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Tiffany Matthé

Reducing Anxiety Takes Time

Mental Health2 min read

When I was younger, I was a very anxious kid. I disliked any situation that tested my abilities and challenged my weaknesses (with the exception of school). The constant feeling of being judged, the fear of making one mistake, was debilitating.

I was also terrified to meet new people. I was scared of not knowing what they thought, not knowing how they were like. This fear overwhelmed my thoughts, until I couldn't think calmly, which aggravated the situation further because now I was also anxious that I couldn't talk with them normally.

I became so anxious that I started worrying about my future as well. If I couldn't meet new people, how could I do a job interview, which was a combination of being judged and meeting someone new? How could I make friends in new schools? I searched far and wide on the world wide web, and read all the tips and tricks possible.

"Pose like a superhero beforehand."

"Recall good experiences."

"Take big deep breaths."

"Expose yourself to uncomfortable situations."

I tried to implement every piece of advice. I power posed. I recalled good memories. I tried to calm down. I tried new things. And nothing seemed to work. I was still as anxious as I was yesterday. So I would give up and accept the fact that I would be very anxious and uncomfortable for the rest of my life.

Forward to a few months later, my frustration at myself would compel me to try again. And so I did. But this time without the expectation that I would immediately be comfortable and talkative. This time, I accepted that I would be anxious and uncomfortable. Instead of trying to improve every single aspect, I focused on implementing one tip at a time. It could be remembering someone's name (so I didn't have to worry about not being able to recall it later on), walking calmly (instead of an anxious speed walk), or posing like a superhero (to increase the power hormone testosterone).

I also started trying new uncomfortable things, like working at a fast-food restaurant where I had to talk to customers and work well under pressure, volunteering in leadership roles, and talking with more people. We grow from escaping our boundaries.

Now, I have been on a few interviews where I felt good to show them what I could do. I have been in classes where I was comfortable asking questions among 300+ students. On my first day at university, I made a good friend from a random stranger sitting in the cafeteria. I'm not an anxious person1 anymore; I'm just someone who sometimes feels anxious.

I'm still not completely at ease in new situations, but I'm OK with that. No matter how much you wish to be instantaneously transformed overnight, reducing anxiety takes time. Unless you find a way to time travel, you can’t speed up the process.

But you can choose when to leave the starting line.

  1. Labelling can be good to identify problems, but not for change. Don't view labels as permanent descriptions of one's self.

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