Anxiety and School: The 3 habits that helped me.
We all know that high school isn’t like the way it is portrayed in movies. In the movies, the anxious and socially awkward main character goes through a year-long journey and learns to embrace their inner confidence, usually by befriending a group of lovable misfits. If my high school experience had been a movie I would have overcome my social anxiety completely by the time I graduated, and found the courage within myself to try new activities, meet new people, and spend a lot less time worrying about my personal value. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened.
While I became more adjusted to my high school social environment overtime, my anxiety constantly lurked in the background waiting to assert itself when I least expected it. Once I started college, I found myself completely outside my comfort zone, and my anxiety seemed to increase exponentially. I still remember standing in my dorm hallway freshman year, paralyzed, and trying to work up the courage to walk five steps forward and introduce myself to a group of strangers. In some ways, my anxiety started to subside overtime but in other ways it got worse than ever. Once I reached my junior year I found myself having anxiety attacks that were more severe and frequent than I had expected. As much as I wish it were possible to wish my social anxiety away, and magically wake up a more well-adjusted and happy person this isn’t possible. If I want to manage it effectively, I need to be willing to put the effort in. With that in mind, here are three key habits I have adopted that have helped me manage my anxiety when it starts to flare up.
First, find the time to exercise. Exercise can be a great way to clear you head, and calm yourself when you start to feel stressed. During one of my worst and most prolonged anxiety attacks I decided to go on a run. By the end of my workout my mood had completely changed and most of my stress had subsided.
Second, start practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness is about learning to bring your attention to the experiences you are having in a present moment. Part of that is learning to detach yourself from your thoughts and recognizing the power we often unintentionally delegate to them. Imagine you are sitting by the side of a river. Each of your thoughts is like a leaf drifting across the surface of the river. We have a habit of jumping in the river and trying to swim after them or stop them from drifting. As a result, we often only succeed at making ourselves feel more unsettled and restless. In practicing mindfulness, we can start to learn how to let go, and remain sitting on our personal river bank, letting each of the leaves be carried away by the current instead of fixating on them. This can be a difficult skill to acquire at first, but if you give yourself time to practice it will become easier sooner than expected.
Third, find someone to talk with. To be clear, this doesn’t mean dumping all your problems on a friend or a family member whenever you start feeling stressed and need to vent. In fact, depending on how severe your anxiety is, it might be a good idea to start talking with a therapist who specializes in anxiety treatment. However, having a friend or family member that you know you can turn to when you need some support is important. Once when I was feeling stressed and anxious I turned to a friend and gave her a little bit of insight into what I was feeling. Her support helped ground me and reorient myself so that I didn’t get swept up in a whirlwind of fear and stress. You should not use friends and loved ones as a crutch to prevent yourself from dealing with your real problems, but this does not mean that they can’t be a helpful resource to make use of. Social anxiety can often feel insurmountable, but the important thing to remember is that we can choose whether we give it power in our lives.
Written by one of Empowerteen’s Intern Guest Writers (Senior College Student)
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