I was always a nervous child.
I came from a divorced home. My family struggled with communication, showing love and supporting each other. This pattern of behavior eventually led me to develop a severe anxiety issue that impacted my entire life.
In time, I developed tools that I used to help manage and overcome my anxiety. It wasn’t easy and it didn’t happen overnight… but it did happen.
Looking back over my life I often wonder what I might say to myself back then if we sat down for a talk today. Here are five things I think I might tell myself.
1. Everything is going to be OK.
This one may sound overly simplistic, but when I was a child, I didn’t think everything would be ok. I thought everything was going to go wrong. I worried about every situation and catastrophized every scenario. I saw everything and everyone as negative because I was negative.
I’ve now learned to see that things have a way of working themselves out… even the bad things. Life doesn’t always go the way we plan, but it keeps moving forward. Each day is another opportunity to try again.
2. It’s OK to fail.
I always thought I had to be perfect at everything I ever did. I worried that if I didn’t do things perfectly, others would judge me for not being good enough. I started and quit more things growing up than I can even remember.
What I didn’t realize at the time was on the rare occasion that I kept doing something, I eventually got really good at it. I never made the connection that the more you did something, the better you’d get at it.
Today, I love trying new things. I still get scared and usually mess them up at first, but I keep trying until I get it right. It is only through failure that we can learn to succeed.
3. Most people aren’t even paying attention to you.
This one may sound strange to those without first-hand knowledge of anxiety, but for the rest of us, knowing others are not paying attention is a good thing.
I was always convinced all eyes were on me, every second of every day. The moment I walked into a room I felt as if every person was judging me, sizing me up and dismissing me as being less than they were.
That is part of what anxiety does. It makes us believe things that aren’t actually happening. We always feel as if we are the center of attention, even when we are not.
4. Face it, don’t run away.
The only way to get over a fear is to go directly through it. This is a lesson that has helped me more than anything else I’ve ever learned.
When we face a fear, we take away that fears power over us. We learn that we can stand up to it and live to see another day. That awful thing we worry about happening, often never actually happens.
But for most us, we run away well before we ever get to that point. We feel the fear and anxiety building, we get uncomfortable and we run for the nearest exist.
I developed a habit of running away which caused me to feel even worse about my anxiety and myself. Had I developed the tools back then to learn to face my fears, I could have overcome them sooner and not made them worse.
5. Be nice to yourself.
I hated the person I was when I felt anxious. I thought of myself as weak and powerless. I told myself I was a failure and that I couldn’t overcome my fears and live a normal life. During the times I needed the most support and love, I talked to myself in the worst possible way.
If you had a friend that said mean, horrible things to you every time you had a problem, you probably wouldn’t go to that friend for help anymore. But this is exactly how most of us treat ourselves.
We need to learn to love and support our self the same way we support others. It is often far easier to care for others than it is to care for our self.
Be kind to yourself. You are the only you that you will ever have!