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10 Things I Wish I Knew About Anxiety As A Teen

When things are too much, take a break.
PHOTO: Pixabay

1. Anxiety isn't necessarily a disease, but in my case, it is. 

It's totally normal to feel anxious about things! Life is forever an emotional rollercoaster. However, there's a difference between regular ol' anxiety and an anxiety disorder. An anxiety disorder can manifest in many ways, but it's not the same as feeling stressed out over a big exam. Instead, it cripples. Luckily, it can be treated with both medication and therapy. When I was a teen, I viewed my mental illness as a defect in my personality, not a disease. It wasn't until things got way worse in college and I finally sat down with a psychiatrist that I realized my mental illness was a disease.

2. When things are too much, take a break. 

Having an anxiety disorder can suck up all of your energy. You spend so much time immersed in your own world of anxiety, and feeling anxiety about said anxiety, that sometimes your body needs to shut down for a little bit. It's OK to take a break. It doesn't mean you're weak. Little things, like taking a private moment — even if it's in the stall of your school bathroom — can help tremendously. What really helps is allowing yourself to have that moment, giving yourself permission to relax.

3. Talk about it. 

Talk about it with your teachers. Talk about it with your family. Just talk about it with someone you trust. It's really hard to find the words to describe your mental illness, because there are so many anxiety-inducing outcomes. What if the person you're talking to thinks you're crazy? Or worse, what if they don't believe you? Finding one person you can confide in to figure out all these hard feelings can be so helpful. I seldom talked about feeling anxious and depressed when I was younger because I didn't have the vocabulary to properly express myself.

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4. It doesn't mean you're stupid if you don't get straight As. 

I grew up in a household where anything below an A-minus was absolutely unacceptable. My mother would tell me, "I know you're capable of getting straight-As. That's why I expect it." And yes, I totally was, but my struggles with anxiety, depression, and substance abuse greatly impaired my capability to get said grades. My mental health issues didn't make me stupid or bad, but it made school a lot more difficult. Having awareness of that would have assuaged some of my anxiety.

5. Substance abuse is not the answer. 

I abused many substances as a teen for a plethora of reasons, and I definitely used alcohol to cope with anxiety. The thing is: getting wasted, forgetting what I did the night before, and freaking out about being hungover and all the ways I potentially embarrassed myself the next day made everything so much worse.


6. For the love of god, make sure you sleep. 

Getting enough sleep makes you more clear-headed. Getting enough sleep makes you happier. Getting enough sleep makes you healthier. Before you make any rash, anxiety-fueled decisions or judgments, sleep. Just do it.

7. It's OK to cry about it. 

When I'm overwhelmed and extremely stressed out, I cry. It doesn't mean I'm weak or incapable. Swallowing the tears doesn't do you any favors. They'll inevitably find a way to come out. And it's good to cry. It's a release. It can actually alleviate your anxiety.

8. Fuck the "cool" kids. Fuck 'em. 

I spent the majority of my time in middle and high school wanting to be friends with various groups of "cool" kids who just weren't that into me. I had so much anxiety about whether they liked me and whether I was "cool" enough for them. Unfortunately for me, there's nothing less "cool" than trying really hard. Retrospectively, those "cool" kids were not my people. They were never going to be my people. And it's OK. Because — cornball alert — there really is nothing cooler than finding your people.

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9. Graduating high school will not fix your problems. 

As a clinically depressed and anxious high schooler, I fantasized about graduating high school and going to college, where everything would ~finally~ be wonderful and magical and good. When I got to college, I soon realized that changing your environment doesn't change who you are. You're always going to be you, which means you're going to have problems. So start working on them now! No time like the present.

10. Anxiety isn't a sign of weakness. 

Your anxiety is part of who you are, but it doesn't mean you're weak. As a teen, seeing my anxiety as a sign of weakness made me way more anxious and depressed. Everyone has a unique set of problems and coping mechanisms, and you were blessed and cursed with anxiety. It doesn't make you weak or bad or irreparably broken. Instead of assigning value judgments for your psychological issues, focus on coping mechanisms.

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This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.