Flashlight: overcoming anxiety as a teenager


Artwork by Zoe Larson

Unlike the common misconception, anxiety is not just worrying about a single test or an event. Anxiety is stress that feels neverending.

Laura Heckenlaible, Perspectives Editor

As humans, it’s instinct to try and hide our insecurities. It seems easier to paste on the generated smile and try to forget about what is going on within. For myself, a large percentage of the LHS students and the bulk of the human population, we face the ongoing and everyday tug of war with anxiety and all the different symptoms that follow suit. 

I was recently diagnosed with anxiety. I believe my diagnosis took so long because I wasn’t willing to admit that I was struggling. When I went to the doctor and was asked to fill out the mental health questionnaire, I lied and checked all the wanted boxes. When the doctor promoted me to talk about anything else that I needed, I again was not truthful. I choked up the robotic response “I’m fine.” I ignored the signs from my body that seemed to scream that something was wrong. I would develop rashes across my neck from the built-up stress. I picked at my skin and peeled my nails until I couldn’t anymore. It seemed easier to fake it than to face it. 

This feeling of isolation is common in all stages of anxiety but especially the stage of denial, such as the one I went through.

This feeling of isolation is common in all stages of anxiety but especially the stage of denial, such as the one I went through. Many believe that they are by themselves in this struggle. That they are all struggling with anxiety alone. It is easy to look at others and be jealous of what you see. The smiles, the laughs and the seemingly carefree nature. It is as easy to wallow in that jealousy as it is to forget that those smiles could be forced and the free nature could be faked. Perhaps like you and like me, the reality may not be what is seen on the outside.  

Unlike the common misconception, anxiety is not just worrying about a single test or an event. Anxiety is stress that feels neverending. The worry is not something one can pinpoint. Anxiety is an overwhelming amount of thoughts and feelings that cause various bodily responses. Through a survey among students at LHS willing to answer questions about their personal anxiety and anxiety in general, some symptoms stated include: overthinking, nausea, shaking, lack of motivation, heart racing, sweating, headaches and so much more. 64.3% of the surveyed students stated that anxiety and the following symptoms affect their life every single day.

When I finally faced the anxious thoughts and acknowledged I needed help, though it has been a slow process, my life began to change for the better. Through being open with others including my teachers, family and friends as well as getting into therapy and taking medicine, I learned that I was able to handle this. I realized that I have people behind me who are rooting for me. I found out ways to cope.

To combat my recurrent anxiety, talking about what I am stressed about at the moment is helpful. I also learned that sometimes I need to step back and have some alone time to take a break from the task at hand and allow time to go on my phone, read a book or just lay in bed and relax. Therapy and medications have also been a huge help. Being able to get an outside expert opinion has allowed me to see challenges differently. With the medications, I have seen mood changes. I don’t lash out when I’m stressed, and I don’t have to deal with as many waves of irritability and gloominess. LHS students had similar responses. Students mentioned tools like positive thinking, deep breathing, refocusing, reasoning, listening to music, journaling and also finding that time for themselves. 

While having anxiety is not close to being ideal, having not only to struggle but also to persevere, valuable lessons can be attained. LHS students have various examples of these lessons, such as becoming more empathetic, learning that their mind is not always correct and finding patience as well as confidence and true support from those closest. A response that stood out read, “I’ve gained a love for living in the moment, knowing that life might not go how I want it to go.” I have learned that living is so much more than what is going on inside your head. Anxiety is real and the thoughts and feelings you have are valid. Learning to cope and work with challenges allows one to truly live and enjoy every genuine laugh and smile.

When I created the survey, I expected it to get the normal amount of responses, between 10-20, but to my surprise, I got over 40. Each day as I would check I seemed to get more and more. While it was difficult to realize that so many people have to face anxiety, it was a reassurance to me that I was not alone. I felt seen in a way unlike before.

My goal for those reading is for you all to remember that you are not alone. That every day so many others are facing similar challenges, and that what you are facing, while extremely difficult, can still coexist with truly living. Real smiles and belly laughs are possible. I was going to quote the saying and remind you that “there is a light at the end of the tunnel” but I realized that anxiety is not something that will end. A better way to put it is that while at times the expansive tunnel of life may be dark and tough to navigate, you always have the choice to grab a flashlight. You don’t have to always be the light but you can always possess it, so choose to turn on the light. I encourage anyone who is dealing with their anxieties to reach out and normalize the conversation about anxiety. Talk to your friends, to your doctors, go to therapy, take the medicine and keep on pushing. And if no one has ever told you, don’t forget that I am proud of you for waking up and walking through the tunnel and maybe occasionally turning on your flashlight.