How to deal with social anxiety while networking in college
Social anxiety can make career networking frustrating, but there are ways to minimize that stress. (Illustration by Aiyana Kline, Minneapolis College of Art and Design)

How College Students With Social Anxiety Can Still Network Successfully

Searching for career opportunities can be stressful for young people struggling with feelings of unease, but these tips can help you accomplish all of your work-related goals.

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How to deal with social anxiety while networking in college

Searching for career opportunities can be stressful for young people struggling with feelings of unease, but these tips can help you accomplish all of your work-related goals.

Networking is a must for college students working their way toward a successful career. A solid social network opens doors to vast opportunities and increases students’ chances of acquiring their desired job position. To succeed, students need to establish connections with their college peers, people with similar interests and potential coworkers and employers. However, networking can create debilitating stress for students who struggle with social anxiety.

Overcoming social anxiety is not as simple as standing in your best superhero pose and meeting your fears head-on, and it does not equal shyness. Social anxiety, also known as social phobia, is caused by extreme fear in social situations. According to Healthline, symptoms of a social anxiety disorder include:

Physical symptoms:

  • Blushing.
  • Nausea.
  • Excessive sweating.
  • Trembling or shaking.
  • Difficulty speaking.
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness.
  • Rapid heartbeat.

Psychological symptoms:

  • Intense worry about social situations.
  • Fretting for days or weeks before an event.
  • Avoiding social problems or trying to blend into the background.
  • Worrying about embarrassing oneself in social situations.
  • Fearing that other people will notice they are stressed or nervous.
  • Needing alcohol to face a social situation.
  • Missing school or work because of anxiety.

People develop social anxiety disorder for various reasons. They could have experienced bullying, conflict, sexual abuse, grown up in a highly restrictive household or learned it from family members. Specific physical abnormalities can cause social anxiety, such as a serotonin imbalance or an overactive amygdala. Serotonin is one of the chemicals in the brain that helps regulate emotions, and the amygdala controls the flight-or-fight response, which can be triggered by feelings of fear, stress and anxiety.

Students with social anxiety may find forcing themselves into the classroom each day hard enough without worrying about the mental and emotional difficulties of networking on top of it.

Individuals with medical insurance have the option to seek therapy. Therapists use different techniques to help patients:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy, a form of psychological treatment, teaches people how to control their anxiety through relaxation and breathing exercises. CBT also helps reprogram the brain to replace negative thought patterns with positive ones.
  • Exposure therapy, a technique in behavior therapy, helps people learn how to confront their fears. Therapists create a safe environment and expose their patients to social situations they tend to fear and avoid.
  • Group therapy teaches social skills and techniques to help patients interact with others in a social setting. Being in a group with other people struggling with the same phobia creates a positive and encouraging environment where they feel supported.

A therapist can also prescribe medications to help treat — but not necessarily cure — social anxiety, if needed. Some of the medications therapists use are Paxil, Zoloft and Effexor XR.

Other methods to help manage social anxiety that do not require medical insurance include:

When it comes to networking, there are different steps students can take to help them feel safe, secure, prepared and more at ease. Those steps include:

  • Being selective:
    • Students should not force themselves to go to every networking event available. Instead, they need to pick the ones that sound fun and offer insights and opportunities into their chosen career field.
  • Prepare:
    • Once the student chooses a networking event to attend, they need to take the time to prepare for it by researching the affair. Preparation varies depending on the type of event. If the event is a career fair, they need to make sure to update their resumes, dress in business casual attire and have a list of questions ready for the different companies they plan to meet.
  • Bring a friend:
    • If a student has a friend or family member interested in the same networking event, it may help to bring them along. The familiarity and support significantly reduce stress and anxiety.
  • Arrive early:
    • The best time to arrive at a networking event is as early as possible. The fewer people around when the student first comes, the more comfortable the setting will be. This strategy gives the student time to adjust before the event gets busy.
  • Being yourself:
    • Students do not need to feel pressured to show off at a networking event. The goal is to be comfortable, and the best way to do that is to “be yourself.” While engaged in a conversation, they need to give the speaker their full attention and genuine interest in what the other person says.

An essential practice for students to remember while facing social anxiety is self-care. Students must remember that many people have social anxiety, and the best way to build up confidence is with patience, understanding and a positive mindset.

Thankfully, colleges offer many opportunities for students to network with peers through clubs, societies and other campus activities. Colleges also host career fairs on campus for students to connect with prospective coworkers and employers.

Internships offer excellent opportunities for college students to connect with employees and employers within an organization. They also allow students to gain hands-on experience and build a positive reputation with that company.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual networking events have risen, spawning new ways for students to create local and long-distance connections. Even internships offer remote possibilities now.

Another way to network is through social media sites like LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a social platform specifically meant for professional networking. It offers students the chance to connect with different people with similar interests, career goals, etc., without the added stress and anxiety of speaking face-to-face right away.

Networking is a daunting task for students who suffer from social anxiety. However, they have a wide range of networking options available through their college and other resources. When students are faced with a problematic obstacle that manifests their social anxiety, they should make sure to come equipped with the strategies they need to feel the most comfortable and succeed.

Writer Profile

Becky Hardin

University of Arizona Global Campus
(BA) Journalism and Mass Communication

My passion for becoming a writer developed during college. Every writing assignment was an exciting opportunity to develop skills in writing, editing and research. I enjoy writing about various topics.

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