Nervous About Returning to School? Same!

An image of concrete beach on a sunny summer dayWritten by: Shaowda Salehin, 4th Year English + Bio 

Photo by: M. Bettencourt, Student Experience

University is in person again and I have no idea how to feel about it. At first, when I heard that we’d have to head back to campus, I felt a wave of relief washing over me. The fact that I wouldn’t have to live with my parents for another year definitely excited me, but then came the unsettling feelings of what I would be expecting in my fourth, and final year, of school. I’m fortunate enough to have been able to stay with them during the pandemic; I’d gotten very used to my parents helping me with tasks ranging from making coffee to driving me to a bike repair shop - every small to grand thing was completed with their assistance. I am also currently financially dependent on them, I have access to financial help at any point, and all my luxuries and desires are fulfilled by the one and only - my dad. Having to fend for myself again, even drive myself rather than have my parents as chauffeurs, is just a little off-putting and maybe even a bit sad. 

I am naturally an introverted person with a very bubbly personality - so sometimes it gets a little confusing as to what kind of personality type I really have. But being quarantined for the past year and a half has enabled some of my socially anxious behaviors to take full flight, they’ve become my coping mechanism to deal with stress and negative emotions. I try very hard to be pleasant and polite with everyone, part of my charm or so I’ve been told, but the issue arises when I have to speak my mind in public settings. I appear to hold a steady voice when I am spoken to, but I am never one to raise my hand in class to ask a question or lead a group for projects and work-related events. I like to consider myself a follower, rather than one who is followed, but because of my chirpy voice and efficiency, I am usually delegated leadership roles. Before, I was able to take on these roles because I suppressed my hesitancy and just went with the flow. However, now with being outside of the social sphere for almost two years, I can’t seem to shake the dark cloud of anxiety that follows me into every social situation. I was diagnosed with social anxiety years ago at the start of university, but it has affected my life most deeply ever since the pandemic started.

As things have begun to re-open and Ontario loosens restriction measures, I have had to adjust to meeting family members, close relatives, and friends. One of my first experiences of dealing with social anxiety came about when I was seeing off my younger cousin for University in California. I began feeling a little panicked at the amount of conversation we had since we had not seen each other in a long time, I felt quite overwhelmed and distressed. I realized that I was comfortable only in the space of my own house, even feeling wary of using someone else's utensils or asking for a water bottle. Even meeting with friends for lunch started to feel like a drag because I couldn’t come up with the right things to talk about. When you’re faced with someone else talking about their life, you kind of have to take a step out of your own world. I began really struggling with keeping the focus on what people around me were saying because I had the privilege of being in my own world all the time for so long.

To cope with social anxiety, I have found it imperative to write in my journal at least once a day about the experience I had with the person I saw - whether it be a friend or someone at the mall. This allows me to analyze what part of the conversation made me nervous so that I can just vocalize my feelings in the next encounter. Sometimes it's difficult to understand what you should say right in the moment - especially finding the correct thing to say. But usually, there is no correct thing and people just speak from their minds, that is something that socially anxious people don’t usually recognize - nobody is penalizing you for being you! You don’t have to be perfect, just be YOU!

One of the other symptoms of social anxiety is mind blanking, which I experience the most out of all else and it is frightening because I lose track of the conversation or situation very quickly. If I am working alone at my desk or reading a book by myself, I have an unlimited amount of time to retrace my steps but I don’t have the same opportunity when in conversation with others. Feeling the rush of people walking past me starts making me anxious and my hands start sweating, so I have a deep fear of what will happen in my 200 student lectures! I also have very understanding parents who usually don’t need me to say much and they already know what makes me most comfortable - but living with roommates is another story because they cannot cater to you in the way that parents do. The thought of living with someone else - whether it be my friend or someone I don’t know, has kept me up for stretches of nights!

To prepare myself for the upcoming year, I have taken the liberty to take stress-relieving medications assigned by my doctor and have developed a daily routine that gives me a sense of order - and I'm privileged to be able to do so. I have a designated time for breakfast, lunch, dinner, workouts, and work/school, and I work very hard to maintain that timing. I also have seen improvements in my mood and ability to stay present with a consistent exercise routine. I practice yoga for 30 minutes a day every day and have stayed true to this for a month or so now. I also practice small amounts of CBD therapies which helps the racing thoughts I experience at the end of the day after going outside and being faced with multiple interactions.

My mom always tells me that I am more than my anxiety, more than the thoughts that circle my head because I always defeat them - I always get through to the next day. Be proud of yourself for every step of trying, I know that I am proud of my efforts in being a better me and I am confident in taking on my final year of university in person!

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