On Anxiety, Stress, and Worrying

I have always been a worrier. Sometimes I say this to people and they think I’m saying ‘warrior’ (though with the amount of stress I face, really I should get to say that as well), but this is to clarify that I mean the less fun version. I’ve always been a worrier, and so faced a lot of stress – but the main issue is that because I worry about everything, most of the stress is just completely unnecessary. I swear if I had a Superpower, I’d be one of those lame Superheroes who had the power of extreme worrying. “But what if the villain has a gun? What if they have a hostage? What if this is all a trap? What if they’re actually good? Are we doing the right thing? How can anyone know for sure? Did I leave the oven on?”

Who would my arch nemesis be? Super-Chilled-Man?

Anyway, I digress.

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Whenever I get these emotions of pure terror, I’ve always called it worrying – but ‘worry’ just doesn’t feel like a strong enough word sometimes. If you say to someone ‘oh I’ve been worrying about it’, the response is normally a ‘aw don’t worry, it’s all fine!’ (And fyi, that isn’t helpful – I’ll still worry until I have physical proof everything is fine thank you – and then probably panic that it will all go downhill). It’s only over the last few years that people are openly discussing issues related to depression and anxiety, and whilst I by no means believe that I suffer from depression, I do tend to think that – like I’m sure most people do – have a heck ton of anxiety. Then again, I wouldn’t go as far to say that I suffer from anxiety, as it feels like taking it away from people who genuinely have the illness. So once more, I’m left with calling it worrying – but is it worrying when you constantly struggle to sleep because you over-analyse every possible scenario, that you always arrive at least 30 minutes (if not more) early because you worried 10 minutes early would not give you enough leeway? Is it worrying that when you go out with friends, as soon as it hits 9pm you start to panic about it getting dark and thinking that you risk of being attacked is increasing, and if you don’t get back soon something awful is going to happen? Or is all of this just culture. Is it the media that have taught me this, that have ingrained this panic?

Unfortunately for everyone reading this, I have no answers.

(Just so you’re aware).

I feel like everyone feels stress, so there’s almost no point in complaining about stress – there’s always going to be someone who one-ups you – and is it really ‘beating’ you if the ‘winner’ is the one who is more stressed out? Every time I’m stressed about something – be it work, university, getting rejected, unable to find a place to live, waiting for results – there is always someone right there to say that they are more stressed, and so insinuating that I do not have the right to be stressed. My brother is a perfect example of this. Without fail, whenever I claim to be stressed or tired or have a lot going on, he’ll immediately say that he is more stressed. He’s currently a first year Junior Doctor, and to be fair to him he probably is more stressed, but through his whole degree (and mine), it does not matter what is happening. If I’ve had a week of work and he’s had a week off and I say I’m tired, he’ll say ‘you don’t even know what tired is’.

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And that’s the problem with conversations about things like stress and anxiety. Everyone has at least one example of when they’ve felt stressed, and so everyone can simultaneously understand what you’re going through but also feel that their stress is that much worse. Some people will refuse to think that anyone can possibly understand what ‘real’ stress is, and look down their noses with superiority at anyone they deem unworthy. But that simply doesn’t work. Just because someone is in business whereas the other does manual labour does not mean that one is entitled to claim to get more stressed than the other. Everyone feels stress in relation to what they’re doing, and unless you have done every single job in the world, you have no idea what the other person is feeling. Because it’s not even just the work or the job, it’s the person. Do you know their mental well-being? Sure, you have a stressful job, but do you have their lifestyle? Do you have that white privilege that has allowed you to be stressed about generic things like work instead of things like race and discrimination? Do you come from a family that supports you, whereas someone else might have no family whatsoever to back them up?

Mental well-being is still such a new topic to a lot of people, and the biggest dilemma we face is that we cannot physically gage a person’s mental health from just looking at them. From my limited knowledge, the best indicator is what the actual person says they’re feeling – and everyone is so distrustful, that you can never truly know. An acquaintance can be nasty and blame it on depression, and there should be no reason for you to distrust that – but of course you do. Sure, they’re horrible and then out of nowhere they bring in depression. You want to immediately trust they’re being honest, because only someone awful would lie about a thing like that, but the case of the matter is that they could lie. There is no way to look at someone and be able to say ‘yup, they suffer from ___, I can see that with my own eyes’.

So once more, I’m left unable to say anything concrete on my actual mental health and just leave it with ‘I’m a worrier, as in I worry, not that I’m a warrior, though I feel like one’. My only hope is that people remember to be empathetic, and show compassion instead of wariness. I hope that when someone says “I’m stressed” or “I’m tired”, people don’t jump to “Not as stressed/tired as me” and instead just offer sympathy, and invite an open discussion.

Wouldn’t that be grand.

Dealing with Rejection

I’m just going to hold up my hands and say it: “I am crap at dealing with rejection”. I mean, let’s be honest, when you’ve just been rejected (from a job you applied for, a relationship you may have/have not been invested in, turned down by friends), the last thing you want to hear are those well-meaning souls who tell you it’s just not meant to be, or something must be around the corner, or something better will come along. Sure, those are more than welcome but personally, I don’t want to hear them immediately after being rejected. I want to shout, scream, cry, and do all three at the same time. All I want from other people is maybe a hug and for them to whisper “they/he/she/it is a bastard”. Because in those first few moments, I want to just be completely irrational and I need people to just tolerate my “the world is ending” moment so I can just get it out my system. Then bring me sugary snacks, cups of tea, and help me pick up the pieces.

This week has been my finals week, and I am now officially finished with university. Unfortunately this week I also heard back from all the grad schemes and summer work experience opportunities I applied for – all with a negative. In retrospect, I can nod and say “Ok, yes, they were the biggest companies with everyone and their mothers applying, so the competition was incredible fierce, but at the time? No way. At the time all I wanted to do was cry and give up. I wanted to cuddle up in my bed with some chocolate and watch a feel good film whilst I sobbed at the fact that I wasn’t wanted. Because, at least for me right now, it’s not just because I was rejected. It’s the addition of the fact that it’s a job that I really wanted, and I’m a soon-to-be university graduate hoping to get into my chosen field. So getting rejected? Felt like a kick in the teeth. And to have them on the week of my final exam? Like an extra kick when I’m on the ground for good measure.

That’s when everyone brings out the corny sayings: they don’t know what they’re missing, if they knew you they wouldn’t reject you, they just don’t understand, you’ll just get something better next time, chin up chuck etc etc. Again, it’s all meant well and after a day or so I feel like I can take those lines and feel happy after receiving them, but just after I’ve been rejected and staring at the empty abyss with no certainty about my future? Telling me I’ll get something better ‘next time’ just doesn’t do it for me, as although the person saying that is just trying to cheer you up, both of you know that there is no actual truth in that statement – that we know of. Sure, something could come along that’s better, but something could just as easily not come along – I’m presuming, of course, that you can’t see the future.

Honestly, I don’t know what the answer is to the plight of being rejected. I want to be the person who, when they get rejected, can just keep their chin up and move on. For now, though, I need that time just after – be it thirty minutes, an hour, or even half a day where I can just mope and feel sorry for myself. After a good angry venting session, it feels pretty cathartic. Once you expel those emotions it feels so much easier to move onto the next thing. And whilst it was a bitch to be rejected during revision, the revision itself had a strong enough pull for me to get my act together that I was able to move on relatively quick. Don’t get me wrong, I cried down the phone to my mum about how I was a failure, but soon enough after got back to reading about the contrasting presentations of the House of Fame between Ovid, Jonson, and Chaucer.

I think one thing does hold true though; whilst sometimes you need to have a cry or shout in anger, it does good to go into that next day fresh and determined. Instead of letting a rejection kick you down and keep you down, let it just knock you off guard for a moment before getting back into the ring and fighting on. At least, that’s what I’ll try to tell myself next time.

Guide to University: stress

Let’s talk stress.

The education system these days is built to be stressful, and my particularly secondary school excelled at creating the most stressful environment – and that was just for the end of year exams when we were 12, let along the actual GCSEs or A levels when we were 16-18. You could say that I’ve experienced a lot of stress, just as most people have, but when it comes to university it’s very different – at least, that’s what I’ve found.

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In secondary school, a lot of pressure was put on – and although I am talking from my own personal experience, from talking with people I’ve met it’s usually a guarantee that there is pressure. It was all about getting those GCSEs to get into a good sixth form, then getting good AS results to get university offers, then getting your actual A levels to get into university. There was a lot of pressure, talks about what you should be doing, and over-the-top comments about futures working at McDonalds if we didn’t revise trigonometry.

In university, I’ve found it to be very different. Instead of constant talks about exams and essays, they’re mentioned almost in passing. Oh yeah, you guys have an essay due soon, the essay titles are up online. Boom, that’s it, no more, move along, get to it. The stress isn’t put into you by others – no, instead, you are the one who will get stressed on your own. Personally, I worry about everything. Literally everything. I’m early, even when I’m late, and over-plan everything, double checking with friends about times and places and what’s happened and dress code and – god, it’s a stress just waking up sometimes (especially when I have 9ams). When it comes to exams and essays, I worry slightly in the run-up but the actual fear and anxiety doesn’t start to choke me until a month or so beforehand. It can be overwhelming, especially if you deal with anxiety on a daily basis. There isn’t any hand-holding at university, and dealing with everything on your own can be daunting. There’s no point lying and saying that really it’s all ok and you’ll be fine, because the truth is you need to work your arse off to even do average – at least, that’s how I am.

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The trick? Well, there isn’t one – and if there is a trick, then it’s different to everyone. Maybe you work better being in the library from dawn until dusk every day, or maybe you’re better at doing only half an hour every day for months upon end. I hate the library with a vengeance – even when I don’t have exams or essays coming up, just walking through the silent halls and creeping past people scribbling on paper or typing furiously at a computer freaks me out. I feel stressed whenever I try to work there, so normally I avoid it until I have to go to find books for said essays and exams.

My trick to combat stress? Take it one day at a time. I can’t work with timetables that map out my work for the next few weeks, it just makes me more stressed when I get behind schedule – and, trust me, I get behind schedule. I like to make a few lists of what I need to do for each subjects, and then each day I break them down. I pick one or two things to focus on each day. And if I don’t finish them? Not a problem, just finish it off the next day.

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Also use reward system – trust me, it’s a beautiful thing. You need restraint, yes, but if you set yourself achievable – let me just stress that again, achievable – goals that aren’t stupid like ‘write down the title’, then reward yourself at certain points. For example you could do so much as to say get halfway through an essay, or just write the introduction, yet for me I do it at the very end goal of finishing the essay. For exams it’s a more gradual process, so I of course celebrate when they’re over, but I also set mini goals throughout. Such as work through a set amount of lectures, or make all the notecards, or plan out as many practice questions as possible. Again, it’s taking one thing at a time.

I suppose university is only good for a certain mindset. If you need someone to tell you exactly what to do and when to do it, university probably isn’t for you. Hell, I’m at the end of my second year and I still haven’t been told how to write an essay. I’ve just been told not to write an ‘A level’ one, whatever that means.

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I’m not sure how helpful this guide can be, as really it’s just advice for a younger version of me as these are the tricks that work for me, but trust me when I say I can understand stress. I know how, well, stressful it is. It’s tiring just being stressed, and most days I just want to stay in bed and call in a sick day. But there’s no stopping time, no matter how hard you wish for the hands on the clock to just pause for a moment, so you just need to take it one step at a time. What’s that cliche phrase about how every marathon starts with a single step? You know the one. Think of that cliche whenever you’re stressed, and then laugh at yourself for being so cliche. Cheer yourself up with whatever cheers you up – whether that’s seeing your friends, eating copious amounts of chocolate, watching an episode of your favourite show, playing with your dog – and then tell yourself to just work a bit longer for that day. That’s all it takes. It’s a long haul, but in the end it’s worth it.

At least, I think it is. I’ll let you know next year.

Shit. Next year I finish university. Now I’m stressed. Again. Luckily I’ve just booked a trip home so I can play with my dog and take it one day at a time.

 

Life Choices

By the age of just 17, you are expected to decide what to do with the rest of your life. It is your responsibility to decide your career path, university, where you’ll live, your finances and so much more. It’s decided that you are old enough to do all of this, but apparently you’re still not responsible enough to legally drink alcohol.

This is something that has annoyed me for longer than I can remember (the deciding your life part, not the age limit for alcohol consumption). As I’m now in the situation where I only have a few mere weeks to decide what to do with my life, I thought that I should (of course) rant about it online. 

I’m privileged enough to attend a top school (that isn’t private) which has done so much to help me with ‘The Future’. Yet I’m here, still stressed out so much that I feel that maybe I should just drop out of school and work in a bakery so I can happily eat cake all day and roll off into the distance. I’m supposed to have a unique, original personal statement which suddenly isn’t original as my teachers tear it apart and instruct me to talk more about how singing in choir has improved my teamwork skills. It’s stressful enough actually working towards my A levels, let alone all this malarkey. 

Oh, and to all of those MPs who declare that ‘A levels are too easy’, I challenge you to come to my school and survive a week. I bet that you would crumble under the pressure with the long intense lessons and the workload that piles up so much that you crack. On top of that, write me a personal statement, fill in your UCAS form, find a job to earn money for next year, do extra curricular activities (inside AND outside of school, to ensure you seem to have variety) in order to have that extra flair, learn how to play an instrument, do your homework, research EVERYTHING, read around your topic, try to get interviews for university, do interview prep and freak out and, not to forget, go to school. 

Let me know how all that works for you.

Some of you may argue that pretty much everyone has to do it, so why complain about it now? Well what I’m really trying to say is that so much pressure shouldn’t be put on 17 year olds as the stress can be too much to handle. The expectations of our generation are too damn high – I repeat:

It’s about time we change this. No more ‘A levels are too easy’ talks as, I promise you, if you make them harder then you’ll just have a domino effect of teenagers dropping out of school or having a massive decline in grades. You think the students rebelling about money is bad – try to face a mob of angry, stressed out teenagers going through puberty. It’s not a pretty picture. 

I’m not someone who has all the answers but I do like to ask questions (the week long journalism course is to blame for that). So let me know what you think and, until next time, I’m out. ~El