As I stand in the kitchen, talking with my mother about my role in the upcoming school musical, I notice that my chest is beginning to tighten.
Oh no, not this, I think frantically. I’m nervous, but I can’t be that nervous, can I?
Apparently I can. Now, the very thought of walking onstage seems impossible, no, inconceivable.
I can’t do it, I think to myself. I can’t do it, I can’t do it, I can’t do it.
Now my breathing becomes more constricted. My knees lock. My jaw sets. I feel dizzy. My eyes begin to sting.
No, don’t cry, I plead with myself. Please, please, don’t cry.
But it’s too late. I burst into tears. It takes me almost an hour to fully calm down.
This is just one of countless other anxiety attacks that I’ve had to cope with since almost as long as I can remember, and I’m not alone. Almost 18% of the U.S. population struggles with some kind of anxiety disorder, and on behalf of them, I’m here to tell you that it’s really, really hard to deal with. Think of it as having a gigantic cooking pot inside of you, with all of your emotions mixed into a huge, many-layered stew. Turn up the heat too much, and it bubbles over into one giant deluge of fear, anger, and most of all for me, shame.
My anxiety was hardest to cope with in elementary school. I was constantly told by my teachers that I needed to “toughen up” and “be a big girl”. Time and time again, I was patted on the back by my classmates, who always gave me slightly worried and confused looks, probably wondering why it was so hard for me to play a simple game of kickball, or take a typing test on the computer. I wondered that too.
Over and over I asked myself, Why can’t you just be normal? Why can’t you act like other kids? What’s wrong with you?
I was deeply ashamed to show my feelings, particularly when I was frustrated or sad. This, of course, only led to more stress over my ability to hide them. In short, it was altogether too easy for me to become a complete wreck, anytime, anywhere.
So how do you keep a handle on something that can strike at any time? The answer is: I don’t know. I haven’t the foggiest idea of how you calm down when the world is crashing down around your ears. That’s something that you’ll have to discover for yourself. There are dozens of different methods that you could try, from meditation, to counting by fives, to fifteen seconds of positive thought. It was a very trial and error sort of path, but here’s what usually works for me: Whenever I start to feel nervous or anxious, I tamp down on whatever negative thoughts start crowding my mind.
I take a closer look at them, and ask myself: Is that really true? Is it helpful? Is it, in the grand scheme of things, really even important?
Most of the time, the answer will be no. By identifying the lies that our own minds try to feed us on a daily basis, we have an easier time distinguishing the truth, not just in ourselves, but in others around us.
And that, my friends, is one of the most important things that we may ever do in this world of bias, misinterpretation, and fake news. So whether you struggle with anxiety or not, when you’re faced with any sort of problem, maybe just put my method to the test.
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