As an adult looking back on my life, I realize I have always been an anxious person. This thought came to me recently, because as a kid I would have described myself as fearless, but upon further reflection that was definitely not the case.
I achieved academic honors my entire life, but would experience crippling test anxiety. I was a competitive athlete, but wouldn’t be able to sleep the night before big games. I was a performer and had leading roles, but would have nightmares before every show that something would go wrong. No matter what situation I found myself in, my brain has always moved nonstop and I always have to be over-prepared, have a plan in place, and have 2-3 backup plans for when the original plan fails. I have always found myself thinking five steps forward.
My life was very predictable until about 2 years ago when it did a complete 180. I decided to end a four-year relationship. I switched career paths to something I had never tried before. I moved to New York City. It was during this time that I realized for once I was using my anxiety as a motivator, rather than an inhibitor. I knew I wanted to do all of these things, but instead of spending time thinking and agonizing over the decisions, I acted on them and took a leap of faith. What made me do this? I still don’t know.
It was a game of pretending for a while. I pretended it didn’t faze me moving from a town where everyone knew my name to a place where I found myself lost in the crowd every single day. I pretended my way through the first few months of my new job where every day I was learning as I went and had absolutely no clue what I was doing. I knew I was doing the right thing for myself and my future, but I had to find ways to cope with it. Two things I started doing once I made these big life changes that really changed my thinking:
- Started a journal – I was never one to do this religiously, but I have consistently kept one for the past year, and it’s amazing to go back and reread my feelings in the moment. I don’t judge myself on them, but it’s refreshing to see how much perspective I’ve gained since.
- Did things that forced me to be anxious – I know. It’s basically like walking straight into a fire. But if you live in New York City and you’re not putting yourself out there in some way, then it’s a waste. I went to shows, events, and fitness classes by myself. I started volunteering within my new community. If I wanted to try a new bar or restaurant, I took myself out to dinner. I explored different parts of the city.
I’m turning 25 in a couple days and upon reflection, the me at age 23 compared to now does not even feel like the same person. I realized that by acknowledging my anxiety and using it as a motivator to make myself better, I was able to excel at all of these new elements I introduced to my life. I still have my moments. There are times when I feel like an elephant is sitting on my chest because work and the nonstop city life just gets to me. But by acknowledging it in the moment, writing it down, and looking back on all of the great things I have been able to accomplish despite my anxiety, I find my way through those tough days. You don’t choose to have anxiety, but you can choose how you use that energy. Before, I would have used it as an excuse. Today, I use it as a driving force to help me achieve what I want in this life, even if it takes a little bit longer.