I used to be the kind of person who always needed someone to reassure me that I was doing things the right way. I hated being wrong and would feel embarrassed if I made a mistake, even if there were no consequences to it.
When I was in high school, I would never raise my hand unless I was absolutely sure that I knew the answer. Teachers would tell me that it didn’t matter if the answer was wrong; the important thing was that I tried. But even with encouragement, I would retreat. I was afraid to voice my opinion because I was worried about being judged by others. This is where those racing, anxious thoughts would kick in: I think I know the answer, but what if it’s wrong? I would be so embarrassed, and people would think I was stupid so I shouldn’t even bother trying. I would shrink back into my seat and hope the teacher wouldn’t call on me. Even if I did know the answer I would second guess myself – okay, so I know the answer…I mean, I THINK I know the answer. Wait, what if it’s not right? What if I’m totally off? Okay, I’ll let someone else answer this time. No amount of encouragement was helping me to let go of these anxious thoughts.
I think part of my need for reassurance comes from a lack of confidence in my own abilities. It’s the reason I haven’t gotten my driver’s license yet. People keep asking me when I am going to take my test and I usually just change the subject. I actually took my test last summer and failed twice, which was embarrassing…but actually not as bad as I thought. I was proud of myself for even attempting it in the first place. Unfortunately, now my G1 is expired and I have to start all over again (lesson learned: don’t put things off!). But I see this as a chance to practice and build up my confidence while driving. I usually feel embarrassed to let people know that I get anxious driving, and they all say the same thing: it’s about confidence. I know what the rules are, I know how to drive, but when I am in a test situation or on my own I panic and feel like I need someone next to me to tell me exactly what to do. Hopefully by next year I will be driving…it would be nice to not have to take the subway everywhere or rely on people for rides!
Even now in university, these same self-doubts pop up. I have always done well in school, yet every year I worry: What if I fail? What if I bomb this test and get a bad mark on my transcript? Then I will never get into grad school, and won’t get a job and then I’ll never have a career and then what will I do? All of these thoughts pop into my head within about 3 seconds. That panic, the ‘what if’s that I’m sure people who have anxiety are familiar with, can paralyze me and stop me from moving forward. Even though I have never failed a course or a test I always think I got lucky and that for sure it’ll happen next time.
People with anxiety – or I guess most people in general, actually – like things that comfort them. It always feels safer to have someone you trust with you, to be by your side to give you a pep-talk and reassure you. When you feel anxious, you cling to people and things that comfort you because they make you feel safe and reduce your anxiety right away (they’re called ‘safety behaviours’ for a reason). But if you rely on these too much, then you never learn to ride the wave of anxiety, work through the panic, and let it rise and fall.
So when I am having a moment of self-doubt and I sense the anxiety about to wash over me, I remind myself that if someone else was in my position, I would tell them to have faith in themselves, and that they are capable and strong. People always say to treat others the way you would like to be treated, yet we rarely treat ourselves with the same level of compassion and kindness we feel others deserve.
I need to learn to trust my own judgement. I need to learn to be a little less cautious – I don’t need to be a daredevil, but even taking small risks and going for something even when my self-doubt is eating away at me will only help me grow stronger in the long run. The self-doubts may never go away, but I can control the way I choose to handle them.
Ayesha is a fourth year student at the University of Toronto, majoring in Psychology and completing a double minor in Cinema Studies and Sociology. She enjoys watercolor painting, fantasy fiction, and crime dramas. She was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Depression and Social Anxiety.