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Struggling to make friends? Here's how you can ease social anxiety when coming back to campus

While coming back to campus may be exciting for some, for many students, the prospect of befriending new people after a year of isolation can be anxiety-inducing. – Photo by Sasha Freemind /

The definition of socializing has changed dramatically due to the pandemic. Going from spending the majority of our time alone to having to be perceived by so many people all the time is incredibly exhausting, and this upcoming semester is the first time many of us have had the opportunity to socialize in person since the pandemic started, which creates a new list of worries and concerns.

Anxiety toward crowds and social interactions feels both hopeless and overwhelming. It's easy to feel powerless as an individual or experience imposter syndrome within the host of new and strange faces. It’s also common to feel guilty for socializing because you can easily blame yourself for being part of the problem instead of recognizing the importance of making new connections safely during this time.

But with the different range of in-person and online classes, there are multiple ways to begin branching out and meeting new friends on and off-campus. Small things like maintaining your appearance or remembering small details about people you meet show people you value what they say.

Making friends becomes much easier when you realize we are all humans who feel the same emotions. As students, we should be able to connect with our peers without allowing anxiety to affect a new friendship or relationship.

One of the most effective ways to preserve your social battery is approaching conversations in waves rather than consecutively. I’ve found that talking with a group of people, leaving after the conversation ends to process what was discussed and then finding a new group of people to talk to helps me process information more efficiently.

It also helps to divide days into sections rather than it being a blur of interactions and events. Days on a college campus can feel like recurring loops of conversations and experiences, so spending some time alone helps students break the cycle of constant stimulation and makes each experience more memorable.

Additionally, most of what we’re personally self-conscious about only exists in our minds, so separating yourself from your own list of impossible standards and anxieties helps keep conversations free-flowing and grounded. By focusing less on how you’re perceived, your energy in interactions is less tense, more nuanced and more authentic.

The obvious questions when first meeting someone like, “What’s your major?” feel archaic and cliché to ask as the world is burning, but it remains a good conversation starter and helps segway into what they are passionate about. Once you pass this common social barrier, regular fears, like being judged for what you say or concerning yourself with what the other person thinks, do nothing but take away from the present moment.

One important fact to remember is that all of us are in this together, and most students are never truly alone with their feelings of isolation and anxiety. When introducing yourself, keep your words short and memorable, as chances are most people won’t remember much about you. The less information revealed initially, the more akin people are to pay attention to what you have to say.

The best ways to manage anxiety come from recognizing how others experience the same emotions as you and compartmentalizing based on the situation. With two incoming classes who have not had a college experience so far, there’s a much bigger pool of new people spread throughout the University yearning for social interaction.

College is what you make of it, and overcoming the trauma and isolation of the pandemic starts with being open to making new connections during this pivotal time in our lives. By not allowing our shared anxieties to control us, we can recognize our need for connection and utilize our new friendships to expand our college experience.

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