fbpx
Menu Close

Podcast Episode 7: How to Survive College When You Feel Anxious Speaking Up

Get your Student Resource Pack here

Rose Burch
Hi friend. Welcome to the Quiet Connections podcast. Do you feel anxious and not good enough in social situations? Feel like you’re weird, broken or don’t fit in? You are not alone. Join Haley and Stacie on a journey to quiet confidence. Picking up key insights to help you feel more calm and confident. So you can finally Speak up, join in, and feel like you belong too.

Hayley Stanton
So today we’re going to talk about something that is really widespread amongst students, but very hidden, and you are very likely to experience it, but you may not know what it is. And if you feel this way, you’re probably going to think that you are entirely alone.

So today we want to talk about that intense fear that we get in social and performance situations like talking in class, during presentations,or even just socialising at the lunch break. And we can respond to this by often avoiding the situation as much as possible. And in those moments where we cannot avoid the situation, we end up being really fearful, and panicking in the moment before, and even after. So we have both had our experiences of feeling very socially anxious throughout college and throughout much of our lives

So, Stacie, what was your college experience like?

Stacie Clark
Yeah, so, I remember like the first day of starting college, well actually I think the week leading up to starting college, of having just that horrible feeling of “I don’t know who I’m going to meet, I don’t know what what to expect, I’m really scared that like all the people in my class are going to hate me”, and like I was just wasn’t going to be able to make any new friends. At the same time, I knew I was going to college with like this small group of friends that I have for school, which really felt like a security blanket for me, but I also recognise that like I wasn’t always going to be with them because we were gonna have different classes, and there was just this intense fear of like, I’m going to show up for this class and I’m not going to be able to speak to anyone. And like I said, there was a fear of like that I was gonna end up in really lonely. And like an outsider, and like I didn’t really fit in with the other like people in my class was also a fear. And like not knowing what the teachers were gonna be like, will they be really horrible and critical? Or like, are they gonna like pointing you out or, kind of like put you on the spot, a lot.

So that was a lot there’s a lot of fear around, not knowing what to expect, not knowing who I was going to meet, fears of, I’m going to be judged I’m going to be criticised, I’m going to make a fool out of myself. And also then in addition to that as well but like I just, I wasn’t going to be any good at the subjects that I chose them and that everyone else is going to be better than me and I was going to just really suck on every single level by not being perhaps, like as, as knowledgeable or as good as other people in my class in the subjects, and tha, that mean that I was less than them. And that was a really big fear for me, because obviously I wanted to be seen as someone who was capable and competent and knowledgeable, and particularly like with the subjects that I was doing at uni, sorry college, I wanted to be seen as like this creative artistic person, and that was a huge fear, that like I just I wasn’t going to be, as, as good at that as other people in my class. So yeah lots of fears at college.

I remember dropping one of my A-levels, because it was the only one, like the one subject that I had, where we had to do presentations. And I had managed to get through one presentation, managed to get through it. And then when the next one came up I was like, you know, I’m not I’m not doing it so, because that option was there for me to drop an A level, and to only do three rather than four, like that part of me that always wanted to avoid uncomfortable situations like I almost like jumped at that opportunity despite the fact that actually it was a subject that I really really enjoyed and I was actually quite good at. And just that that one thing of. I’m gonna have to stand up in front of the class again and share, like my perspective and, like the reflections that I have that I have made and the stuff that I knew, or that I thought I knew or whatever in front of the rest of the class and that that was going to be able to judgement, it was just like I can’t, I can’t. That’s that’s what it felt like.

Hayley Stanton
Yeah similar there was definitely that underlying sense of like, I’m not good enough, and I, like, even though my grades were fairly good, I still felt like I was a failure. Like I was getting get found out, like I just like I didn’t fit in. So very much the same. And I remember that being with me throughout high school, throughout college, and so on.

The way that that showed up for me was to try and make myself really smal. So I sit at the back of the class, whenever possible. I would try to avoid presentations at all costs. I remember one day, I was like I cannot get out with this presentation and I was walking to college, and I got so close to college and I was like, I just cannot do this, and I turned around and went home and told them that I’ve been sick on the way. And I ended up having to do that presentation to one member of staff. And it was still just as terrifying as if it was the whole class. And I really really struggled with it. I struggled speaking up in class, I struggled eating in front of people in the canteen, just general socialising, talking to men. There was so much, that was really hard to me, and I felt really ashamed that I couldn’t do these things because I would look around and I would think, well, other people seem to manage with ease, everybody out, is confident What is wrong with me?

And so I try to hide it and not let others see what was going on. I need to hide. To hide who I am basically. Absolutely. Yeah, it’s really a fear about showing up and being seen and opening yourself up to judgement.

So, I thought that I was the only person in the world experiencing social anxiety.

Stacie Clark
Oh yeah, I did too. I was most definitetly the only one.

Hayley Stanton
Yeah. And I think that’s the nature of it we tried to keep it hidden. People don’t talk about it very much. We definitely don’t want to share the way that we’re feeling, and we don’t want to open ourselves up to criticism and by doing that.

But the reality is that it’s really, really common. And there was a study done in 2006, I believe, at the University of Plymouth, and they they did this study in their university and in the Partnership for colleges, which includes common college. And they found that 12% of students experience generalised social anxiety and this is where it impacts, like all aspects of your life. And it can result in lots and lots of avoidance and lots and lots of chronic and reduced wellbeing. And, interestingly, they found that almost half of all students experienced non generalised social anxiety, so that is social anxiety in very specific situations, which most commonly is probably getting up and doing a presentation. And I found this so interesting, because when we feel that like we are the only ones going through this. We, we look around and we see everyone else is confident everyone else is managing okay, and what we’re doing is comparing the way that we feel inside, we’re comparing all our internal struggles to that very small piece that someone else is allowing us to see.

Stacie Clark
It’s not a fair judgement.

Hayley Stanton
No, not at all, and I find it really reassuring that actually almost 50% of students feel this way too. Certainly about presenting or specific situations. So that really made me see that the way I was looking at other people, wasn’t accurate. It wasn’t true. If I, if I’m looking around and seeing everybody apart from me as confident, then I have to be wrong because always half of those are not feeling confident.

Stacie Clark
Yeah, and I completely agree with you as well. And I know especially like over the last few years, like myself and you we’ve had numerous conversations with with other people who also felt really anxious in those performance situations or in social situations in general, and who, were also looking around at other people and perceiving them to be more confident than what they were feeling. And I actually like both, both of us have had people commenting on us and then perceiving us as being more confident than than what we actually felt, and I know even, actually, even back in college that there were a few times where people had perceived me as being confident and hadn’t actually recognised or realised just how anxious I was feeling most of the time.

And a lot of that was was due to the fact that I would hide the anxiety that I was experiencing through laughing. So if I was in a group of people, I would, I wouldn’t say anything, I wasn’t contributing to the conversation like at all. But, like the way in which I would cope with that would be to laugh and pretend like it was a part of the conversation in some, some respects, but if someone was to ask me a question and like the spotlight went on me I would completely freeze. So, there was this, this kind of like, I suppose like disconnect between what I was actually feeling and sometimes what was being presented but then there was also this fear that everyone could actually see how scared I was. And, yes, it’s a really interesting dynamic of how, how we perceive other people. And it’s not always true.

Hayley Stanton
Yeah. Yeah, definitely. And it’s really interesting that we feel like it’s not okay to be nervous it’s not okay to show that we’re afraid of something, and getting up and doing a presentation is really hard. It’s hard for so many people. And yet, we tend to think that we just should be able to do this just naturally, even though a lot of the time we’re not taught how to do it.

We’re not taught how to calm those nerves, how to get ourselves out of that freeze response when it’s happening. Because the very same thing happened to me, whenever I just get called upon in class and talking in front of other people even, let alone getting up and doing a presentation, I would find myself in that same freeze response, red faced, just unable to get my words out and if I did choke out any words, they would be in the right muddle.

Stacie Clark
Yeah. Yeah. And that criticism that comes afterwards “I just made such a fool out of myself”.

Hayley Stanton
Yeah, that can keep us awake for months on end.

Stacie Clark
Absolutely. And yeah. Likewise I remember that aswell. Like if a teacher, you know asked a question and like no one kind of like responded in the class, which possibly is also another indication that actually other people are feeling nervous and anxious because they don’t want to put their hands up and offer their own thoughts or answers. And then the teacher obviously, kind of resorts to just pointing someone out in the class, like if that was ever me, well actually, first of all I remember if I knew that that was gonna happen. It was just avoid eye contact with the teacher at all costs, like do not engage with them and hopefully they won’t see me.

Hayley Stanton
Rule number one.

Stacie Clark
Yeah, classic tactic. Which, you know on occasions that does happen, I would just remember this like, just this feeling washing over me of like, oh my god, like, I can’t I can’t speak, say anything, and I’d sti there and quite often I would actually just turn around and say, I don’t know. But even if I did, it was just I don’t know because like, please take this attention off of me.

Hayley Stanton
Yeah. The shortest answer.

Stacie Clark
Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. But yeah, that might be something to actually look out for as well, like if you’re feeling that way in the class, and you’re noticing that actually a lot of other people also aren’t putting their hands up or they’re not offering their own ideas or their thoughts or things like that, that actually that could be a real strong indication that somebody else might be feeling just as just as anxious as you are, and perhaps that’s an opportunity there to reach out to them and connect with them, or even just to experience that sense of comfort that you recognise that okay I’m not the only person feeling this way.

Hayley Stanton
Yeah, that is a really good point Stacie, because after setting up Quiet Connections somebody that I used to go to college with and for the second time I went back to Camborne College to do my foundation degree. So we were mostly mature students at this point. And someone that was in the class with me, came to me and said, you probably remember me as the quietest one in the class. And she shared her story and I thought wow I used to think that she was pretty confident, even maybe a little bit stuck up or something.

We often have these really common misconceptions about quiet and what it means and we consider it to be rude or ignorant, or just not interested. And it’s not like that at all. So we must always just ask what else can be true.

Stacie Clark
Yeah, yeah, for sure. And again, like that’s, those are things that I know other people have, have kind of like, thought about me in the past as well. Like I’ve had a number of conversations with people who have been like when I first met you I thought you are a bitch. And I’m like “Oh, I’m so far from being a bitch!” But at the same time,  I can almost understand why they might have had that perception. But also like, there’s that sense of like, you don’t question that, like we just kind of jump to the conclusion that this person obviously doesn’t like me. Or interestingly they actually then, like, what we’re seeing is that people are that in reflecting it back on themselves and, like, if somebody else’s is feeling anxious, and they’re avoiding eye contact with you, or perhaps they’re not asking you questions or engaging in conversation with you that there is every chance of that person feels really anxious in that situation perhaps they’ve got their own insecurities and things that they’re feeling uncomfortable about sharing that. Interestingly, like, we tend to sit there and think that it’s all about us, and that it’s because this person doesn’t like me. It’s because I’m boring or I’m not good enough, or, you know, so like, we end up in these situations where we’re all thinking the worst about ourselves as opposed to questioning actually what else could be going on for everyone around us.

Hayley Stanton
So, the most important skill that we can bring, is that sense of curiosity, because otherwise we can fall into creating the same story where we are this person who is maybe being bullied or people don’t like me or. Or, I’ve done something wrong, and I’m just not good enough. And when we don’t question those stories, and we really believe that they’re true, we can start to show up as if they are true. So we can start to move away from people, withdraw, and maybe even be a little bit cold towards people because we think that that’s what’s happening to us. And that can create its own self fulfilling prophecy because if you’re behaving like that, someone else is going to respond in the way, that you originally thought. So it’s always really good to question that thought first, before you start to respond.

Stacie Clark
Yeah, and that’s something that we that we do a lot of here at Quiet Connections. First of all it is sharing the information that our thoughts are not reality. And then like, one of the skills that like we quite often teach people is, how they can learn to start questioning those thoughts and challenging those thoughts and asking themselves like, well, what am I missing, what is the story that I’m making up, what information have I misinterpreted?

Hayley Stanton
And what part, am I playing.

Stacie Clark
Yeah, yeah, really important question. And these are questions that you can ask yourself and perhaps even spend some time like asking yourself that question and then doing a bit of journaling and writing it down, seeing what comes up. Or it could be something that you ask yourself whilst doing another activity that you’d find enjoyable than just paying attention to what, again, the answers that, that are coming up from from within you. And just allowing yourself that chance to break the stories, break those, those thought cycles.

Hayley Stanton
Another thing that I think is really important to recognise is that confidence isn’t something that we either have or don’t have. Because I know that I used to really hold myself back and be like, you know, when I feel confident, then I’ll do this, then I’ll be able to do that.

Stacie Clark
I can recognise that as well. I was always waiting for, for the moment that I was just going to magically wake up one day and I wasn’t gonna feel the way that I was feeling, I wasn’t going to feel like I wasn’t good enough. I was just waiting for, like you know, that that day, like now I can do all the things that I want to achieve. You know, and that’s, That’s not the way things work.

Hayley Stanton
Yeah, I thought it was just going to be like a flick of a switch, and I would reach a certain age or a certain milestone go to college, and I’d suddenly be like okay I feel like an adult now, I feel confident. But confidence doesn’t come with adulthood, and I felt like a scared little girl throughout much of my 20s as well. And it wasn’t until I done an awful lot of work on myself that I suddenly realised I don’t feel that way anymore, I don’t feel like a scared little girl.

And what I’ve come to realise is that confidence is, it’s partly about self acceptance and one real piece of this is, especially when we’re more introverted more quieter people naturally. We tend to think very lowly of ourselves and our, our quiet strengths. We need to recognise that there’s a lot of value in being introverted, and we are equally as worthy as our extroverted counterparts.

And the second part of that is the confidence is very much about having having trust that we have tools that we can use in challenging situations. And this includes, like you mentioned, for ways to recognise that our thinking might not be correct and just to get really curious about that, ways to manage ourselves when we go into that fight or flight response. Which, if we feel socially anxious, that’s happening an awful lot to us and we probably don’t even know it. And, and maybe ways to start conversations, to have difficult tough conversations with people, to share our opinions and just learning a little bit about how to actually have those conversations and put across your opinions and create boundaries and say no, which all takes a lot of work.

Stacie Clark
Yeah, I was gonna say, like that to me seems like the most key part, is that we need to recognise that these things don’t again like happen with the flick of a switch. It’s about us learning, it’s about us, gradually developing those skills, and most importantly practising them, and taking them step by step and and doing that at the pace that feels right for you as an individual.

What’s coming to mind to me right now is that whole idea around, you know, so often like, even on social media and stuff, like we’re getting the message but in order to learn these these things we have to kind of dive in at the deep end, that we have to throw ourselves into a situation that actually might be too, too far of a stretch for us. And what that does is they often tend to then trigger that that panic response within us, that fight or flight, to the point that it, kind of like, it then reaffirms, what we were originally believing about ourselves, that actually I can’t do this. And then, you know, pushes us back into wanting to stay in our comfort zone, to wanting to stay in that safe space to continue avoiding things, when actually maybe the best approach to take is what we call a comfort zone stretch.

So it’s recognising that in between the the comfort zone and the panic zone, is actually this learning zone. And if we take tiny tiny little steps, make these little stretches. Think of it in terms of like exercising your muscles and you, wouldn’t wake up one day and go and run a marathon, you would train for quite a long period of time usually. And it’s the same approach that we need to take when it comes to doing things that are out of our comfort zone, that feel uncomfortable to us, that we are experiencing some anxiety around, and breaking it down into manageable steps that, you know are still uncomfortable for some degree, but still enough to be able to be like I can, I can access some courage, the courage, that is within me, to be able to take that first little step, and then I’m going to build upon it and I’m going to keep doing that until I reached the big end goal, that would have originally been in the panic zone.

Hayley Stanton
Yes. Yeah, perfect. I really like that. And I think it’s really important to recognise that we all do have that courage inside of us and even though we feel anxious. We can feel and be courageous at exactly the same time.

Now one of the situations that is probably feels the hardest to achieve this is presentations at college. Because we are often thrown in the deep end. A lot, a lot of teachers just don’t understand social anxiety at all. And we’ve been to Cornwall College and we’ve done some training with student leasion officers. And we found that when people can get into the mindset of someone who’s feeling very anxious in social situations, they can really empathise. They might not automatically get there by themselves, they might need a bit of information about it first. And so, one thing that that you can do in order to gently stretch your comfort zone when it comes to presentations is practice as much as possible by yourself. Try to create a friendly audience for yourself before you have to do the presentation. If that is like, start with one person, a comfortable person, or even start with like an audience of Teddies or something.

Stacie Clark
Yeah I was just thinking teddies! As embarresing as that might sound, there’s still that sense of like feeling as though people are watching you, so that can be really really safe we start doing it.

Hayley Stanton
Yeah, that might be the very first step, if you’re feeling really anxious about presentation. And then, what we would love to see is, you’re able to work your way up to doing presentations in just a group of you, and then maybe doing presentations as a group to the class. And then finally getting to a stage where you are doing a presentation on your own. And this isn’t always possible in the classroom setup. But you can create little moments where you can be gently stretching your comfort zone in this way for yourself and with your group of friends. And even if you feel reluctant to share how you feel with your group of friends. Remember that 50% of them probably feel really afraid about doing presentations too, so half of them are going to be extremely grateful to have this opportunity so practice and have a go before they get to the real thing.

Stacie Clark
Yeah. And this is something that both myself and Hayley have previously done. And, you know, a few years ago even, probably about four years ago. And we were, when I first met Hayley, we were on a business course, and we had this workshop that was Projecting Professional Confidence or something like that. And then it, like there was, it was kind of sprung on us that we were gonna get up and do like a three minute presentation, and I completely froze. And I actually, if I remember correctly, I ran back to my seat halfway through an almost complete panic mode. And the reason why, like in this workshop, we were doing this was because in like seven months time, we are going to have to, like, each one of us, like on this course, is going to have to do this presentation in front of like 100 people, at the Eden Project, and the thought of doing that was just terrifying to me. I was like there’s no way I’m going to be able to do this. And so actually, like part of the process of leading up to that was, you know, doing these small practice presentations with Hayley and a few other, a few other people.
Having that safe space to go up and, and to practice speaking in front of other people and to not have to worry about like if I stumble over words, or anything like that, because it was a safe practice space, and like for me, this is like a huge, huge key word is practice, everything’s about practice. But then to also have that encouraging feedback from other people as well.
What essentially happened was doing that over the course of like a couple of months. When it came to doing the actual presentation at the event in front of like a room of like 100 people I didn’t know, I was able to stand up there, and I had felt like the most confident that I’d ever felt whilst doing a presentation, like, in my life, and I remember my legs weren’t shaking. I remember being able to like hold my head up and look around the room and actually make eye contact with people and it made such a huge difference to me. And then, after after my, my mum and my partner came to watch it as well, they both said to me like I’m really surprised that you were fine, we thought like you were gonna get op there and just fall to pieces, and I was like, well, I’ve been practising over the last couple of months. And it made such a huge difference. So it really is a valuable tool and thing to do.

Hayley Stanton
Absolutely. And how many people did you speak to recently on that webinar?

Stacie Clark
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Recently, a couple months ago, I was on an online webinar, and I, I didn’t actually know this beforehand, but I did find out afterwards, that there was 4000 people watching. And, you know, that these are really important things to acknowledge that actually, you know, although you might be feeling as if you’re never going to be able to speak in front of people, whether that is a small group of people like, you know, going out for drinks or something, or it’s doing a presentation or perhaps some point later on down the line like working towards a career and perhaps you’ve got to do some public speaking.

If you’re currently in that position of feeling like I’m never going to be able to do that, I really want you to know that, like, I also felt that way. So did Hayley, and yet, now, because of like the work that we’ve done because of all the steps that we’ve taken and things that we’ve practised. Both of us are, you know, publicly speaking on a regular basis. And yes become something that, yes, still feels a little bit nerve wracking. But it’s also something that we acknowledge that that it’s okay to feel that way. And yet, we are still able to show up and do it.

Hayley Stanton
Yeah, that anxiety only makes us human. And when it’s something that’s important to us like taking a course at college we really want to pass it, we want to be, we want to do well in our careers. Then if it’s absolutely normal to feel anxious.

Stacie Clark
And I think yeah, having that that compassion towards ourselves is really important. And also just recognise that that there is hope with that. That actually, you know, things can change for you. And you can hold on to that.

Hayley Stanton
So on that note, let’s talk a little bit about what support you can get for yourself when you feel like this. So, what we’re going to do is, put our student resource pack on to our website, so that you can download it, and you can access a number of really simple techniques that you can start implementing today. Things that are going to really help you to tweak your mindset and just change the way that your body is responding. And of course, it takes time for it to have a longer term impact. So, these are things that you want to be using on a consistent basis.

That’s one thing that you can do. There’s, there’s other books and blogs that you can read. And there’s an awful lot that you can get on a self-help basis.

So at what point do you want to start looking for professional support. Because a lot of people will say, Oh, I’m not bad enough, or someone else needs that support more than me. And we do tend to think that we don’t deserve that help.

Stacie Clark
Yeah, I’ve definitely felt that way and I hear a lot of clients in that as well.

Hayley Stanton
So at Quiet Connections, we work with people on a one to one basis, offering coaching. And at the moment, in Cornwall, you can access that support, for free if you are unemployed, even if you’re a student. And you can do this by going through the Positive People programme. And you’ll find a link on our website to get some more information about this. So we are a specialist provider on the Positive People programme, although we don’t actually run the programme, they refer people to us for, for coaching support to help them with social anxiety, growing confidence, and just learning to accept ourselves a little bit more, and show up and be seen with a little bit more courage.

Stacie Clark
And then another thing that we are running on a monthly basis is. We host a free webinar that you’re more than welcome to attend. And in this webinar, we talk a lot more in depth as to what social anxiety is, where it’s coming from, what is actually going on beneath the surface, and we start looking at the theory of change so how, how we can start approaching, making those changes in our life, so that they’re in alignment with who we actually are. But it’s not about us changing who we are, in order to fit in. It’s about us changing how we’re responding and how we’re reacting to situations, in order to actually recognise that we already belong.

Hayley Stanton
And the other way is to download the Quiet Connections app. So, we have an app that has some free features and some premium features. And in it, you’ll find some advice and hints and tips and conversation starters, and you’ll even find a mini course to help you with the very basics to manage that anxiety and feel a little bit more confident.

Stacie Clark
Oh yeah, that’s a great course to start with. And also on our app, you will find a community group where you can connect with other people who are also feeling the same with you. And that’s a really nice, really nice safe space for us to kind of talk about anything that you might be feeling worried and anxious about, as well as an opportunity for you to just share aspects of what what you enjoy and what your interests are, and experience that sense of commonality with other people and to recognise that, actually, like, you have a lot a lot to bring to the table.

Hayley Stanton
We really want you to feel like you are not alone in this. And we’re here with you.

Stacie Clark
Yeah, every step of the way.

So, just to reiterate what our website is in case you missed that it’s www.Quiet Connections.co.uk and that’s where you’ll find all these free resources.

Hayley Stanton
So even if, even if social anxiety is, even if it seems mild to you, is impacting your life, in any way at all, I would suggest going to get that support. For me, I wish I had had that support when I was at college, because honestly it got a little bit harder for me when I left college, and I was then, had the, the option of going to university or going to work and both of those were really terrifying. So, now is definitely the time to get that support, to learn a little bit more about what’s happening for you. And those ways that you can manage the anxiety, and feel more confident in yourself.

Thank you for listening, and stay connected.

Rose Burch
Thanks for listening. You can find the show notes for this episode at quiet connections.co.uk
Claim your free gift now at QuietConnections.co.uk/freegifts

Share your thoughts...

How to Get More Calm & Confident in Social Situations

A Quiet Person’s Guide to Gently Stretching Your Comfort Zone at Your Own Pace

Get Your Free Workbook

Sign up for our best tips to help you grow your confidence & get this free workbook right away!

(You can easily unsubscribe at any time)

JOIN THE FREE WEBINAR: From Socially Anxious to Quietly Confident

X