Anxiety for Dummies

A short guide with tips and tricks to better handle stress.


An Academic Magnet senior experiencing extreme stress.

Anxiety, a word us highschoolers are all too familiar with. Whether you find yourself sweating bullets before every test or shaking in your place at the corner of any gathering over five people, we all experience anxiety to some degree. Its evolutionary origins certainly served our ancestors well, providing them with the energy and awareness to fight off a predator or hunt an animal. However, as a post neolithic revolutionary society, the majority of us no longer find ourselves in life threatening situations often. So, now we ask ourselves, “how can we change these tendencies to maximize what we get out of life?”, and while I would like to say the answer is simple, it certainly is not. 

In order to best reduce daily anxiety, In my personal experience it comes down to a combination of three main practices: grounding yourself, rationalizing, and cardiovascular exercise. While consistently engaging in all three of these activities may be exhausting, any mix of the three is nearly certain to help to some degree. I have found that after a few years of trying all of these methods, I am much better equipped to manage my anxiety.

First, grounding yourself. While it sounds complicated, it can be a great tool to bring yourself back to earth when you find your grasp on reality slipping. Internet celebrity Noel Miller, also known as Cody Co’s funnier friend, claims that he grounds himself in times of stress by counting down from 100 in increments of 7. Techniques like this focus your brain on a task that’s really easy yet still requires a decent level of thought. A similar technique involves observing your surroundings and trying to take mental notes of the things around you. First create a list of all the things you can see, especially anything that stands out or is significant. Then try and observe anything that you can hear, from an AC unit to whispering voices. I find these two to be the most helpful however try observing your surroundings with all of your senses in a time of stress and find what works bests for you. Additionally, there are many other grounding techniques you may find online that can help you in almost any situation of immediate stress. 

Next comes rationalization. Most highschoolers have a loose definition of what it means to rationalize, however, when it comes to taking our thoughts and fears and making clear sense of them, we often struggle. One technique taught to me by my mom, a clinical psychologist, involves visualizing three scenarios in times of stress. First imagine the worst possible outcome that could come from your current struggle. I’m talking the most unreasonably crazy thing that could possibly result of whatever is causing you stress. Next, apply the same logic to the best possible outcome and imagine it in your head. Finally, find a happy medium between these two scenarios which is often times the most likely outcome. Think long and hard about this last scenario as it often times removes a decent amount of tension from almost any situation. Other rationalization techniques include creating a physical to-do list on paper which often reveals you have much less to do then you previously thought.  Any opportunity you have to reevaluate your situation from a calmer perspective, maybe even by first grounding yourself, can make it much easier to find a much more accurate perception of whatever is causing your stress. 

Finally, one habit that has been scientifically proven to reduce anxiety and improve mental health in general is cardiovascular exercise. 30 minutes of exercise a day can provide you with the clarity and serotonin you need to take on the day a champion. However, I understand that conventional exercises such as running or swimming can be quite mundane and honestly not that appealing. To get around this, I suggest finding an activity that is both physically demanding and enjoyable such as cycling, surfing, or even playing a game of tag to get your heart racing before school and prepare yourself for the challenges of that day. While I know any exercise sounds unappealing to the majority of highschoolers, I implore you to give this a try and watch as you begin to feel at least some of your stress fade away. 

While I know that there is no single solution to cure anxiety in all highschoolers, I believe that if you try these methods and find a combination that best suits you, you will most likely find some relief from your day to day concerns. In the end, it is important to remember that as students at a high achieving school, we often times put way more weight on our decisions and their outcomes then we should. After looking at our time in highschool in the context of our lives as a whole, it is important for us to focus on enjoying the time we have and try our best to live each day moment by moment.