"It’s 8AM and my heart’s racing. It’s that terrible, full-body sort of beat that makes your whole body shake and occasionally flutters from time to time from over-stimulation. For a second it almost feels like excitement, until the belly flips start, my face heats up, and my neck starts to hurt and I feel a little dizzy. My breathing’s heavy and my palms and scalp are starting to sweat for reasons unbeknownst to me. If this were 29-year-old Alicia dealing with these feelings, she’d know, either a.) she drank way too much coffee (cup number four is ALWAYS filled with regret), or b.) she was having an anxiety attack.
…Unfortunately, we’re talking about 8-year-old Alicia in this instance, who didn’t drink coffee (yet) or have even the slightest flippin’ clue about anxiety.
It’s really hard to understand what anxiety is and how it relates to what it feels physically within you when you’re told to “just calm down and everything will get better.” Spoiler alert: it doesn’t always get better, especially if you don’t know what you’re dealing with on an emotional and mental level. Nor does it really assuage anything in the long run.
According to the fancy paper of record The New York Times anxiety is now more common than depression amongst college students. Which means that anxiety and stress level increases are happening to people at younger and younger ages. But when that’s not considered a regular occurrence by-and-large, people might not believe you, or might dismiss it as an over-abundance of keen kid energy …but sometimes it’s not.
And sometimes it’s even worse when you try to re-categorize your anxiety spirals in your head. For example mine became quite the party trick when I tried to turn them into self-aware comedy outbursts to make people feel more comfortable about them when they happened. Oddly enough, though, it didn’t help the matter.
When you’re young, anxiety is like a smoke monster: it lurks behind you, this intangible thing that makes your heart beat and your head go akimbo. It makes you wonder, nervously, “Why am I like this? What’s making me feel this way? How do I make it stop?” Ignoring these feelings often makes it worse, too. Pretending it’s nothing only makes the looming dread grow stronger, the monster’s unseen presence hoarding all your rational thought. And when you don’t know what it means but you see how these weird feelings inside of you are bouncing around externally, it’s easy to say, “Well shoot, this is totally my fault and I’m doing something wrong. I’m the worst, and also maybe an emotional monster-person.”
Listen to me when I say this: you’re not wrong. And you’re not alone. When you name anxiety for what it is, you’re able to understand it, and feel less controlled by it and more in control of it.
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