Dear Teen With Anxiety: This Is What You Have to Know
I hear you are feeling pretty bad. I’m so sorry. I have felt like you do, and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.
Listen — anxiety doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you. I know it seems like you are the only one struggling like this, and that feels embarrassing, but anxiety is so common it can be considered more normal to have anxiety than to not have it. It’s just that it is invisible, and just like you can hide it pretty well, all the other people with anxiety do the same thing.
You don’t have to anymore! Many, many people, like celebrities Adele, Kim, Zayne, Selena are being more open about what they are experiencing. They have felt as alone as you and want you to know that you are not “crazy,” and you are not going “insane.” You will not feel like this forever. If someone told you that you will, they were misinformed about anxiety. People used to think of it in a different way. Now we know better, but the word is not as widespread as it needs to be.
Trust me. I’ve struggled. I clawed my way out. I have witnessed the recovery of thousands of others in my counseling practice get better. What you are experiencing is temporary and it is OK to ask for help.
You might feel like nobody understands, but that’s not true. People do understand. Everyone experiences anxiety on some level because the parasympathetic nervous system is biological. Everyone releases adrenaline and norepinephrine. It’s just that people think about anxiety, worry, fears, stress and panic in all different ways, and they use different words to describe it. Plus if you say, “You don’t understand!’ enough, people will start to believe that they don’t. Or agree, “You’re right, I don’t understand,” so they validate you hoping it’ll make you feel better. They are scared and worried and feel helpless.
I know how you feel. You both want them to understand, maybe because you don’t and you hope they can explain it to you. But you also want them to know they don’t understand so they can really get how intense you are struggling. If they understand too easily, they must not get the depths of it, you think. Or, if they don’t feel it, if anxiety doesn’t stop them in their lives, then they can’t possibly understand.
Just for a moment suspend that thought about what other people understand. What if you spoke about your anxiety like everybody got you? What would that be like?
Anxiety is a weird and difficult problem, because it exists alongside most other problems. It complicates other problems and makes them worse. It often becomes a worse problem than the original problem. It can happen to anyone, and it has nothing to do with strength, character and courage. Actually living a day with anxiety takes a huge amount of courage, so people with anxiety often have more courage than people without.
Remember, you are not alone in this feeling.
Here are some things I want you to know about anxiety to get you on the path of feeling better.
1. Anxiety needs you to be scared.
Anxiety perpetuates when the brain continues to release adrenaline when you are afraid of the feelings of it. So this becomes a cycle. Cognitively you know you are not in physical danger, but it feels so horrible you are afraid you’ll lose your mind. The more you are afraid, the more your brain releases adrenaline, the higher your anxiety gets and then the more afraid you are. Understanding what is happening in the brain really helps you to stop this cycle, because you are no longer afraid of anxiety.
See in my bio for a link to a video on the Biology of Fear.
2. Anxiety lies, constantly.
It tells you that you can’t handle it, that you are weak, that you’ll “go crazy,” that this is really something to be scared of, that you bother people, that you are overreacting, that you are losing your mind and that you simply can’t. None of these are true. They are just ideas that sound logical and convincing because everything seems hard when you have anxiety. Anxiety has you seeing all of the bad in you and not see any of the good. This is a ploy to keep you vulnerable to it. As long as you listen and believe it, anxiety will play and wreak havoc on your life. As long as you don’t trust yourself, anxiety stays in power over you.
Stop judging yourself. You are so much more amazing than anxiety wants you to believe right now. Judging yourself — which everyone does — makes anxiety so much worse. Be gentle and understanding to yourself, and then tell the anxiety you will not believe the lies anymore.
3. You have more power than you think you have.
You always hear that most of life is out of your control. I understand why that thought is overwhelming — it would freak anyone out — but that is not entirely true. The things that are out of your control, like other people and weather, don’t matter as much as the one thing that is in your control: Your response.
You are an agent in your life. No matter what is happening around you, you decide what you can do in response. It’s called personal agency. You have total control over what you think, how you make sense of it, and what you do next.
Your response means more to your mood, your self-image, your level of happiness, your relationships and how you see the world, than what you can’t control. That means your happiness, sense of peace, and self-opinion is 100 percent in your control.
Anxiety might make you think you are out of control, or might “go off some insanity cliff,” but that is a big lie. There is no insanity cliff and I have never heard of anybody in thousands of clients in 20 years as a psychotherapist lose control. It simply doesn’t happen. You always have your wits about you. In fact, the adrenaline makes you hyper-focused.
4. It is temporary.
There is one guarantee: Anxiety never stays the same. It changes, so let’s change it in your favor. Anxiety is highly treatable, we just have to change some beliefs, and we can get you better. We have to build trust in yourself and encourage your self-confidence, and then you will not be vulnerable to anxiety any longer.
Knowing it is temporary will help you be less afraid of it and less judgmental of yourself.
In my book, “You 1, Anxiety 0: Win your life back from fear and panic”, I list 15 skills and abilities people use to get over their anxiety. Some are: find a higher priority, believe you can and remember what you know. They all involve taking action, because action and distraction are the best ways to shift your anxiety.
If you are struggling with anxiety, don’t wait to get help. You don’t have to suffer. Read a book on it, watch videos, see a counselor, start a distracting project and talk to a friend. The worst thing you can do is pull back from everything in life and stay home and think about the anxiety. That will make it worse. The caring adults in your life want to help. They have been where you are. If someone is not being nice to you, find an adult at school who you can trust.
It may seem like you have no one to go to, but that is often the anxiety lying to you about being alone. You are not alone. People do care.
I know life feels out of control right now, but find the little pieces of evidence of the control you have and focus all your attention on that. Repeat it to yourself over and over. You will get better. I promise.
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Unsplash photo via Kristina Komarica