Ask The Therapist: ”I’m 16, and I feel like I’m wasting the best part of my life because of my anxiety. It’s taking a toll on my health and I feel like I’m going to die. What do I do?”

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I’m 16 years old and I live in Scotland. I feel like I’m wasting the best part of my life in my room, not just because I’m too scared to go out (because I think something bad will happen), but also because my parents are strict. I also think I have no talent like my older sister, who gets all A’s, whereas I had my exams a month ago, and I panicked in the hall. I had to be taken out. My parents were very sweet about it, they said they don’t care if I fail, but it hurts my ego. While all the other girls are having “hot girl summer”, I’m sitting in my room having chest and stomach pains. I’ve been checked by doctors multiple times and they say I’m fine, I’m stressing myself from school. The pain started happening a while ago. It was chest pain first, then I became depressed and thought I was going to die, and exams just made it worse. I’m scared for the future, I always think I’m going to die, like writing this is making me think what if by the time you reply I’m dead.

Shahrukh’s Response:

Dear Anon,

It sounds like there is a great deal of heaviness that you’re experiencing, and from your message, it also seems like there is a great amount of pressure on your shoulders. I’m so sorry to hear about what you’ve been experiencing, and how difficult it has been for you. While I can’t speak to exactly what’s happening, from what you’ve told me, it sounds like your body is beginning to react to the stress and anxiety that you’ve been facing. In order to find a solution, let’s explore a little bit more about what your body might be experiencing.

Anxiety in Relation to Society and The Body

Anon, Anxiety, better known as the body’s defensive and alarm system, gets activated any time our bodies feel like we’re in danger. Over the course of our lives, it is constantly learning and eventually, a lot of our responses are automatic and primarily visceral. If left unexpressed and unprocessed, it can begin to take a toll on the body in different ways; muscle/joint pain, heaviness/pain in the chest, long-term digestive problems, breathing difficulty and so on.

So, what is danger? In olden times, danger would be seen in the context of physical survival. Overtime anxiety evolved into something more existential, and the dangers that we perceive now and a lot more related to the self and how we integrate into society. This can tie in with themes like self-image, social belonging and so on. By this logic, you may begin to see yourself in the context of how others see you and what they think – the self becomes linked to the expectations of society and it’ll become attached to things like grades, performance and how you conduct ourselves publicly. You want to keep proving that you’re “good enough” – and that in itself is a huge weight on one’s shoulders.

Anxiety can manifest in many ways:

  • Elevated heartrate
  • Tightness in chest
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Sweaty Palms
  • Upset stomach
  • Chest pain
  • Body trembling/shaking

What Action To Take?

Anon, sometimes chest pains can mean multiple things and it’s best to rule out any medical concerns. Since there is nothing on that front, in your case, it might be time to consider that perhaps it is related to your mental health. It might be worth exploring some of the triggers around some of the stress you’ve been taking on, especially related to school and unpacking that a little further. You can start by trying some coping strategies, anything to help you wind down and relax from the levels of activation that you’re feeling. When the body’s nervous system is activated, it’s best to release some of that energy that’s built up. Some coping strategies include but are not limited to:

  • Cardio-focused workout – running, dancing, high-intensity work outs
  • Painting
  • Journaling your thoughts
  • Deep breathing exercises (to help regulate your breath and heart rate)
  • Guided visualization meditation
  • Walking
  • Body relaxation techniques (optional: coupled with essential oils to engage and calm the senses)
  • Taking a nice warm/hot shower (this is especially helpful when you begin to notice a lot of tension building up in your muscles)
  • An activity to engage the senses and incorporate movement – yoga, cooking, martial arts, swimming, stretching etc.

Another thing you can also consider, Anon, is looking into seeing a therapist. From everything you have mentioned, it would be a good option to explore what you’re going through in a safe, non-judgemental space, and maybe begin to understand what might be contributing to the high levels of stress you experience in relation to school, as well as other aspects of your life. My curiosity also goes towards the things that appear to be obstacles keeping you at home right now, because I imagine that must be really taxing, and it sounds like it’s really beginning to take its toll on your emotional well-being and ability to live authentically and openly.

***

I know you’re going through a really difficult time right now, Anon, and I really feel for you. It’s okay if things are difficult – just remember that while this may seem like it’s forever, you can get through this – no feeling lasts forever. Take some time, and when you’re ready, do give yourself the space and the permission to explore this further and to get the help that you need. I really hope that this article was helpful, and that things get better for you in the future. Best of luck and stay in your power!

The above article is written by Shahrukh Shahbaz Malik who is trained in humanistic integrative counselling at CPDD in the UK and currently has her own private practice in Karachi. The views expressed in this article are those of one expert. They do not necessarily represent the views of Mashion, nor do they represent the complete picture of the topic at hand. This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical diagnosis, treatment or therapy.

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