Things I’ve learned as a life-long worrier

I’ve always been a “Worrywart,” a “Nervous Nellie,” a “Fraidy Cat.” I don’t remember my first worry, but I do remember when it started getting out of control. I was very quiet in middle school, to the point where kids would ask me if I ever talked (because that kind of singling out was definitely going to turn me into a motor-mouth). After experiencing what I thought was a heart attack in my seventh grade history class, my parents scheduled an appointment for me to meet with a therapist. I admitted to nail-biting before tests, oral presentations, and dances, but I didn’t know how to explain the overall anguish I felt day-in and day-out. I knew it wasn’t how a twelve year-old should be feeling.

The woman I met was nice, but her single suggestion that I listen to “calming ocean sounds” whenever I felt the distress rising wasn’t that helpful—Walkmans weren’t allowed in class and I wasn’t about to be the girl making swooshing sounds to herself in the back in the room. So I accepted my fate of being vexed with anxiety and tried to move through middle and high school as best I could. It prevented me from a few things (parties, dating, full nights of sleep), but I’d heard everything got better after high school, because that’s where life really began.

Instead, college is when my anxiety peaked. I barely slept. I over-studied for five-question quizzes. I stayed in bar bathrooms for as long as I could. I tried to ignore the buzzing in my brain. But I was fine; college was supposed to be stressful, nerve-wracking, and pain-inducing, right? These were the memories I would cherish forever?

In the spring of my sophomore year, I was on my way to a painting class when I suddenly found myself in the health center. Seriously—I remember walking down the sidewalk, eyes to the ground, and then opening the door to health services. Two other students were reading magazines. The receptionist handed me a form. I met the counselor I would be making steady appointments with for the next two years. I cried when she said, “It seems like you’re holding a lot in.”

It wasn’t until I was twenty years old that I realized I didn’t have to feel this way; that I wasn’t doing myself (or anyone I cared about) any favors by holding it all in. That I wasn’t just a worrywart, I was someone struggling with anxiety. For some people, the worrying is gone as soon as a test is finished; for others, it’s just the first on a long list of troubles.

The worrying still comes and goes, but I’ve learned there are better ways of handling it than bottling up.

What you worry about, others might not—and that’s okay.

There isn’t a wrong or right thing to worry about. There are general worries that affect almost everyone—school, work, relationships—and acute worries that might be singular to you. That’s okay. Everyone is affected by events differently. A throw-down with my elementary school’s computer teacher has left me hesitant about electronics, specifically spit-firing printers. And it’s okay. Weird, but okay.

But it’s not okay if the acute worry is affecting your daily life. In college, I still used printers, but I actively avoided certain social situations in fear of crowds, meeting new people, and doing something I didn’t want to do. After a number of lonely weekends, I realized something had to change.

There’s no reason to feel guilty about worrying.

When I was younger, I used to get teased for how perpetually nervous I was There’s a picture of me at a birthday party, biting my nails among a sea of smiling faces. I don’t remember what I was nervous about, but it was enough to get me gnawing and noticed.

“Relax,” someone would say, “it’s not a big deal. Stop getting yourself worked up.”

But to me, it was, and I’d feel bad that I couldn’t handle it. Worrying about what other people think is too big of a worry in itself; there’s no way to please everyone. So if you start to feel anxious, just focus on yourself and what will make you feel better.

Asking for help isn’t admitting defeat.

It’s the first step towards finding a solution. I can’t even count the number of times family, friends, teachers, and even strangers have asked if I was okay and I’ve responded with a well-practiced, “I’m fine.” I didn’t want to bother anyone; I didn’t want to unload my problems onto someone else’s back. It took me a long time to understand that there were people who were genuinely concerned, but couldn’t do anything if I didn’t want the help. It’s important to realize that there is only so much you can do for yourself. Doctors, counselors, friends, and family are there to help when you’re ready for it.

There is more than one way to feel better.

Since opening up and accepting my anxiety, I’ve been trying to figure out what helps me through it. If it’s in a public place, like work or the mall, I’ll focus on my breathing or step outside. If it’s in the midst of deadlines, I’ll take a break and go to yoga or the gym. If the worries are really starting to boil, I’ll talk to a friend or call my family. These are my go-to quick fixes. After talking to my parents and doctor, I decided to go on medication, and I have to say, it’s made a difference. But that’s me. There’s more than one form of exercise, genre of music, or, if you decide, type of medication—what will help you feel better is specific to you.

It’s okay to be a worrier.

I used to wish that I didn’t have a care in the world, but I’ve learned that my worries reveal what’s important to me: doing a good job, making meaningful connections, and the well-being of my friends, family, and now, myself. It’s only problematic when it gets in the way of living—don’t let a lifetime of worrying restrict you any longer.

Thank you, Sammy, for opening up and inspiring me to share!

(Featured image via.)

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