I tend to be a nervous person. Family and close friends know this about me, and it is something that I acknowledge and am quite open about. Still, it's not something that everyone understands and so it can sometimes be difficult to explain to somebody. For as long as I can remember I have suffered from anxiety and generally just extreme amounts of stress or nerves about upcoming things. I say "suffered" here because at some points the stress and anxiety that I was feeling interrupted my daily life (I wouldn't usually say that I am suffering because I am anxious though). At one time I was so stressed out by life that it was making me physically ill. Eventually, I snapped out of it somehow on my own and life carried on happily. But, of course, there are still certain things that really get me going.
I'm thinking about this lately because I have recently begun a completely new phase of life. Everything is very new and exciting and - more than anything - scary! I am happy to say that many of my old anxieties no longer exist. But at the same time, new ones have popped up and certain old ones have stuck around. Because I am starting a new program at school, I have been having to make phone calls, send emails, and - OMG! - attend group workshops. Last week I attended my first workshop series about how to use online search databases. Simple and straightforward, right? Well, not for me. All morning I kept thinking ridiculous things. What if I'm late? What if I can't find the room? What if I walk in and I trip? What if they ask me to introduce myself? Or to explain my thesis? Where will the bathroom be in relation to the room if I need to run out? What if, what if, what if? I had almost talked myself out of it but decided to force myself to do it anyway.
On the first day, I was 25 minutes late leaving. And when I got to the room I saw that it had been switched to another room all the way across campus. And when I walked in I was the only (vibrantly dressed) girl there. And I was in the workshop for another faculty as mine had already passed while I was on holiday. I arrived and was clammy with panic. All of these things happened and guess what? No one yelled at me or told me I was dumb or laughed at me or asked me to leave. In fact, no one called on me at all and I sat there quietly doing my own thing. It was fine, and more than that, I learned a lot and everyone was incredibly friendly and helpful!
Now on to some advice:
As I write this I am sat at Starbucks and Queen's 'Under Pressure' just came on - how a propos! Really though, I know that I naturally put too much pressure on myself to achieve and to succeed and I have trouble convincing myself that other people really don't care what I do! If you are struggling with anxiety this is something to remember. NO ONE CARES. What would have been the worst that could have happened if I tripped when I walked in? I would have stood up and that would have been it. If I was late? I would have walked in a few minutes after the workshop began and quietly sat down. That's all. The world continues spinning even if our own little world seems totally out of control.
If people tell you to calm down, or to stop worrying, or something along those lines - which is totally unhelpful and if you do this, stop it now - just simply tune it out. If someone doesn't understand, then that is not your problem. What you are feeling is real and even if your worries seem completely insane, they are yours and they are valid. People sometimes wonder how I'm anxious because I'm so talkative and outgoing, and because I enjoy meeting new people and even being the centre of attention. I may talk a lot, but that does not mean that I'm not actually an introvert or shy in my own way or that I don't have weird social anxieties or that I'm not terrified of the things that worry me. We all have our own messed up things going on inside even if they aren't apparent to other people, and that doesn't make them any less valid. If there is someone you feel comfortable talking to about your nerves, then do, and if you are comfortable seeing a therapist, I wholeheartedly suggest it.
Learn to laugh at yourself. My neuroses are so much easier for me to deal with because I have trained myself to laugh at me! Being humorously self-depracating means that some people might join in and take the teasing too far, and that isn't cool. It happens and you have to brush that off too. But mostly it means that you can laugh at yourself and not take yourself or a situation too seriously, which helps loads. If you can fake finding a situation funny, pretty soon you will find it funny, and it won't be so scary anymore.
Lastly, I really suggest pushing yourself to do things when you are ready. And if you feel like you will never be ready, do them now. Really, go out and do things. Now is the time! If you are worried, accept the stress for what it is and just do it anyway. Things may turn out horribly, but chances are they won't. Each time you push yourself to do something, it gets easier and easier and soon you will be doing more than you thought possible. If you have an opportunity to go to a party, take a trip, accept a new job, go to a new school, ask someone out - DO IT! If you feel an overwhelming sense of dread and your gut is telling you not to, then listen to it. But if it is the same old 'what if I spill something on myself and everyone laughs' kind of situation, drown out that little voice and do it! That quote about wonderful things happening outside of your comfort zone is completely true. Last week I went to the gym at night for the first time and the weight room was packed full of bulky men. I thought about turning around and leaving because I only ever work out in the morning when the gym is empty, but I didn't. Instead I walked right into the room and started working out. Did people stare at me? Yes. Did my glasses fall off of my face and onto the floor? Yes. Was my face twitching while I lifted? Yes and lolz. Did I speed through my workout so I could get home to the familiar surroundings of my bedroom? Yes yes yes. But I did it just the same and it wasn't completely horrible. Seriously, if you're on the fence about something you'd like to do but you're nervous - JUST DO IT.
I have just gone for it so many times this year- getting on planes, going to the top of the Eiffel Tower or the London Eye, riding on roller coasters, exploring new cities, meeting new people, joining sports teams and starting new experiences, and it was all amazing. I didn't crumble into nothing, and even though I was scared, it was all worth it afterward.
This has been a really long post and if you have read it, I know I rambled a lot but I hope it has helped in some way. It helped me to just write it down so there's always that! Embrace being neurotic and worrying about little things and enjoying all the strange things you enjoy. What makes you different is what makes you one-of-a-kind (cliche but true) and I have only really embraced that in the past few years. I love myself and I know that I am a weirdo, but I would rather be the way I am than hate myself for trying to hide my own shortcomings and pretending to be a perfect copy of someone else who appears to have everything together (but is probably just as much of a wreck because they can't embrace their own weird traits).
Anxiety is normal, you are capable of more than you think so challenge yourself, embrace your quirks and love all of the strange things that make you who you are.