“Dear Qmunicate…

I’ve always had low self-esteem but it feels like no matter how much I work on it, my shyness will hold me back. I have a hard time making good friends because I get so nervous that I’ll say or do the wrong thing, so I end up not trying at all. I’ve been told to ‘fake it until you make it’, but when I try I always feel like I’m making a fool of myself, and that people think I’m weird. I like who I am when I’m around those I’m close to, but I don’t know how to stop my anxiety preventing me from widening that circle and meeting new people.” – Wallflower Searching for the Perks

Meeting people in university can seem daunting, no matter what year you’re in. In first year, we worry about starting uni and not meeting anyone. In the years that follow, we worry that we won’t make any more friends because it feels like by that point, everyone knows everyone, friend groups have been established and first impressions have been made. Those of us who are more extroverted and outgoing may struggle less with this, getting stuck in to meeting new classmates and involving themselves in new clubs, committees and societies. But for many of us, the prospect of branching out and meeting new people isn’t quite as simple.

Everyone has experienced low self-esteem from time to time, and can vouch for the negative impact it can have on your life – but throw it into a cocktail mixed with introversion and social anxiety, and everything can begin to feel awfully overwhelming when it comes to socialising.

There is no easy way to answer this, or a one-size-fits-all solution – everyone copes with feelings of self-doubt in different ways, and no one has the authority to say which is the best way for you. You may also find that what has worked in the past may not always work for you, and conversely, what hasn’t helped previously may prove useful in the future. Only you can say what works best for you though.

However, if you already have people around you that you feel close to and who make you feel good about yourself, then you’ve already won half the battle. These people are proof that you are able to go out, approach people, and make friends – and if you’ve done it once then you can certainly do it again! Surrounding yourself with people who make you feel good about yourself and remind you of your worth is so important, and so this is a good place to start trying to build up the confidence to approach new people and form new relationships. By reminding yourself that you are valued and that these people enjoy having you in their lives, you’ll hopefully begin to see that other people will feel the same if you choose to get to know them.

It’s also important not to think of this as a linear journey – more like a big loop-de-loop with lots of going backwards and forwards and with many lows (but hopefully many more highs). Maintaining good self-esteem is like having a tiny but unruly animal thrust upon you – in order for it to be healthy, you have to nurture and care for it, even though it’s gonna misbehave and piss you off from time to time, and you’ll probably find yourself thinking “there’s no helping it! It doesn’t matter what I do – I give up!”. You are responsible for its survival and wellbeing though, and have complete control over it – persevere with it, and it’ll grow into something brilliant and beautiful. Hopefully as a result, you’ll find yourself feeling better, and more inclined to come out of your shell.

In the mean time, if you feel comfortable doing so, start making small efforts to try and overcome your shyness around others. Smile at a stranger, if you like what someone’s wearing then tell them, if you have something to say in class then say it, if you want to make plans with someone then message them to ask when they’re free. Start as small as you like but build on it, even if it seems terrifying at first, and see if it helps – it might feel like you’re faking it, but no one need know that you’re secretly bricking it. You’ll be surprised by how willing most people will be to listen to you, and people are drawn to confidence, fake or otherwise – and if you keep working at it, it won’t be long before your confident exterior comes naturally to you!

[Hannah Burke, resident advice columnist – @hannahcburke_ ]

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