Max, a volunteer at Mind Cymru, shares his experience of social anxiety and how he is overcoming this.
Coming to university was a lot harder than I expected. It was a whole new experience in a city I had never been to before. I have always been a shy person. In an environment where many of my peers were quite loud and outgoing I quickly felt lonely, overwhelmed and, at times, quite depressed due to my social skills, or lack thereof.
Because of my difficultly socialising, my relationship with my flatmates in university halls was at first quite strained. I wanted to be good friends with them but my general anxiety had a big impact on how I attempted to do so.
The strain of all this had an effect on my university work. I became more and more stressed and found it increasingly hard to concentrate.
I knew I had to do something, so I went to my student services. They got my GP to refer me to speech and language therapy at Cardiff’s Heath Hospital. This was the beginning of a positive and ongoing process to develop greater confidence in my communication and social skills. I was increasingly outgoing, going to parties and becoming more comfortable within other similar social situations. I also made new and valued friends.
Another situation where my social anxiety was particularly challenging was giving presentations at university, either by myself or with others. Very often, I knew quite clearly what I wanted to say, but the words just didn’t want to come out. With the help of speech and language therapy and a bit of practise this got a little better. Indeed, when I gave presentations as part of the Graduate Academy, feedback suggested it had improved quite a bit. Without the support I received and the improvement in my social confidence as a result of this, I might not even have attended the Graduate Academy or involved myself in the Prince’s Trust.
Though I am still a relatively shy person I have also been told by many people how equally determined I am. Despite my personal challenges, I am intent on not letting this be a barrier to me in my future life or my career. Although my strength lies with my written communication skills I am extremely eager to develop and strengthen my verbal skills, in part with the help of Mind Cymru, where I volunteer.
One of the ways I am challenging myself to increase my confidence is by taking on reception duties while being supported and learning with another volunteer. Through simply saying hello and interacting with visitors I am developing my confidence to strike up a quick and friendly conversation. This might not seem like a big deal to some people, but it’s a great achievement for me.
While volunteering at Mind I have built good working relationships with my colleagues and I am confident I could do so again in my future career. And I know I can develop my abilities and confidence further for other situations like interviews, which I have found hard before.
In the end I am glad I shared my worries during university. With the help of the many good friends I have made here, including as a volunteer at Mind and SNAP Cymru, I have come to love Cardiff. I am proud of how far I’ve come and I am positive I can make even more progress.
If you're finding aspects of university life difficult and this is affecting your mental health, you might find our How to cope with student life guide helpful.