Struggling with Anxiety? A letter to the Boys
Our School Counsellor reaches out to boys struggling with Anxiety as a result of COVID-19
When it comes to Anxiety, there are many of you who regularly (and sensibly) seek counselling during normal school time in my office; yet that has not been possible for the last month at least, so it is to you I write.
I hope that any other young men who silently struggle with what may still be to them, an unknown assassin, may gain some strength from knowing that they aren’t suffering alone.
Lockdown may initially have seemed a Godsend to any anxious person – allowing you an extended duration at home. No one knows better than yourselves just how difficult being at school can be, along with the trepidation you feel daily within a school setting. Prefects, rules, punishments and sadly, most often your peers, present threatening hurdles for you to navigate and overcome. So many anxious school goers know the effects of what feels to you like seismic hazards looming and the overthinking that results.
Seeing as learning (academics) is continuing online during this lockdown, no doubt new problems have surfaced as you weigh up a new form of distance learning. Sometimes, as you well know, it just takes changing circumstances or the introduction of new ways to send your anxiety levels soaring, before even experiencing any specific problem. A feeling of impending doom is well known to anxiety sufferers…where you find yourself waiting for disaster to strike although you have no idea from which direction that might come.
Added to that the fact that at the moment, you can’t pop in for talk therapy and possibly are feeling isolated by the worries mounting in your head. Fears such as whether you are keeping abreast of your work or not, come to mind; comparisons you may make between your progress and that of others; out of proportion fears of failing may crowd your mind despite no evidence of any truth to these concerns.
Remember firstly that because anxiety is not readily visible to those around you, it is difficult for others to understand and respond to, in an appropriate manner. This can include your nearest and dearest and the people who know you best – (even the people who made you!) .…your parents. It is often easier to avoid people or situations when you are feeling anxious – which can lead to even greater anxiety because you feel you have missed out somehow or now feel out of touch.
The very nature of this global pandemic and the resulting lockdown raises questions which none of us are really able to answer with any confidence…how long will the impact of this limbo linger? When will things return to normal? Is there going to be a new normal? For the anxious soul, this uncertainty can cause anxiety to spiral – sometimes out of control – into a panic attack. When your heart bangs in your chest and your hands feel clammy; or your limbs feel as though they are fashioned out of rubber; all of these psychosomatic symptoms can be debilitating for you. It is equally true that anxiety can be low grade, just below the surface; yet a constant companion.
As you know, it can be pervasive – you can go to sleep at night feeling anxious and wake up in the morning, still anxious. At times you battle to be free of the nagging feeling even when you are busy or completely occupied with a pastime you enjoy.
I urge you to make a decision today, to get on top of your anxiety, and remind you of the strategies we have discussed so often in my office, summarised in the guidelines below:
Strategies to manage your anxiety
- Breathe! Take time out for yourself. Remind yourself that when you are 25 you will look back on this time and smile at your younger self – I promise you really will… When I was a young warthog..
- Watch your Patterns of Behaviour! If you haven’t done so already, find a small book; print out and stick these points into the cover of your book. Form the habit of using the book to note down concrete examples of your worries and check back later that day to update the outcome. You will begin to recognise troublesome patterns of anxious thoughts with outcomes that are nearly always much better than feared. Learn from this! All these notations can also serve as a starting point when you return to talk therapy.
- Self-talk! Admit to yourself when you are feeling anxious and tell a trusted support person – who is called upon just to listen. This promotes self-acceptance of anxiety, on your part.
- Focus on controllables! Differentiate between items which you can control and those which you cannot control. Make a list of these in two columns, in your book. Dismiss that which you cannot control and hone in on the items that you can
- Get organised! Planning and setting up routines have a calming effect, so include this in your bag of tricks. Anxiety can affect your decision making processes, so automatically following a set routine that works for you will alleviate the need to weigh up options or make decisions , as well as avoid the ensuing limbo you may find yourself in.
- Flow! You may have been advised to go with the flow by well-meaning supporters (easier said than done when battling with anxiety). Strive for a mindset of taking the good with the bad; remember that nothing lasts forever! Don’t be knocked off your perch when something doesn’t go according to plan – this too shall pass.
- Take Action! Tackle what isn’t working out, head on – avoidance and procrastination exacerbate anxiety. Right now, the main topic on your agenda is going to be academics. Whether you like it or not, there isn’t much else going on for you! Use your time wisely and contact your teachers if you are confused about any work, before it all piles up. Don’t wait until there are alligators, before you drain the swamp!
- Utilise positive affirmations! Treating yourself kindly will go a long way towards mitigating feelings of anxiety. Go to bed at night with a suitable positive statement that resonates with you, in your thoughts. Examples of this include ‘I am doing the best I can’ or ‘I am stronger than I think’ or ‘I will get through this’. On waking, reaffirm that statement to yourself.
- Keep it simple! If you feel anxiety spiralling, slow your pace, give yourself space and reaffirm your reality. Quietly name 5 things you can see, 4 objects you can touch, 3 sounds you can hear until you feel grounded again.
Anxiety involves so much overthinking, as anyone who suffers from it can attest to. Don’t despair if this curious time of global lockdown has you feeling that anxiety is literally snapping at your heels…Life happens! I ask you to keep in mind the facts: you are young and strong and resourceful. With some strategies in place, you can overcome anxiety – and even banish it from your life. Bumps in the road often teach you much about who you are – and potentially who you would like to be.
Let life be a journey, not a destination.
School Counsellor, Maritzburg College