Editor’s Note: This post was written by a young adult with anxiety who wanted to share his or her story anonymously.
Anxiety isn’t pleasant — trust me, I know. Everyone who struggles with anxiety has differing experiences with it, so my experience may not be the same as yours or your child’s. This is my story.
Anxiety feels like a pit in your stomach, with butterflies on top. Some people will have an increased heart rate, some may tense up, and some may even become short of breath. When I’m anxious, I feel like I need to keep moving. I’ll pace around the room or fidget if pacing isn’t an option. If the situation makes me extremely anxious then I’ll look for any way to escape or avoid the situation.
Anxiety creates catastrophizers. They’ll overthink each action and consider every negative outcome possible. Whether the scenario is big or small, happened in the past, present, or future, it is something that can cause anxiety right now.
Those with social anxiety tend to catastrophize interactions with others. They’ll worry about other people’s perceptions of them, if people are staring at them, if their friends don’t want to be around them or are avoiding them, or if they’re looking at someone the wrong way. They’ll overthink word choice to the point of being stuck and paralyzed just trying to figure out what to say. They may even worry about speaking too loudly or too softly. All of that is true for me.
I struggle to write emails and texts because I get lost in considering all the possible ways the person might perceive what I say. I rarely start conversations, especially with people I don’t know — I feel like I’m bothering them. I constantly worry that I bring up the same topics or tell the same stories too much. I dead phone calls, often procrastinating to the point that it is too late to respond.
Anxiety can be very limiting, as avoiding situations often feels like the best solution. Anxiety can keep you from going to social gatherings. It kept me from going to overnight summer camp and sleepovers as a kid. It kept me from joining an honors organization in college because the social aspect was so overwhelming. It kept me from inviting friends to go places and hang out because I feared they didn’t want to be around me. Anxiety has kept me from accepting or applying for great opportunities out of fear that I’m not good enough or not qualified enough.
Parents: recognize that your child with anxiety cannot help their worry. You can’t just say, “Stop worrying,” or, “There is nothing to worry about.” and have your child’s anxiety magically disappear. Your child can’t just flip a switch and feel better. They can’t rationalize under anxious duress. Even if your child has tools to cope, there will be times when those tools are not enough to stop the anxious feelings.
Don’t be dismissive of your child’s worries — a dismissive attitude makes your child feel so much worse. Even if you can’t find a single reason to worry about the situation, it doesn’t mean the worries of your child aren’t real. Try to be understanding and patient. Not one person with anxiety wants to be anxious, over analyze, or catastrophize.