Overcoming Social Anxiety in a New City

Overcoming Social Anxiety in a New City

The desire to be liked, make friends, find your way and be enough can be all-consuming in a new city.

Washington, D.C. is completely different from the small Ohio town that I call home. I tried to prepare as much as I could before even leaving my home, but I found the more I tried to prepare for the unknown, the more anxious I became. 

I was excited for the academic and professional challenges that awaited me. However, the social unknowns that would greet me in D.C. created an anxiety that made me feel like I was on a runaway train going a thousand miles a second, with me helplessly anticipating a crash. 

Questions swarmed my mind endlessly until I could not focus on anything else: 

  • “What if I don’t make any friends?” 
  • “What if my roommates don’t like me?”
  • “What if I’m late or get lost my first day?”
  •  “What if I am not enough?” 

What helped ease the anxiety was treating the tormenting voice in my head as if it were another person. When you are asked a question by another person, normally you answer. I started answering the questions that swarmed my brain.

The desire to be liked, make friends, find my way and be enough for the people I was going to live with for ten weeks consumed me.

What helped ease the anxiety was treating the tormenting voice in my head as if it were another person. When you are asked a question by another person, normally you answer. I started answering the questions that swarmed my brain.

What if I don’t make any friends?
There are going to be HUNDREDS of people there, someone is going to be your friend.

What if my roommates don’t like me?
They probably will. But if they don’t, everyone is going to be doing their own internship and will be out doing their own thing. As long as you’re part of a respectful living environment, everything is ok.

What if I’m late or get lost my first day?
You have never lived in a city before and your boss knows that! Getting lost is just a lesson on how not to get to your internship.

What if I’m not enough?
You are already more than enough! The Washington Center accepted you into this program because they believe in what you have to offer. If they didn’t think you would do well in the program, they wouldn’t have accepted you.

I made myself the rule that I would only answer my question once per moment it came up. ONCE. If my brain came back with, “yeah, but…” I had to remind myself that I had already given a logical answer and, as with a conversation with any other person, I did not owe my brain any more explanation. 

Sticking to the answers and not allowing my brain to keep building off of them was difficult. It ended up bringing comfort, security and even a little bit of confidence standing up to myself. This gave me room to be positive facing any unknown. 

When, on my first day in D.C., a mouse tried to climb up my leg, I instantly felt a new question come to me: What if I don’t get used to the city? I was able to answer this question once by reminding myself I have the choice to be miserable for ten weeks, but I also have the choice to try to be as positive and open minded as possible. Plus, despite being extremely unsanitary, the mouse was kind of cute… so I guess you could say it was a sign that at least a mouse wanted to be my friend. 

And, I did get lost on the way to my internship the first day. I’m still here, though, and I still had an amazing day! My supervisor was super understanding. I suspect most would be in that situation because they understand that their interns are new to the area and finding their way.  

Finding your way in Washington, D.C.
Even if you get lost, most supervisors understand that interns are new to the area and finding their way.

I know I cannot possibly be the only person here that has the weight of a mental illness on their shoulders while going through their everyday lives. I do not claim to have answers about how to make those go away, but I hope that by sharing my story I can provide comfort to those who might be going through the same or similar thing and insight for those who don’t have anxiety. 

I just want to remind you: YOU ARE ENOUGH! Just as you are. You don’t need to prove yourself to anyone here. You don’t have to prove to people why they should like you. Be the most authentic version of yourself that you can be. Take in every moment in this beautiful city. You’re going to make amazing friends who you might invite to your wedding someday. 

Josi Lieb, Washington Center Student Blogger, Summer 2019

Josi is a student at Ohio Northern University where she is studying History and Political Science. Josi is a Summer 2019 intern at The Lincoln Archives Digital Project, a public service project dedicated to digitizing the federal records of the Lincoln Administration.

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