My personal anxiety usually stems from fear of the unknown and overthinking real or perceived challenges in school. An expression of anxiety is seen as a weakness in my community, though attitudes are beginning to change with increasing awareness about mental wellbeing alongside physical health. Typical refrains of “don’t worry” are common, even though at times anxiety can propel us towards action by triggering the body’s “fight-or-flight” response system in order to keep us safe. I find that anxiety about exams prompts me to study, and anxiety about aging grandparents motivates me to spend more time with them, but there are occasions when prolonged anxiety can be incapacitating.
I, like most people in my community, was not aware of the dangers of being in a constant state of fear and anxiety and its impact on both mental and physical health. For instance, I did not realize how habitual my anxiety and fear had become, almost like an incorrect stimulus to situations that were not serious. The competitive streak in my family and societal expectations to outperform in academics and co-curricular activities drove me to perfectionism. This naturally helped me excel but came with the added baggage of anxiety, which diminished the fun and sense of achievement from what I had accomplished.
It was only when I came across articles in leading newspapers about managing anxiety and stress that I realized my experience was not unique and there are ways to channel anxiety into productivity. Initially, I was quite skeptical about the advice given in self-help articles and blogs. However, it set me on a journey of greater awareness about my thoughts and feelings, which in turn helped me find ways to cope with various situations. Out of the myriad techniques, I found the key is to “break the chain” of negative thoughts that provoke anxiety. Catching niggling doubts and addressing them helped me avoid going down a path of constant anxiety. Also helpful was greater realization about the need to focus on the process rather than simply results.
I hope we can develop a culture where people recognize that sometimes a person cannot control the onset of anxiety any more than the onset of flu. A precautionary approach can help prevent or reduce symptoms, but there is no need to feel ashamed or hesitant to seek out support when needed. I found that reaching out to family members and health experts can mitigate the impacts of anxiety, and I encourage others who are suffering with chronic anxiety to do the same. Results may take a while to appear, but consistent effort to challenge fear and negative thoughts will help build the emotional intelligence and resilience needed to navigate the journey of life.
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