Anxiety: We have Choices. Just Breath

In May 2013 I graduated from my dream college with my undergraduate degree. Those short years flashed before my eyes. I loved school so much I spent my entire senior year pretending I wasn’t graduating. Quickly enough, though, I was walking across the stage and had received my diploma. I found myself thinking “now what?” Suddenly, the anxiety I had been trying to repress all of senior year was forcing itself to the surface. I had just spent fifteen years of my life in school. More specifically, I had spent fifteen years of my life in the most predictable cycle I could have ever been in. School, homework, summer break, and back to school. Was I really expected to simply not do that anymore? To move on and into a world I had never truly experienced before? Impossible.

Sure, I was very uncomfortable with anxious feelings of fear and the need to run away during my first semester in college but with the help and support of my family and friends I made it through and decided that college was really great. Best of all, I decided I was good at it. Unfortunately, I was only able to enjoy a small amount of my college life before I was submitting applications for graduation and realizing that this endless cycle did, in fact, have an end. And there it was. My anxiety was back and stronger than ever. It felt stronger than even I could ever be. I became very short fused with friends and family, unhappy, and afraid of everything. A friend had mentioned the name of a local therapist to me and I decided that maybe I should give counseling a shot. I could not let this disorder run the rest of my life.

Hours before my first appointment with the counselor my anxiety was incredibly high. How can I talk about these private issues to a perfect stranger, especially a stranger who will probably make me feel like a weird outcast? Needless to say, I kept the appointment and although I still felt a little uncomfortable the counselor made sure I did not feel weird or different. I learned that this overwhelming fear is normal and it is something I can overcome with time. In later appointments I learned where the anxiety was seeping into other areas of my life. For example, I had an incredible fear of a particular stretch of the subway in my city. I was certain that at this individual point the train was sure to fall off the tracks and into the harbor beneath it causing the death of all of its passengers. Apparently, not everyone has this feeling when they are crossing over the harbor. Together with my counselor we uncovered the core fear I had developed with my anxiety. I was terrified of the unknown. I didn’t know what life after college would bring me. Furthermore, I would sit in horror waiting for that part of the subway to come when I needed to hold my breath and hope that we made it over the harbor safely. Now we just needed to find a solution to this problem.

The transition was very difficult and still is a work in progress. I made sure to keep using that subway and not find ways of avoiding it. I was hyper aware of my surroundings on this subway car which, I rapidly learned, made the ride seem worse than it actually was. Every small bump seemed like we were rushing over a huge mountain that was knocking us off kilter. Occupying my mind with a book, a conversation, or even something as artless as my Facebook newsfeed took my attention away from the ride and it turned out to not be as treacherous as I had once thought. I unclenched my fists, breathed methodically, and calmed my body. I had to let go of the need to be in control. Whatever is going to happen on that train is going to happen whether I worry about it or not. I might as well enjoy the ride. A few rides like this and I found myself looking out the subway car window at the very spot I was once petrified would cause my death. The city looked beautiful and I had been missing it all this time.

Perhaps this seems like a superfluous issue when compared to having anxiety at college graduation. All I needed to do was use the same techniques I used on the subway and apply it to every day worries. The most helpful skill I have been using is breathing. Deep, slow breaths make all the difference. It clams my heart rate which gives me a chance to think logically about the situation. Exercise, too, has helped a great amount. I can work any negative energy out of my body at the start of my day before it becomes too much to handle. Exercise has provided me a great release. Of course, talking out my concerns with my counselor is incredibly helpful but he cannot follow me everywhere. I needed to learn how to conquer this on my own, when I don’t have others talking me out of a downward spiral into anxiety. I needed to realize that I can only control a very small portion of what happens to me. College graduation was going to happen no matter what. Now it is up to me to decide what is next.

It is now March 2014 and if I have learned anything it is that life is ten percent what happens to you and ninety percent how you react to it. I am choosing to react in positive ways that make me happy and make me feel like my life is fulfilled. Choosing to see to a therapist was one of the best decisions I have ever made for myself. I learned that I am important and the only thing I have control over is my attitude. I refuse to let anxiety get the best of me. I still enjoy some structure in my days and while anxiety still makes some appearances in my life, it does not last long and I can manage it on my own. I wake up in the morning without the heavy burden of anxiety waiting for me. I will continue to make the efforts to remove anxiety from my life completely.

Author Anonymous

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