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Ask The Experts

Problems Meeting New People

Problems_meeting_new_people_2014

I’ve been at school for almost a whole semester but the only people I really talk to are my friends on Facebook, most of them from back home. I sometimes make plans to go to events or social things, but I always get really nervous and freaked out the day of and end up not going. Is it normal to be so freaked out about meeting new people?

Michael Klein, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist, New York University Counseling and Wellness Center answers:

Almost all people feel somewhat anxious and nervous when they attend social gatherings or parties with lots of people they do not know. It is very easy to feel a “spotlight” on you when you enter the room…that feeling where you feel as if everybody is looking at you, scrutinizing you, maybe even judging you. But the truth of the matter is that the feeling is just that: a feeling. The reality is that most people are thinking more about themselves than other people. In other words, they are probably focused on their own concerns more than what you are wearing or who you are with.

Also, consider that most students who describe this type of anxiety report that it is almost always worst during the initial few minutes of the experience and then fades. If they manage to attend the event, and stay even 10 – 15 minutes, they usually have a good time and don’t regret their decision. One thing you can do is “prepare” for the initial few minutes. Expect that you will feel nervous, accept that feeling as normal, and imagine it as something you can tolerate and that will most likely go away. Allow yourself the option to leave if you feel too overwhelmed, but chances are you will be having a good time once you are there.

When faced with social events, many students seek to get rid of that nervous feeling by drinking a lot of alcohol or smoking marijuana before they arrive. While it is true that these drugs have mild anti-anxiety properties, the risk of embarrassing yourself by saying or doing something you regret is so much higher when intoxicated. Often people who do drink end up creating their worst nightmare: in an altered state, they end up doing something embarrassing that was their hesitation to attend in the first place. In addition to other consequences, adding alcohol or other drugs to the situation makes it more likely you will end up doing precisely what you are hoping to avoid.

If you find that even with these tips you still find it almost impossible to socialize where there are many new people, you might consider seeing a counselor or therapist. Most licensed counselors are very well trained to help students overcome precisely the type of social anxiety that concerns you. Look up your school on CollegeWiki to get contact information for your school’s counseling center.

So to summarize:

  • Feeling nervous at parties is normal, and while avoiding events is a common way to manage this, it is ultimately unsatisfying for most people.
  • Remember that others don’t care as much as you think about how you look can alleviate some worry initially, and usually that worry will recede after a few minutes.
  • Reserve your right to leave if you are too uncomfortable – but keep trying as you might see your anxiety lessen as you attend more events
  • Adding alcohol or other drugs only increases the risk that you might actually mess up your reputation or be judged for doing or saying things you might not otherwise.