3 Tips: When You Need To Participate in Class With Social Anxiety

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
An honest perspective on social anxiety (Image Source: Catie Hennessey)

“Do professors not realize they are penalizing otherwise great students who are too terrified to speak?

No, I do not mean just feeling too shy in class to speak. 

I mean feeling TERRIFIED of being the center of attention while answering in class.

Or feeling overwhelmingly nervous about being judged by your classmates and your professor. 

Social anxiety is not a buzzword. 

It refers to an actual disorder. 

Despite being the third most common mental health care in the world, social anxiety is often dismissed, because when someone withdraws from social situations, they are often seen as shy, disinterested, and often even rude. This compilation of tweets is an apt representation of people with social anxiety. 

Social anxiety is not the same as Generalized Anxiety, a disorder we explored last week.

What is Social Anxiety?
A long term and overwhelming fear of social situations.

Symptoms:
Intense fear-related to…

  • Meeting strangers
  • Starting conversations, especially in a group
  • Eating with others
  • Being judged for every word you say or your demeanour while talking (am I talking too fast? Too slow? Am I stuttering? Is what I am saying even making sense?)

People with social anxiety often…

  • Blush, tremble or sweat a lot while talking
  • Find it difficult to do things when others are watching
  • Avoid eye contact while talking
  • Display other physical reactions such as feeling dizzy or nauseous or having muscle pain

Source: United Kingdom National Health Service
(The above link also contains treatment options, signs to look out for to know when to get help, and more resources!)

In an academic environment, social anxiety can be a big obstacle when it comes to class participation, which is often a core assessment component in college courses. This can also hamper other parts of your academic assessment, such as group projects and class presentations.

If you are currently doing virtual classes, and live in an abusive household, class participation tips might not be enough, and maybe these can help!

Though social anxiety is treatable, going through treatment options is not the goal of this article. 

I have curated some tips and tricks tried and tested by students with social anxiety.

These students have agonized over countless class discussions, scared to speak up, with even the thought of having all eyes on them making them shiver.

Social anxiety during presentations (not the same as introversion!)  [Image Source: Cat Rose]
These tips will not cure your social anxiety.

They are in no way a manner of asking you to “get over it”. 

They are simply small steps towards protecting your grade when it comes to class participation, suggested by people going through similar experiences. 

TIP#1: OBSERVE QUIETLY DURING THE FIRST WEEK

Counterintuitive as it sounds, the best strategy might not be to forcing yourself to be active in class right from the beginning.

Aakriti is a student in an intensive degree course in a class of 60+ students, with multiple courses attributing marks to class participation. This is how she dealt with it.

“At the start of every semester, I would take the first 2-3 classes to just get comfortable around the professor/classmates.

I would observe the way they talked.

Even got used to their voices, and just essentially took the time to get comfortable in that particular environment with those specific people. I wouldn’t participate at all.

Just quietly observe.

I would do this with each separate course. Sometimes it would even take a couple of weeks, so though not a quick fix, in a semester spanning 4 months, it wasn’t too much time and it wouldn’t hurt my marks. 

Once this is done, I would not feel that terrified.

I felt accustomed and more comfortable, and the initial uncertainty would fade away. 

By this time, I have already witnessed other students messing up, or have noted how the professor behaves when faced with a not-so-smart response (do they roll their eyes? Ignore? Be rude?) and just having all this information would set me up for slowly engaging in class.”

Does this make sense? Maybe you can give it a try this semester!

Would you rather talk to a wall? [Image Source: James Radek]

TIP#2: DON’T WAIT FOR VIVAS OR POP QUIZZES!

A major aspect of social anxiety is the fear of being put on the spot. Going red when your professor calls your name out during a cold call is a familiar feeling. 

Some students suggest not waiting to be called upon or only engaging in class when you have been pointedly asked a question. Instead, make conscious decisions to participate, depending on your comfort level. 

The point is to participate in class when there are negligible stakes, instead of waiting to speak up only during a graded viva or quiz. 

A professor usually gives a class participation grade after assessing the student for the entire semester.

Messing up a few times will not have a detrimental effect on your grade. Soon enough you will realize that each student in your class has messed up a presentation or a cold call. You will not be the first or the last. 

So if you can find small pockets of discussions where even if you can’t articulate your thoughts well, (or at all!) or get too nervous that you stop mid-way, it will only prepare you for the inevitable cold call or viva. That way you can CHOOSE when to participate, thus having more control over the situation. Mess up enough times, and you might just feel less panicky in the future.

No one can put you in a spot in these situations. Therefore, this is the best time to therefore rake in those points or have a trial run!

What a class discussion might feel like [Image Source: Cerebral]

TIP#3: TALK TO THE PROFESSOR OUTSIDE OF CLASS

This is an underrated tip that most students dismiss, with the thought that the professor just won’t understand. Sure, that is a possibility. Expecting recognition for any mental health disorder in India is a gamble.

Your professor might just say “too bad, get over it.”

But you know what? There is no harm in trying.

Students have often noted that even without using the term “social anxiety”, they have informed their professors that they have trouble speaking up during class discussions.

The professors have been accommodating, either by presenting alternative assessment options or just being a bit lenient keeping the situation in mind.

Student struggling with answering a question in class
[Image Source: Xetrov]
Do you want to add to this list? 

Remember that no strategy will have universal success. A lot depends on the person, the extent of their social anxiety, and many other factors.

But if you have social anxiety, do give these a try the next time you are in class! Who knows, they might transform your class experience in ways you hadn’t imagined!

Leave a Comment