Anxiety manifests in a lot of different ways and no single encounter is exactly the same as any other’s. This is simply a personal experience which felt like it should be shared. This isn’t meant to be a checklist of symptoms for you to compare and see which ones you fulfill. Neither is this meant to diagnose or make you paranoid. The most it hopes to do is to share and commiserate, maybe reach out to those who need it and show them they’re not alone.
The first time I understood I could talk about these things and have someone understand me was when a friend happened to complain about a class. Her professor had graded recitation and she talked about the anxiety that it triggered for her. It wasn’t about not knowing the answer or getting a bad grade, it was just the pressure that the situation created.
It’s your heart racing nearly to the point of palpitation just at the thought of volunteering yourself. It’s nervously tapping your foot as you try to decide whether speaking up is worth it. It’s rehearsing your piece over and over in your mind as you try to gain the courage to actually utter what you’re thinking.
Hearing her describe this made me notice “hey, this is me too.” And if this is me, I had to wonder if it was normal to have such strong reactions to a simple question asked in class — even if it was one I knew the answer to. I began to notice the other nervous tics that consistently popped up in my life.
Things like overthinking every little social interaction: Will that person hate me for not noticing her wave? Did they really find my jokes funny or were they secretly annoying? Going over minute details and gestures, agonizing over whether I smiled a little too brightly or didn’t smile enough when meeting someone. Berating yourself for awkward replies leading to even more awkward conversation and getting the feeling that the other person just wants to flat-out escape.
It’s second-guessing everything you know about your relationships and imagining conflict where there is none. It’s ascribing meaning to small actions which lacked intentions, like a friend replying late or not getting a personal invite to some plans. I become convinced that all my friends secretly hate me or would prefer to leave me out of things, that I bring everyone else down with me.
Then there’s being up at all times of the night because your thoughts can’t seem to keep quiet, your mind doesn’t want to take a break. You’ll call it insomnia and maybe it is, but it’s also your own worries keeping you awake. It’s going over your entire day and thinking of all the slips you made; it’s thinking of the future and all the wrong ways things could go.
This is when it gets particularly difficult: when you feel trapped inside your own head and have no idea how to get out. We all have our own coping mechanisms, like sweating out our tangled up feelings or meditation. Personally, I prefer to talk to someone. Saying your worries out loud gives you perspective and helps you be conscious of how baseless they were.
I’ve found that it’s especially comforting to realize that what you’re going through — bottled up nerves, eternally racing mind, crippling self-doubt — is not isolated. It’s helpful to understand you are not uniquely messed up, that there are others who have gone through this and are going through this. If they can do it, so can you.
Should you feel the need to seek help (professional or otherwise), please do check our directory of Mental Health resources.