Social anxiety affects UNCA students and staff

Caitlin Doherty
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Usually when starting college, most students do not have many friends and live far away from home and beginning this experience can cause social anxiety.
UNC Asheville Assistant Director of Evening and Weekend Programs Catherine “Cate” O’Connor works to help these students get out and be social, despite how nervous they may be.
“It’s creating the college experience outside of academics on college campuses,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor works in Highsmith Student Union and plans events such as winter carnival and homecoming. She also supervises Underdog Productions, a student-lead organization at UNCA which plans campus events.
“I made really great connections and friends on a college campus and wanted to help create that atmosphere for future students,” O’Connor said.
She said getting out and making new friends might be one of the most important things college students can do.
“While classes and academics are a priority, building a social network is also a priority,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor went to college five hours away from her home and did not know anyone. She said she made friends through her roommates, meeting people on her hall, joining clubs and becoming a resident assistant.
O’Connor said connecting with roommates, meeting people through the residence hall, talking to people in class or joining student organizations creates an initial bond.
“Everyone’s in the same boat. There might be people who are more confident and more comfortable approaching other people but typically when people come to college they don’t know a lot of people, so most people are looking to make friends,” O’Connor said.
Mark Harvey, professor of psychology, said he was not very social when he was in college.
“I was over focused on studying and was very concerned about about my grades,” Harvey said. “I tried to make a point of not eating alone in the cafeteria. I always tried to ask somebody around to go with me, it’s simple things like that.”
Harvey said having a good social life is important because it provides a buffer against stressors in life.
“We’re naturally a gregarious species and we naturally should be in social groups. If you’re socially isolated it can cause a number of problems for you as an individual,” Harvey said.
According to Harvey, a safe way to branch out from social anxiety is to join a club or engage in a shared activity with others.
Una Holland, a freshman student, said the clubs and events at the school can be helpful for those who do not get out a lot socially.

Una Holland said living with people forced them to make great friends. Photo by Caitlin Doherty.

“Going to different clubs that are supportive and going to events that you really enjoy helps a lot,” Holland said. “One night I went to a club meeting here at school and I didn’t really know anyone really well in the club. I just went solo and didn’t have any close friends with me at the time. I had someone come up to me and we introduced ourselves to everyone else in the club and just got to talk to everyone and that’s how I’ve been gaining more friends and meeting more people.”
UNCA organizes many events throughout the school year for students to attend and try to make new friends. Incentives for going include door prizes, free snacks, drinks and NowPoints, which students can collect and use to win prizes at the end of the school year. Holland said making friends at college is easier than making friends in high school because in high school there were so many cliques it made it hard to find a good group of friends.
“I was nervous at first but got over it pretty fast because I saw all the fun that this school can bring, so it wasn’t scary for too long,” Holland said.