When it comes to managing stress and anxiety, I often find myself reflecting on how conversations surrounding the subject have changed since I graduated from high school. I still muse on being caught up in the traditional school-based assessments that left me confused and feeling uncomfortable.
I remember the yearly career assessments in a packed gym that left me feeling stumped by my results. The graphs and charts through me for a loop as someone who strongly identifies as an auditory learner.
I smile as I remember my mom sitting me down and explaining to me that although I wanted to go to college to study psychology, the fact that my senior year career assesment’s top result was chemical engineering didn’t mean I couldn’t pursue the domain I wanted to study. I remember taking state assessments and wondering why my hands would get clammy, my throat would feel tight, and I’d be sweating just a little bit more than usual.
I didn’t really understand what it was that I was experiencing, however. I would have said that I was just “stressed out.”
Navigating Stress and Anxiety
Reflecting back on my experiences as a teen, I never really felt there was an educational manual for differentiating between different mental and physiological states. To be quite honest, if someone had asked me when I was an 18-year-old college student what the difference between stress and anxiety was, I wouldn’t have known how to differentiate the two.
I think this is something that is sometimes lost in conversation with today’s youth. The word anxiety gets thrown around quite a bit, but I find the educational piece to be vital so kids can understand their unique relationships to stress and anxiety. I found in my time as a school counselor that the words panic, worry, anxiety, and stress were often used interchangeably, but I always came back to the question of how we educate our children about these different states so that they can have a better understanding of their experiences.
How We Tolerate Anxiety
Consistently, I’ve found it so beneficial to teach how we tolerate anxiety. Anxiety wants you to be on the defensive and constantly searching for ways to protect yourself, instead of going on the offensive and finding ways to understand, tolerate, and learn how to respond to anxious states.
I’m a solution-focused therapist and an ally to my clients’ goals. Because anxiety can be so debilitating and feed negativity into our self-esteem, it is vital to set a compassionate baseline to build from.
The same teen that expresses anxiety in social situations but shares that they got a library card over the weekend deserves to be celebrated for their accomplishment. A compassionate baseline is meeting someone where they’re at and building off their progress and success, providing a feedback loop of encouragement, joy, and pride in overcoming obstacles.
Anxiety wants you to find ways to protect yourself and engage in protective behaviors that can become exhausting and debilitating. That’s why we tackle it head-on.
The Anxiety Pendulum
What happens when we use all of our energy and try to push the pendulum away from us? It comes back at us with more force than what we used to push it away. When we try to avoid anxiety by pushing it away, it feels stronger than before when it swings back our way.
Tips to jump on the pendulum and swing with it:
- What are the situations that cause you to feel threatened? Learn to recognize the situations that create worrisome thought patterns. A counselor can help you to recognize situational patterns that may be contributing to your anxiety.
- Ask yourself, “How did I provide sustenance to my well-being today?” Anxiety loves to feed off things like late nights and heavy coffee mornings.
- Use a mindfulness practice! How does my anxiety show up for me? Familiarity with how anxiety shows up for each of us can give us confidence that we can learn to manage the feeling of bodily sensation associated with anxiety. “Anxiety is at my doorstep. I know how this feels in my body and I can go into that feeling and recognize that it is just a feeling.”
- Build challenges into your weekly routine to tackle your anxiety head-on. This can start small and build to bigger challenges. If someone struggles with anxiety in social situations, a proper starting challenge might be setting a baseline of renewing a YMCA membership or talking with a teacher about an enjoyable assignment. A counselor can help you to identify ‘exposures’, or little ways that you can learn to have a more healthy relationship with anxiety.
- Don’t forget to reward yourself! It can be easy to minimize or forget our accomplishments when we overcome anxious situations, but we deserve to celebrate ourselves for confronting situations that provoke anxiety.
Managing Stress and Anxiety with Emery
At Emery, our team is committed to accepting the individuals who come through our doors, but we are also committed to addressing difficult situations and providing accountability to those in need. Our experts can help you tackle your stress and anxiety head-on.