social anxiety during college, potentially impacting their learning experience.
“(In class) I don’t… want to ask certain questions,” Juárez said. “‘Cause it’s like I go to UT, am I really going to ask this? Everyone’s going to think I’m dumb. Even the professor might think I’m dumb and call me out on it.”
The fear of being perceived as dumb is a common trait in those with social anxiety. This fear can be triggered by numerous scenarios. Triggers of social anxiety include: introducing yourself, “small talk” with classmates, asserting your needs with those in authority such as professors and answering or asking questions in a formal setting, reports the UT Student Affairs Division.
“You’re having to deal with having to do two things at once: trying to learn the content and trying to work through…anxiety,” said Althea Woodruff, UT’s project coordinator forwell-being in learning environments. “You’re basically having to do double or more of the work emotionally and academically.”
Last semester, UT student government officials introduced a petition in coordination with disability justice advocates to ensure access to online material such as recorded lectures to aid students with social anxiety and other disabilities even after the pandemic eases.
Vinit Shah, UT’s student government chief of staff, said recorded lectures aid students because they cannot just ignore their anxiety.
“There is no way to challenge yourself out of anxiety,” Shah said. “It’s like learning to swim. When professors say… ‘just get over it,’ it’s really insulting…it’s like expecting a baby to be an Olympic swimmer right off the bat.”
Students with social anxiety may already be eligible for certain accommodations through UT’s services for students with disabilities department. However, accommodations are decided on a case-by-case basis rather than having pre-created accommodation plans available.
Students must go through a five-part plan to qualify for accommodations. This plan includes providing documentation of their disabilities in an approved format by the department, scheduling and attending an intake appointment with the department, completing multiple forms and signing multiple documents, reports the department on their website
Woodruff said that having recorded lectures available is the type of accessible accommodation that gives students much-needed flexibility.
“It lets the students know that you actually care about them and you’re being empathetic to their situation,” Woodruff said. “You want to try to be as accommodating as you can to as many students as you can.”
When I got to college, I noticed that you were either in tune with your mental health or you weren’t. With the mixture of new classes, a new campus and a completely new city while also not knowing anyone, life gets stressful. I quickly learned that keeping up with my mental health would be the best thing for me. I’m sure some of my college friends can agree.
Throughout my first two years on campus and since the beginning of quarantine, I’ve been hearing a lot about the Calm app but I’ve never been one to believe in meditation or sleep tactics. What was the final push I needed to give it a try? Harry Styles. The Calm team decided it was a good idea to partner with the singer to create a bedtime story for their sleep category and I couldn’t agree with them more.
Now, let me explain myself before the inevitable judgement begins. I’ve been a fan of Harry Styles ever since the very beginning so when I found out he was going to narrate a bedtime story for Calm, I was definitely not calm. His music is already therapy in itself so I couldn’t even imagine what a bedtime story would do.
The audio was released July 8th and I was frantically refreshing the page until it was available. I’m an honest woman so I would be lying if I told you I didn’t laugh at first when listening to the first few words in this ASMR-style bedtime story titled “Dream with Me.” It was a lot to take in. I just couldn’t picture Harry Styles sitting down, leaning into a mic and whisper-talking into it. Picture that. You can’t. For those of you who haven’t given it a listen, Harry takes you on a journey through multiple landscapes while describing the scene with his too-good British accent. From the stars to the valleys, you’ll go on a world tour in just 30 minutes.
That night, I had actually wanted to get a good night sleep and was hoping this would help. Maybe even ditch the melatonin sitting on my bedside table. My sleep schedule has been completely thrown off guard, as I’m sure most of you can relate to. Now, I couldn’t tell you what he was saying or what the story was about but all I know is that whatever they did, it worked. I was out like a light within what felt like a few minutes. The half-an-hour mixture of ambient sounds paired with his slow, soothing voice allowed me to drift off into the best sleep I’ve had in weeks. I don’t want to say too much to where I spoil it for you but I obviously recommend listening.
On another note, the audio has become somewhat of a meme on Twitter. Because of Harry’s accent, some of the words he pronounces just sound odd but in the best way possible. I’ll let you watch for yourself.
Harry isn’t the only celebrity that you can have read you to sleep. Our very own Matthew McConaughey has also narrated a bedtime story for those who would like to feel alright, alright alright. The Calm app also has several other advantages besides having celebrities narrate bedtime stories. Under the meditation tab, there’s a ‘7 Days of Calming Anxiety’ that I have been trying out to help meditate and clear my mind and I am honestly very surprised at how well my mind and body relax to it. If you were like me and didn’t believe it could help you, give it a try. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. There are also specific categories you can pick to help guide your meditation. Besides that, you can take a look at the library of calming music they have. They have plenty of lo-fi beats for you to study to if you’re into that.
If you’re like me, not only are you a full time student, but you’re also juggling a job, being involved in organizations, homework, creative projects and somehow finding the time to have some iota of a social life. College, really just life in general, is rough and the stigma around mental health makes it all the more difficult to face. In case you’re unfamiliar with the topic, mental health is somewhat taboo in most social situations so people tend to put it on the back-burner.
To quote the words of a popular Vine, “That is not correct”. Our mental health is just as important as our physical health, if not more so. We all have issues that we’re doing our best to conquer on our own. (And you go, queen, you’re doing great.) But just in case you think you need some advice or help from someone who is struggling through the same thing, here are some tips that help me to get through those especially rough days.
Make a list; of things that matter and things that don’t, of things you’re thankful for, of things you know you want to change.
I know it sounds cheesy. But I did this my freshman year, when I was feeling especially overwhelmed for the first time and it helped me to take a deep breath, both mentally and physically. I made a list of all the good things in my life and all the things that weren’t going too well for me. Then I went through the latter list and wrote out why they weren’t important or how I could make those things better. This could go downhill very quickly so be sure to pay more attention to the happier list and not put too much importance on the troublesome list. Or, better yet, only make a happy list. I’m personally more of a realist so I like to consider both sides but if you’d rather look at the optimistic side of things, you do you, boo.
It’s hard to get away from responsibilities. For some people, i.e. me, it’s hard to say no when people ask you to do things so you end up with too many rolls on your metaphorical plate. However, it’s important to take care of yourself as well as others. Take some time out of the day, or at the very least once a week, to do something for yourself. It could be as simple as taking a break from homework to having a bubble bath and reading your favorite book while a face mask soaks your skin with all kinds of moisturizers. Is it obvious which one I’m fantasizing about more?
Because so much time out of the day is dedicated to schoolwork/things we have to do, I think surrounding yourself with things you love when you can becomes even more important. By this, I mean that you should find things that bring you more joy than anything else. If you’re stuck in an organization that only stresses you out, maybe it’s time to find another place to spend your time. If you’re in a relationship that doesn’t make you happy, maybe it’s time to move on. And this doesn’t have to involve people; in fact, sometimes the things you’re surrounding yourself with aren’t people at all. If you want to go to your room, close the door and read books for hours on end, then that’s what you need to do. Not wanting to be around people is completely normal and is something I find myself wanting often. Although, it is important to note that you should be careful not to push away people that care about you. There are ways to be alone that don’t hurt those who want to spend time with you. It’s all about communication and letting them know that it’s not them, it’s you. Unless you’re breaking up with someone…then you should never use that line.
Trust and believe that I know how awful this sounds. I hardly have time to exercise, let alone want to. My mom always told me to do this in high school and I blew her off due to the simple fact that I didn’t want to. However, now it’s one of the most effective strategies I use to battle anxiety and stress. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, exercise and other physical activities reduce fatigue, improve alertness and concentration, and enhance overall cognitive function. It doesn’t even have to be as time consuming as going to the gym; meditation, going for a walk, even just taking a really deep breath is enough to release those sweet, sweet endorphins. One of my best friends does yoga right after she wakes up and she swears by it. It’s not about having the time but about making the time.
*My Chemical Romance voice* Sing it for the boys, sing it for the girls…
SINGING! Jamming is the best form of self-healing. Unfortunately, I don’t have any reliable statistics to back up this theory. But I have years and years of personal experience that I could share, if you cared enough to ask. Blasting your favorite songs and belting out the lyrics either in the car, with your friends, or whilst performing in the shower is one of the easiest and most fun ways to occupy your time and your mind. Or, if you ever need a good cry, create a sad playlist (or you can use mine) and cry out every failed test, dead pet and broken heart you’ve ever had. You’ll feel much better afterwards. My roommates think I’m crazy for suggesting it but it’s therapeutic to me.
It sounds simple but it’s really not. We get overwhelmed and flustered and then, next thing we know, our eyes burst open at 2 o’clock in the morning because we forgot about that essay that’s due tomorrow. So, find some time in the day to sit down and feel productive. It can be as easy as sitting in the Union and cracking out a few emails or writing your thesis for that paper you’re dreading. Hopefully this will make you feel more confident in your work and inspire you to continue your progress when you get home. But, if not, it’s a way to justify binging Game of Thrones when you should be working on homework.
I’m a film major so I’m fairly biased when it comes to this. However, transparency aside, it’s hard to overthink when you’re not thinking about anything at all. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, sit down, put on your favorite movie and let the actors take you away. My particular favorite is when you decide to watch a movie from your childhood. That’s when the nostalgia hits you in the gut. But it’s a love punch so it doesn’t hurt.
Find healthier outlets that don’t involve mind-altering substances
You know the saying: say nope to dope. This is definitely not to shame anyone who decides to partake but if you’re dealing with stress or anxiety, it’s really not a good idea. A popular myth is that some drugs, such as marijuana and alcohol, help you to forget about your problems and just make you feel g o o d. The truth of the matter is that these things can make you feel better for a short period of time but in the end, you just feel worse than before you started. It may be tempting but it’s always better to just say nay. Instead, have a talk with some friends or try any of the other tips on the list before resorting to this option.
Again, I have no statistic to back this up and this is completely a subjective opinion because I personally use the title of “writer” to describe myself. However, there is a reason that every cheesy teen pic has a character that keeps a diary. Writing out your feelings helps you to sort out your inner workings. Not to mention, writing is fun. Keep a daily journal, either by writing or typing, and chronicle your day in the life. You can write about anything you want, from what you had for breakfast to which professor you have a crush on this semester. What better person to vent to besides yourself?
Finally, there is my personal favorite: PUPPIES! If you’re like me, you had to leave your dogs back at home and from time to time, you go through dog withdrawal while at school. The easiest cure for this is to find a pup to love on in their absence. You could find a family member or friend to dog sit for or you could even volunteer at a local shelter, if you have the time. Regardless, it’s hard to be upset when you’re loving on a cuddly mammal. Dogs are support animals for a reason. Of course, not everyone is a dog person. This is also applicable to cats, birds, hamsters and, if you’re like my roommate, giant lizards. Animals are almost always better company than people anyway.
As much as I want them to be, none of this advice is foolproof. Life is hard and sometimes it takes more than advice from a 20-year-old to help you feel better. Please, check out these links if you’re going through a rough time and are in need of professional help. Remember: you are not alone and you are loved. You’re doing the best you can.