How I Beat Anxiety Thanks to a Catholic School Nurse

At the ripe old age of seven, I suffered from regular bouts of anxiety. Being dropped off at school became a pain point for my family. My Mom would pull her car up in line, come around and open my door and more often than not, physically pull me, ever so gently, from the car. 

Undeterred, I would promptly march up to a "line leader" and ask to be escorted to the nurse.

An unknowing and very kind 7th grade girl who would lead me to the nurse's office.  The nurse would see me, sigh, pull out a rolling stool and say, "What is it today, Laura?"

Each day was the same. The sinking feeling that something was bound to go wrong. I couldn't string the words together to accurately explain or make sense of why I felt this way. Until that school nurse drew the 'circle of friends'. 

She pulled out a small notepad and drew three stick figures with a circle around it. "This," she said, "is your current circle of friends. I know they are all in the other classroom this year, but if you stay in your current classroom, here's what will happen."

How I Beat Anxiety as a Kid

Outside that circle she drew a bunch of new stick figures and then another circle around those.

"Your circle of friends will widen. The other ones won't go away, you'll just get to add new ones."

There was something about this concept that resonated with me deeply. I suddenly understood that my anxiety stemmed from the unknown. I didn't have existing friends in the classroom. The teacher was new. The seating chart was new. That was it. I didn't "do well" with new. An adult had finally made sense of it for me.

I can't remember this nurse's name anymore which I feel badly about, but her lesson remains. Over the years I did deal with similar bouts of anxiety, all stemming from the same place. It hit very hard again my freshman year of college, all from those very same reasons I had as a small kid.

The perk of being an adult is that even when anxiety can rise up and get to you, it's easy to identify. I've seen these same struggles in my own four year-old and really try to talk through his feelings with him. When I see him reach an a-ha moment or simply feel better when he uses words like "frustrated" or "wanting to be alone" it makes me feel like I'm parenting in a way that will help him work through his anxieties, rather than try to suppress them.

The only place I have yet to completely remove my anxieties is before I board a plane. Again, I think that has to do with the seating chart.


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