My Secret Weapon for Coping with Anxiety

On March 25th, 2018, everything had become too much for me. I found myself curled up under my desk and unable to catch my breath. The anxiety of having to choose a college, not getting into my dream school, not getting a $40,000 Raegan Foundation scholarship (for which I was a finalist), having to then figure out how I was then going to pay for college, breaking up with my boyfriend, and seeing all my close friends commit to a school had made me feel like I was at the bottom of a deep well, unable to find even the tiniest ray of light at the top. That moment in late March was a snapshot of how I had been handling my anxiety for the last two years. 

This was the worst my anxiety had ever gotten. At that point, I just accepted that I would be consumed by this constant feeling of dread and hopelessness for the rest of my life. It may sound like I am laying it on a little thick here, but this is really how I felt. 

Fortunately, this story has a happy ending. About a year after that day, I found myself to be a well-adjusted, outgoing, and content student at Boston University. It wasn’t easy, but I figured out a way to use my anxiety as a tool for coping with it. Here is how I did it:

I started by taking some time off. Luckily, I was admitted to the College of General Studies at Boston University. The program gives students the whole semester off to work and do internships in their projected field before starting in the spring semester. I used this gap semester as an opportunity to work on myself in therapy and through personal reflection. 

My mom had often suggested therapy as a way of coping with my mental health, but I always felt reluctant to talk about my emotions with a stranger who took diligent notes about everything I said. What finally got me onto the therapist's couch was the anxiety I had about starting college. The fear of being on my own for the first time, the negative social environment I had in high school, and a lack of self-confidence had convinced me that I was going to fail socially when I moved in the spring. So I started seeing a therapist to cope with my immediate fears. 

Exploring these worries on the surface gradually got me to examine some of the deeper emotional issues that had contributed to the breakdown I had at the end of my senior year. As a result, I was able to do a complete overhaul on my understanding of mental health and I learned useful strategies for how to deal with strong emotions after I moved away. In some weird, roundabout way, my anxious feelings were what finally motivated me to seek help for my generalized anxiety disorder. 

During this time, I also immersed myself in my hobbies. My anxiety often takes the form of a little nagging voice that tells me "you're not good enough. Everyone is better off without you and you are going to get left behind." I was particularly worried that I would get to my film classes at BU and be completely behind all my peers. So, to deal with this evil little voice, I vlogged, edited, wrote, and learned as much as I could about film. Between the two jobs that I was also working during the fall, I even found the time to take a film studies course at my local state college. 

By the time the semester ended, my production skills and the quality of my screenwriting had vastly improved. I still remember the sense of pride that washed over me one night while I watched the finished version of a vlog playback on my monitor. Even though it was 3 am and I was exhausted from working a 6-hour shift that afternoon, I felt wide awake at that moment because I could finally appreciate all the hard work I had done in the past few months. 

Accurate depiction of me trying to vlog in public. 

The worries I had about the future had lit a fire in me that put my existing passion for filmmaking into practice. For a little while, my newly improved skills got my negative internal voice to shut up. My self-confidence improved and I felt in control of my emotions. This would have never happened if my anxiety didn’t motivate me in the first place. 

It's worth mentioning that in both these situations, my anxiety didn’t completely go away. The nature of generalized anxiety disorder means that the feelings of uncertainty will never leave me, they just dissipate with treatment. The point is, my anxiety is what motivated me to start positive habits that helped me cope with it. 

 

Ultimately, changing my behavior was the solution for treating my personal experience with anxiety. I would never recommend or promote mental illness as a solution for all emotional issues. But in my personal experience, my anxiety actually became the secret weapon that I used to change my behavior.

 

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