It’s No Secret: Social Anxiety in South Asian University Communities is Real

by Vaidehi Gajjar Follow @vgajjar95

I’ve often heard you make some of your best friends in college. These are the friends that will be at your wedding as your bridesmaids, the ones whose kids will become your kids’ best friends, etc. But when you have social anxiety, it’s very hard to make friends, let alone long-term friends. And in my experience, the structure of the South Asian community within colleges and universities makes friendships very difficult for individuals with social anxiety.

I do not mean to offend or hurt anyone. I just want to bring awareness to a perspective of social interaction within our community that deserves more light. But to begin, it’s important to understand what social anxiety is and its associated symptoms. According to the Social Anxiety Institute, social anxiety is defined as the fear of interaction with other people that brings on self-consciousness, feelings of being negatively judged and evaluated, and, as a result, leads to avoidance. People who have social anxiety possess a constant fear of being judged and being seen negatively by those around them, leading them to feel inferior, inadequate, embarrassed, and depressed.

According to Dr. Thomas A. Richards, after depression and alcoholism, social anxiety disorder is the third largest psychological disorder. It is estimated that around 7 percent of the population suffers from some degree of social anxiety. There are two types of social anxiety: specific and general. Specific social anxiety involves experiencing anxiety in front of groups of people only, whereas general social anxiety is when a person is uncomfortable in all social situations. General social anxiety is much more common.

Now, how do you identify someone with social anxiety or possibly know that you may have it? Symptoms of social anxiety include experiencing significant emotional distress in some of the following situations: when being introduced to other people, meeting “important people,” and in interpersonal relationships (both friendships and romantic relationships). The most common symptom that does not disappear is a constant, intense anxiety. People suffering from social anxiety disorder almost always know that their fears and worries of social situations are irrational, but are still not able to bypass the feelings.

[Read Related: Despite My Anxiety and Depression, I Guess I’m Okay]

The first thing I hope everyone takes away from this article is that we, as young South Asians in college and university settings, should be cognizant of our behaviors towards individuals with social anxiety or those who we suspect might show signs of it. To the uninformed, the solution may seem quite simple: just make friends that understand your social anxiety and you’ll be okay! But this is where I hurt some feelings.

It is no secret, no matter how much anyone tries to deny it, that South Asians are quite competitive, which can foster an attitude of self-absorbance. These behaviors can either leave behind those with social anxiety attempting to become a part of the group or encourage them to shy away at any hint of what feels like excessive judgment or scrutiny. This phenomenon, in my opinion, exists in many places, but two places I’ve noticed in particular: South Asian Greek life and South Asian dance teams.

Before you go bashing me for being a hater, hold on a second and hear me out. Those of you who are in these groups, let me speak directly to you. I’m not saying that each and every one of you in these groups is a bad person. I can’t speak for you. I know there is a lot of effort, support, and expectations that you all put into this. I know a lot of you are tight-knit and have amazing dynamics, but if you ever come across someone who you feel is just trying to fit in, please don’t rule out the fact that they might have social anxiety. The last thing they need is another judge when all they want to do is fit in like you.

I’ve noticed that with these groups, getting in may not be too terribly difficult, but maintaining those relationships and not letting outside factors influence them may be very difficult. Let me give you an example. Since I have been on a South Asian dance team before, in my experience, one of the biggest problems with dance teams is that the whole “these people will be your family” concept goes straight out the door when it comes to figuring out who runs what or who will have the most decision-making ability. I’ve seen this phenomenon work similarly in desi Greek life. Many times, the line sisters and grand bigs turn into hollow relationships and the promises of “I’ll stand by you no matter what” turn into promises of the past when it comes to deciding between success and friendship.

[Read Related: Why We Need to Break the ‘South Asian Mentality’ of Success]

The intentions of these cultural organizations may be great, but things end up being carried out terribly sometimes, especially for the outliers. And I think for anyone with social anxiety, this is a terrifying situation to be in because they’re still trying their best to maintain group relationships. Making those relationships in the first place may have been hard enough for them. But then comes the whole thought process in their head, “I want to move up but I also don’t want to lose the friends I’ve got.” Any other person would have just said, “Hey, this is what I want, and if I’ve got a shot at this, I’m going to do everything I can to make it to where I want to be.” And in my head, this means stepping on those who may be unable to fully express their desire to do something.

Social anxiety is paralyzing, and in this case, it makes things very difficult for the person experiencing it. So can we all please be a little more understanding of others? By no means is being ambitious a bad thing, as that’s probably one of our hallmark traits as a community, but can we be a little more considerate of the good people among us whose voices might not carry as far as others do, especially for reasons beyond their control?

These organizations were originally started to combine social and cultural aspects, but in many of them, I see only certain social aspects being promoted. Here’s an example. One problem with many fraternities is the indirect promotion of misogynist values. I’m sorry boys, but it’s becoming a huge problem. I more than fully know that you’re not all like this. But for those who behaviorally are, if you’re trying to set an example for brothers after you, how do you expect to do so when you’re out devaluing women? Isn’t that a part of our culture, to respect women? Is that what your mothers taught you? Is that how you would treat your own sister? Tying this back into social anxiety, if a person in your respective frat is someone with social anxiety, do you think they’ll have the heart to stand up and say they disagree with you? Of course not. They’ll continue promoting what they see around them, what they know as “acceptable,” because they want to preserve what they have  – that relationship with you. And that, my friend, is not acceptable. So let’s also learn to set good examples and treat others the way we would want ourselves and our loved ones to be treated.

You’re probably thinking now: What is the solution? According to Dr. Richards, a combination of two things can treat social anxiety: 1) cognitive behavioral therapy, meaning a mental health professional who understands the sufferer, and 2) a supportive environment, which is us.

The therapy for improved mental health lies in a professional’s hands, but fostering a supportive environment lies in your hands. You really just have to give those not like you a chance. Social anxiety disorder can be cured with effective therapy, but therapy will mean nothing unless there is a change in the environment. So seek to find more ways to include people in your organizations, and create real, lasting relationships with people, even if it’s difficult for them to reach out to you.

Lastly, before you feel bad, I want to repeat that I don’t think any of you are bad people, please understand that. I just don’t think many of you realize what you’re doing, the impact your actions have, and I’m simply attempting to bring awareness to it. It may not be affecting you, but I can almost guarantee you, your behavior is affecting someone around you.

Let’s not step on each other for our own benefit. It might be hurting someone way more than it’s helping us. We should bring quieter voices out into our loud forums. We need to respect women and men, alike, and let’s grow our wonderful South Asian community together. If we start now, our future generations will follow and, one day, we can look back and see how far we’ve come!

Vaidehi Gajjar is a college student currently studying biology at the University of South Carolina. She is another brown girl dreaming, exploring, and writing her way through life. She doesn’t do it for the fame, but for the freedom. Follow her down this road called life and join the adventure! 


By Brown Girl Magazine

Brown Girl Magazine was created by and for South Asian womxn who believe in the power of storytelling as a … Read more ›

Keeping our Friendships Strong as we Get Older

I organize play dates for my children. They’re friendships remind me of when I was younger when Fridays were consistently set aside for my friends. Now, it seems play is indeed meant for childhood and work is for aging adults. We often can’t find time for ourselves, let alone our friends, who are busy working mothers like ourselves. Or we moved into unreachable corners of this globe, far away from any means of physical communication. It’s fair to say, it’s hard to stay close to friends like when we were in college. Nowadays, it’s easier to travel, but more difficult to bond with others. “My Friend” asserts that we should not end let our friendships fall by the wayside. Even with physical distance and conflicting schedules, we keep our friendships close with kind words on phone calls, regular FaceTime calls, or even encouraging social media comments. Friendship doesn’t end once we become adults.

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My Friend

The turbulent sea of a ticking clock,
A constant chime of chores
Unfolded laundry, unpaid bills.
For unplanned surprises, Life’s infinite stores

An achy neck, a heavy head,
A forever strong of burdens
Fleeting as they may be
Yet as real as my scribbling pens

In this world of lonely battles
Filled with competing souls
It’s you, my friend
Your comforting words, long strolls

Your phone calls, your laughter,
You listening when I’m remiss,
Your steady support,
The source of all my bliss.

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The opinions expressed by the guest writer/blogger and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Brown Girl Magazine, Inc., or any employee thereof. Brown Girl Magazine is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the guest writer/bloggers. This work is the opinion of the blogger. It is not the intention of Brown Girl Magazine to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, or individual. If you’d like to submit a guest post, please follow the guidelines we’ve set forth here.
By Mars D. Gill

Mars D. Gill is the author of "House of Milk and Cheese" and "Letters from the Queen". She writes mainstream … Read more ›

Moving on After Breaking up With Your Cat

“Take what you want//Take everything” reflects on a time with my partner and our cat, Layla. It’s a retelling of the chaotic night I adopted her. I didn’t know why Layla hid from me. When I chased her around, it scared her more. “Take what you want//Take everything” juxtaposes our first night, filled with misunderstanding, with the rest of the time we spent together. My fond memories call back to the loving moments Layla and I shared.

Such memories defined us; they reverberated in my partnership. I wonder if my partner, like Layla, only remembers her fear of me, over our shared moments of love. The title, a Kanye West lyric, is an acknowledgment that their happiness together–without me–destroyed my sense of self. When I see their photos, I wonder if I can see myself reflected in their eyes. I wonder if they still keep kind moments of our time together.

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Take what you want//Take everything

I remember when she would look at me from behind a laundry basket.

A small simple cat with green owl eyes. She was afraid of her new home and its owner. Shit, I remember the night I got her, she hid under my bed, in the middle just out of my reach for maybe 6 hours, watching me. She didn’t eat anything the entire day. When the night fell I was afraid she’d starve or come out and attack me. I was just scared. I didn’t have a childhood pet, I’m not white, I didn’t know what to do. I picked up the whole bed and yelled that she needed to move. I chased her into the closet with a vacuum cleaner. When she ran in, I called my lover and yelled to her that she wasn’t helping enough, she needed to be there to help me. That was our first day together, me and that cat. No one will ever have that memory but me and maybe her.

It was during Ramadan, my first year fasting.

Our problems had already begun by then. Enough so that I decided to fast and show retribution. I’d try to change into a more patient and understanding self. Like the Prophet (SAW) I guess. To become someone that my lover could feel safe around. Somehow, getting a cat felt like it fit into that picture. I’d be a cat dad, you know, gentle. We’d raise her. I’d fast and become New Again. Maybe I’d wrap an inked tasbih around myself and show I’m a man of God.

I don’t know how a cat remembers fear any more than I know how a lover does.

I know her body stored it. My cat’s must have stored it too. That first night, I wish I could tell her that I was afraid too. It doesn’t make sense that I was afraid really — I’m bigger, more threatening. We don’t speak the same language anyway, so how could I ever tell her? She learned to trust me though, in her own way. Her small bean paws would press on my chest in the mornings. She’d meow to berate me for locking her out some nights, or when I was away from home too long.

She lives with my lover now. They share photos with me, they’re happy together.

I saw my lover once, it was on 55th and 7th, Broadway shined blue performance lights over us. She wore a red sacral dress. She said her mental health has never been better. I think she was trying to tell me that she’s doing well, because she knows I care for her. I don’t think she was trying to say she’s happier without me. We don’t speak the same language. I actually think they are happier with just each other. And I loved them both, so it hurts. Sometimes, not all the time. And it doesn’t always hurt that bad. Other times it does get pretty bad, though. I probably owe it to myself to say that.

I look back at the photos, the ones of our life together, and the ones of their new life.

Two green owl eyes, and two brown moonlit eyes. I look for myself in them.

[Read Related: How Love Matures as you Grow]

By Umrao Shaan

Umrao Shaan is a short storyist, poet, and ghazals singer. You can find his songs on his Instagram. His other … Read more ›

The Poetry Film Breaking Genres and National Borders

“After so Long” is a poetry film created for Simha’s EP, which is streaming on Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music. The poem was collaboratively written by Simha, a U.S. native, and Jae, who is based in India, during the 2020 lockdown. “After so Long” was recited by Simha and their parents. In 2022, I directed and produced the film through my studio, Star Hopper. “After so Long” premiered on Nowness Asia in March 2022.

This film is a worldwide collaboration among trans and queer south-Asian artists from the United States, India and Canada. It was recorded, shot and filmed during the lockdown of 2020 and 2021.

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After So Long (English Translation)

Awake at 10 am but out of bed at noon,
I want to be here where I lose myself in these sheets
Glancing through half-shut eyes
At the gold pressing past my window
The glimmer remarks on the ledge of my bed
But the voices are so loud
Like dust collecting in the corner of my room
I am unaware to why I’m still here
With the chilling doubt of the breeze…
I’m swept into lucidity After so long

Mil rahi hoon mein aaj iske saang barso baad,
(Today, I’ll be meeting them after so long)
Koi paata nahi diya tune
(But with no destination sight,)
Kya karu?
(What should I do?)
Kaha jau?
(Where should I go?)
Shayad agar mein chalne lagoon,
(Perhaps, if I keep walking)
Inn yaadon ki safar mein
(Down this road of memories)
Mujhe samajh mein ayega,
(I will find out)
Yeh rasta kahaan jayega,
(Where this road leads)
Inn aari tedhi pakadandiyon pe baarte hi jaana hai,
(Through the twists and turns of this winding roads, I must keep going on)
Mujhe mil na hain aaj uske saath,
(I wish to meet them today)
Barso baad.
(After so long)

I feel like I’m retracing my footsteps
From these concrete stretches
To broken cement walls
Chips and cracks forge their way for new designs
I see the old abandoned buildings
That once held the warmth of bodies
Now just hold memories
Supporting the nature’s resilience
In vines and moss
After so long

Dhoondli shishe mein jaaga leli hai
(These isty mirrors have offered refuge)
Bikhri hui laatao ne,
(To these scattered vines)
Zameen pe uchi ghaas pe
(Amidst the tall grass stretching from the ground)
Lehrati kamsan kaliyaa
(The swaying little buds)
Bheeni bheeni khushboo bikhereti
(Spreading honeysuckle scent through the air)
Phir wahi mausam,
(I lose myself in reminiscing, the same season)
Wahi dil,
(The same heart)
Baarso baad.
(After so long)
Phir bhi mein chal rahi hoon aaj
(Still, I keep carrying on today)
Khudko khudse milane ke liye
(In the pursuit of my higher self)
Inn galiyo se guzarna hain aaj
(I must pass through these streets today)
Chaalte chaale jaana hai aaj
(I must keep going on today)
Kabhi hum milenge kisi mor paar
(Someday, we’ll meet again, somewhere on this road)
barso baad
(After so long)
Kabhi hum milenge kisi mor pe
(Someday, we’ll meet again, somewhere on this road)
barso baad
(After so long)

[Read Related: How to Follow Your Heart, Even When it’s Hard]


Poem by Simha & Jae
Produced by Star Hopper Studios
Directed by Varsha Panikar
Cinematography and grading by Tanmay Chowdhary
Editing by Asawari Jagushte
Featuring Vaishakh Sudhakaran
Music Production by Simha
Hindi editing by Rama Garimella
Recited by Simha, Rama Garimella, Annaji Garimella
English Translation by Nhylar

The opinions expressed by the guest writer/blogger and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Brown Girl Magazine, Inc., or any employee thereof. Brown Girl Magazine is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the guest writer/bloggers. This work is the opinion of the blogger. It is not the intention of Brown Girl Magazine to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, or individual. If you’d like to submit a guest post, please follow the guidelines we’ve set forth here.
By Varsha Panikar

Varsha Panikar (they/he) is a filmmaker, writer and multi-disciplinary artist from India. They are the co-founder of Star Hopper, a … Read more ›