What I Wish I'd Known About Anxiety When I Was Younger
When I was younger I would always crave a fresh start. Moving from grade 8 to high school, from high school to university, and later from university to a new job in a new city - each of these transitions felt like an opportunity. An opportunity to be a new person, to lead a brand new life, to be happy. I told myself “it’s all going to be different this time…” but, despite my good intentions, and a fresh new environment I was still the same person. I let anxiety darken my experience and I would focus on how I didn’t fit in with all the other shiny colorful extroverted people around me. I would feel isolated, and worse I felt ashamed and embarrassed about how I just didn’t quite fit - and that everyone knew it.
For me it was crushing social anxiety, for you it might be a different type of anxiety you’re coping with. Regardless, these are the things that have brought me peace - that I wish I could go back and share with my younger self.
1. You Are Not Alone.
Anxiety can make you feel like the world is full of bright, energetic extroverted people, leaving you feel wrong - like a shadow of what you were meant to be. The cruel thing about anxiety is that it makes you feel other, not enough, like the world can’t understand you. Over time you can embrace who you are and be an individual in a world full of individuals rather than the odd one out.
2. Share yourself.
Anxiety can feel like a flaw that you need to hide. The fear of revealing yourself to others only makes you feel more other and isolated. Unburden yourself and instead open up about your anxiety. Own it. Share it with friends before a party, or if it’s safe to do so share it with a co-workers before a big call, a meeting, or a presentation.
When I first started seeing a therapist I told him that I was worried that being open about my anxiety would be giving up and letting it be real. He deftly reminded me that it is real and that speaking up about it serves as a pressure release. Cracking that shell just a bit gives you space to take some deep breaths and be mindful and present rather than worrying about whatever event is triggering your anxiety.
3. Your Past Matters
It sounds so cliche, but sometimes there’s a root to your suffering hidden away in your past. The pain that we all have in us is something we need to acknowledge and feel, not avoid. Michael Singer, author of “The Untethered Soul,” told Oprah we need to remove our thorns. “The key point of it is, you have two choices. One is, you can either try to avoid everything in your life that touches that thorn. Or, you can do this amazing alternative, which is to take it out. By avoiding the thorn, you will be avoiding it your entire life. It will go on constantly,”
Psychotherapy is an amazing tool and a beautiful gift to yourself if you can afford it as means of safely digging to the root of your anxieties.
4. Be Mindful
We hear so much about the benefits of mindfulness and meditation nowadays that it’s easy to write it off as a make-believe tool used only by insta models in their morning routine. But - the truth is that mindfulness is a powerful tool that can be used against anxiety. Rather than focusing on the past (as mentioned above) or the future, being mindful allows us to focus on the present. By not worrying that you sounded dumb when introducing yourself to a new colleague yesterday, or worrying about a call you have to take with a contentious tomorrow, we can be present in the moment we’re living in. The reality of the present is a place in which we can find calm.
Mindfulness needs to be exercised and you can start with an app like Calm or Headspace, or you can simply notice that you’ve had a worrying thought about past or present and then bring your attention back to your current space.
5. Negative Thinking is worthless
I’m paraphrasing Don Miguel Ruiz “The Four Agreements” when I say that your inner Judge is an a**hole. Sometimes we get lost in the constant chatter in our minds and forget that it isn’t truth, or unconscious wisdom, but literally mindless chatter. It’s worthless.
When we’re catastrophizing a situation, assuming negative intent from others, or closing ourselves off to new experiences we’re reframing the truth to fit our own damaged stories. Remind yourself to look for facts - not assumptions or your own perceptions. You can’t know what someone is thinking unless you ask them, and you can’t know the outcome of any given scenario. Look for facts, not for more story.