Dealing with Anxiety

Olivia Shackleton, Editor-in-Chief

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As I glare down at my hand trembling, I breathe in and out deeply several times and tell myself to calm down. “Relax, Olivia. It is only a test. One grade. It is only school,” I remind myself. I give myself these short pep talks on a daily basis, multiple times a day. From taking exams to walking into my internship to driving my car, I have to reassure myself that I can do whatever task I am facing.

I had never thought much of anxiety or mental health until I reached college. Because mental illness has such a negative connotation, I tended to brush it off and not think about the fact that I could possibly be struggling with some mental health issues myself. When I hear “mental illness” my mind goes straight to depression, schizophrenia and other conditions that I do not have. Just because I do not deal with those specific mental health problems does not mean that I don’t deal with any at all.

Now though, I realize that I have had my fair share of anxiety throughout my life, even if it is not diagnosed. I can look back and point to times in my life where I was dealing with anxiety but didn’t register it.

I want to explain some of these moments and give some examples:

When I was in kindergarten, I had to take a computer class once a week. The first day of this class I was so nervous I actually threw up. Every class after that I would ask to be excused to go to the restroom, just so that I could have a few minutes to calm down. This is a direct parallel to how I feel today when I go to my internship. Often times, I get very anxious sitting at my desk and feel the need to get up and take a few moments to calm myself. Feeling nauseous is a key part of my anxiety, so I can see clearly how times where my stomach hurting me indicated anxiety.

A few summers ago, I worked at Panera. Prior to the starting of my shift, I would feel a huge knot form in my stomach. Panera and my coworkers were fine, but I still felt these severe nerves for some reason. I get the same feeling when I leave my car and begin walking into cleveland.com. I genuinely enjoy interning there, and I really like my coworkers, yet I still get this fear that I can’t seem to get rid of.

An example that I feel a lot of people can relate to is racing thoughts. The moment my head hits the pillow, I cannot seem to shut off everything running through my head. Stress just makes it worse. I have my planner, my physical to-do lists as well as the one on my phone and lists of ideas written down. I’m very organized, and I know what needs to get done and when, yet I still am able to convince myself that I’ve missed a deadline or have forgotten an important assignment. These thoughts drain me and detract from the short time I have to sleep.

One of biggest hurdles I’ve had to overcome when dealing with anxiety is learning to drive. I chose to wait until I turned 18 to get my license so that I did not have to take Driver’s Ed and could learn on my own. However, the anxiety built over the years of waiting to learn, and I did not obtain my license until I was almost 20 years old. Every time I would sit in the driver’s seat, my whole mouth would go dry, my hands would shake, my heart would thump rapidly and my face would be the color of a tomato. Finally, out of necessity, I was able to get my license, but it was one of the largest obstacles I’ve had to overcome.

I don’t usually share this. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever verbalized my anxiety to anyone in detail before. I can guarantee it is sprinkled throughout my journal, but I don’t think I’ve ever fully formed my thoughts and feelings on dealing with anxiety or expressed to anyone that I experience it quite often. After writing about the Works in Progress campaign a few weeks ago, and reflecting on my experiences, I felt compelled to share my own story in this column. Although publishing this is uncomfortable for me, I do see the importance in talking about these mental health issues and recognizing that other people also deal with similar issues.