By Kailey Steward
My social anxiety has been an issue for a long time, becoming worse and worse as I got older, but mainly in the past three years. I am a freshman in college, and at the beginning of this year I was having a lot of trouble adjusting to this new environment. I couldn’t make myself go to meals alone, so I mainly ate snacks in my room. I was quiet in class so I didn’t really make friends. This just made my feelings loneliness and disconnection from my friends and family, who were in other states and hours away, worse. I felt very, very alone and didn’t really know what to do because it was starting to affect my health.
Around October, when hockey pre-season started, this began to change for me, and I have been taking steps to work through it.
Hockey is my favorite sport. I began showing my support for my favorite team, the Chicago Blackhawks, by wearing my jersey or my team shirts around on campus. People started talking to me. They wanted to know who my favorite player was, whether I was watching the game that night, who I thought would be going to playoffs, etc. I started making friends who I would get lunch or dinner with once or twice a week.
I started to talk more and more people about hockey. Soon I was able to start conversations with people who I knew enjoyed the sport and even just have regular conversations with people I was in class with. Though I still didn’t participate much (and it was very, very rarely with someone I didn’t know fairly well), it was a huge step up from the beginning of the school year, when I would have near panic attacks at the thought of eating alone.
Hockey also helped remind me that even though my friends and family were far away, they hadn’t left me here on my own. I would Skype home to watch games with my mom and dissect the games with my best friend, who was at school 12 hours away from me. Hockey brought me closer with people I already cared about, and this helped me to feel more comfortable here as well.
I haven’t gotten better (I understand that this is something I’m going to be working through probably the rest of my life), but I have definitely improved. I talk to people I don’t know very well in my classes, and I participate more in the discussions. Some of it was due to people here, some of it my own growing confidence, but mainly it was hockey that has helped me so much.
Because hockey helped me so much, I created this video sharing my experience and asking the Chicago Blackhawks to choose my idea for their campaign “What’s Your Goal.” With this, I hope hockey, or even another sport, can help bring others who suffer from social anxiety together in support of one another.