When I was in second grade, I was introduced to a monster. I’d been living with it for a long time, but it was finally given a name: anxiety. This was the reason my stomach always hurt, the reason I would feel as if the walls were closing in on me when out at public events, or in restaurants, movie theaters, malls, the works. It’s something that’s come and gone throughout my life (not that it’s gone, per se, but quieted down).
As a young child, it was absolutely terrifying because there was no true understanding as to why I felt the way I did. There’s still no rhyme or reason now. But having a name to put to my feelings has helped a lot. Anxiety can be like that. One second you’re doing just fine, and then there’s a click, and it feels as if an entire room is looking at you, thinking you’re weird, or knowing that something’s wrong. That’s the scary thing. No one truly knows what’s wrong. Finding someone who can understand is the key to feeling comfort.
To whoever is reading this, if you too are struggling with anxiety in general, know that you’re not alone. According to Newport Academy, about 32 percent of teens between the ages of 13 to 18 have an anxiety disorder at some point in their life.
It’s important to breathe, and although this sounds cliche, it’s very essential to calming down. What I’ve recently learned is that it doesn’t matter how long you breathe, don’t bother counting, just close your eyes, and solely focus on letting the air enter and leave your lungs. This helps you forget about your surroundings. There are many escapes, whatever helps you is right. I’ve found that listening to music helps me zone out of noisy environments. When I was younger, I’d get very nervous in the cafeteria, and I’ll be honest, I still do at times. But I use these tactics to my advantage, and hopefully these can be useful for others. These techniques can be essential for any day to day situation, whether you’re stressed over a test, a first date, or a presentation. Don’t forget to breathe.
Socializing can be stressful. And that’s okay! This is something everyone deals with at some point in their life. Job interviews, public speaking, or group outings are all situations in which you can find yourself feeling a bit uneasy or uncomfortable. No one’s perfect, even those who seem to have it all together get overwhelmed. Britney Spears has said that “being famous doesn’t make you any different.” Chris Evans (yes, Captain America) has also spoken out about this, saying that “it is really good just to talk about what you’re struggling with.” There’s no shame in finding someone to talk to. And finding someone who’s willing to listen is the biggest and bravest step you can take.
Anxiety is a very interesting thing, because it differs from person to person. Crowded spaces may do it for some, and public speaking is definitely a common trigger. These feelings of panic and distress are no joke; panic attacks are a scary thing. The first thing to do is to stop and realize that you are, in fact, having a panic attack. Looking at what was said earlier, breathing is essential when going through an intense amount of stress. When you are panicking, it’s likely that you will hyperventilate. This unfortunately only makes the panic attack worse. If at all possible, try breathing with what is known as the 4-7-8 technique. Breathe in through the nose for four seconds, hold the breath for seven, and then release the breath through your mouth for eight seconds. This technique lowers blood pressure, making it harder to panic. It is recommended that this is only done twice in a row, because any more could potentially cause you to feel light-headed, or faint.
The unfortunate truth is that anxiety is on the rise. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) 40 million adults, age 18 and older, are affected by an anxiety disorder of some kind. The good news is that anxiety disorders can be treated, through mindfulness, exercise, and medication.
Practicing mindfulness has been proven to reduce anxiety levels. Mindfulness is the practice of awareness, knowing what is happening in the moment and thinking about why you may be feeling the way you do in the moment. When you have somewhat of a feeling of control over your anxiety, this makes you feel better about the situation.
Again, according to the ADAA, exercise helps your mind just as well as it does your body. When you exercise, your brain starts to produce endorphins. As little as five minutes of aerobic exercises can start producing anti-anxiety effects. I’ve found that I feel not only less stressed, but happier after exercise. This may not be the same for everyone, but it’s definitely worth a shot.
Although there are treatments, there is no true way of getting rid of anxiety. One good course if action that can be taken is finding a therapist or psychologist to talk to. Not only does talking about your experiences help, but knowing that the person sitting in the chair across from you has had experience with anxiety at some point in their life helps as well. Knowing that you are not alone is a major comfort when stress tends to make you feel stranded at times. It’s important to speak what’s on your mind. It’s a relief to have a sense of closure and understanding.
Not everyone is going to know what to do, or how to react to anxious energy, and that’s perfectly okay. Knowing that there are professionals who specialize in this field that have an understanding and know potential causes, as well as techniques to help treat stress under certain circumstances, is a reassurance to the large population struggling with anxiety. Most importantly, remember — you are not alone.