I can't tell you when it started but at some point, I began to realize how terrified I was of being in social situations and huge crowds. I was the girl in high school who never raised her hand in class. Although somehow, with the help of my friends, I was able to join clubs and even become the co-president of one. For me, that was a huge stepping stone because I never had the guts to socialize, much less lead other people.
Once I got to college, the increase in size of my immediate community brought back feelings of anxiety. I began to feel so small and out of place. My freshmen roommates left for other colleges. I had a different roommate from sophomore to senior year; having to adapt to living with a new person every year was quite difficult. But, eventually, I became more comfortable with my campus and even with the people I hung out with. I got to know my classmates and peers, who were going through the same exams and projects and professors as I was (since we were all in the same department). I got a job on campus and even off campus.
Did I still have moments of anxiety and fear? Definitely. Sometimes, I would be doing something and not realize that I was holding my breath. Or I would be walking down the street, heading to my destination, and I would start talking to myself out loud. I would run through the possible scenarios and try to psyche myself up.
After college, I worked. I had jobs. I talked to people. I conquered my days. Through it all, there was this lingering ball of panic and anxiety bouncing around inside my chest. But you know what? Once I was able to get past it (at least in the moment), it felt good. I felt proud even if it was only for a few minutes.
"Yes! I talked to that customer."
"Yes! I helped her find the perfect dress."
"Yes! He liked my idea."
So here's my (unprofessional) advice to you: Don't let your anxiety control you.
Think about a time you were scared out of your mind about something but you did it anyway.
If you let your anxiety be the boss of you, you'll never be able to live your life the way you want to.
Talk about your anxiety. You don't have to Tweet about it to everyone but find a close friend or family member that you feel comfortable speaking to. Work through the triggers that cause you to feel like you're running 100 mph (or running on 100 cups of coffee).
For me, it's the uncertainty... not knowing what's going to happen if I do this or that.
Recognize your anxiety. Sometimes, you may know exactly what causes those unnerving feelings but you find it hard to combat or even prevent them. Recognizing when it happens can help you take actions to soothe it.
If I notice that I've stopped breathing, I'll make sure to take several deep breaths afterward. Or it really helps me to sit down, place my hand over my chest, and do a couple of slow, gentle taps over my heart.
Take it one step at a time. If you're anxious because you're stressed or overwhelmed, it can be a good idea to break the big tasks down to small tasks. The key is to focus on getting through one thing at a time.
For example, "Okay, I just need to call and make a reservation for this venue." Easy. Done.
Once you finish each task, you can give yourself a small reward like a sticker or a piece of chocolate. If you're not really into small rewards, you can give yourself a daily reward for finishing all of your tasks that day. It could be a nice bubble bath or watching the movie you've been dying to see. Whatever it is, it's easier to visualize the achievements when you are motivated to receive the reward.
Stop thinking. One of my biggest mistakes is overthinking and worrying. Being attentive is a good thing. Wanting to improve is a good thing. Analyzing every little mistake? Not such a good thing. If you start feeling anxious because you're analyzing every worst case scenario, just stop. I mean, seriously. Just stop what you're doing and completely empty your mind.
Next, I want you to visualize something positive. It could be a wonderful memory, your favorite stuffed animal, a dream, anything. Once you start to calm down, think about your ideal best case scenario for whatever it is that you are trying to do. If there were no boundaries or obstacles, what would be the best thing that could happen?? For example, you have a presentation to do at work. Best case scenario would be to get through all the points without getting flustered AND having your boss praise you for your hard work.
When you have that figured out, write it down and stick it somewhere you have visual access to everyday (i.e. fridge, bedroom wall, front door). Think about the steps you need to take to get to that ideal end result. Maybe you're worried you'll forget what to say or your presentation won't be cohesive. What do you need to do to make sure those aren't an issue? For example, you could practice with a friend so that your words come naturally or record yourself doing the presentation so you can see what improvements to make. You could get a colleague to review your work, to make sure it actually flows and makes sense.
Be proactive in minimizing the causes of anxiety instead of focusing on the anxiety itself.
Last but not least, know that you aren't alone. For me, I always felt like in my group of friends and family, I was the only one who understood what it meant to be crippled by your own fears. But in reality, everyone feels some form of anxiety. There are people who may feel it more than others and some who only feel it in certain situations.
A dark cave is scary when you're alone. But when you're surrounded by other people, when you have support from those who get what you're going through, it becomes a lot more manageable. I'm not saying, go out and join a million support groups or communities...but if you know someone or see someone who experiences anxiety, be a positive force! Help them be the boss of their anxiety!