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4 Things I’d Say to My Anxiety-Filled Younger Self

Drug user fear

“I vow to let go of all worries and anxiety in order to be light and free.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

As I sit here writing this, I’m just a couple of days away from my twenty-eighth birthday.

It’s been a whole decade since an introverted, shy version of me turned eighteen years old and entered into the realms of what many people consider to be “adult age.”

Back then, anxiety, specifically social anxiety, plagued me.

At the time, however, I’d never even heard of anxiety, let alone considered that I may be suffering with this thing that could be termed a “mental illness.” Truth be told, I just thought I was a bit weird.

I thought it was just who I was. And that the uncontrollable sweating whenever I left the house, the monumental nervousness before having to go into any social situation, the sick feeling before making any phone call, and the continual worry of what might happen in the future was just an annoying part of me that I'd have to live with for the rest of my life.

The decade that followed, though, brought some huge life lessons. I graduated from college, got my first full-time job, left said job, started several businesses (failing at most), became obsessed with health, nutrition, and fitness, met the love of my life, and traveled to various parts of the world.

But around eighteen months ago, I left the personal training business I was miserable in and became obsessed with spirituality, personal development, and understanding my own brain.

I wanted to know why I’d been on this journey so far, yet still felt completely worthless as a human being and filled with panic about what people thought of me or what might happen in the future.

It was during this time I did monumental amounts of reading, inward reflection, and deep inner work in order to truly get to know what was going on inside of me. I got to understand who I was and connect with myself at a level I didn’t previously think was possible.

So as I sit here now, ten years on from my eighteenth birthday, I’d like to share four things I’ve learned over the past decade and would want to say to that anxiety-ridden, nervous, and severely introverted version of myself if I ever got the chance.

1. Be unashamedly all of you.

Part of the reason I was feeling all this anxiety and emptiness inside was that I had this belief that I somehow needed to be more than who I was. Like I wasn’t good enough as me in any present moment, and so I needed to add on external things in an attempt to bridge that gap.

Deep down, at a subconscious level, I felt that I wasn’t worthy of love or attention without chasing all this stuff that was outside of myself. The degree, the job, the business, the pay bracket.

As I attached my entire worth as a person to all this external stuff, I created a world full of anxiety for myself.

I got anxious about having to converse with people, for fear they would figure me out as a fraud or someone who didn’t have everything together. And my desperate looking to the future for a time when I did have it all together would cause regular panic when something even slightly compromised my ability to get there.

The irony here is that by never feeling “enough” or “worthy” and trying to gain these external things in order to be more than I was, I was actually shrinking my real self.

The real me wasn’t showing up in the world, and I was holding myself back from everyone and everything. Bringing just a miniscule percentage of the greatest version of myself into every situation and moment. And that’s just not fair to me, or the world.

So the first thing I would say to my eighteen-year-old self is to stop trying to be more than you are, and just unashamedly be all that you are at any given moment.

2. You get to create yourself.

One of my greatest fears as an eighteen-year-old, and for a good number of years following, was that I would be this incredibly shy and anxious person for the rest of my life.

In fact, I don’t suppose it was really a fear at the time. More a simple acceptance and frustration at the fact that I’d been dealt this hand of someone who always had a knot in his stomach, struggled to hold conversations, and was perennially labelled “the quiet one.”

If I’m honest, it caused me to really dislike and become irritated with myself. It was overwhelmingly frustrating to see other people make their way into social circles and progress in life seemingly with relative ease. Yet here I was, having to calm down and prepare myself for the simple act of making a phone call to book a dentist’s appointment.

This all just became a part of my identity, just who I thought I was and a part of me I assumed I just had to live with.

At some point along the way, though, I came to the realization that I was choosing to keep this social anxiety as a part of my identity. Maybe not on a conscious level, but certainly on a subconscious one.

I discovered that by facing up to what was going on inside my anxious head, no longer trying to push it away and suppress it, and challenging the negative thoughts floating around, I could create a blank slate of sorts, to assume an identity without all the anxiety.

In short, a person’s past does not need to dictate their present or the future. There is no “hand” we have been dealt. And so we get to create and choose into who we want to be in any given moment or phase of our lives.

3. Life doesn’t have to look a certain way.

For so long, I had this grandiose illusion that everything had to look a specific way.

I believed the “correct” path in life, whatever that meant, was already there for me, and if I veered from it, something terrible would happen. In my mind, everything was filled with “should” and “should nots” around what life was supposed to look like.

I should have a good schooling, a degree, get a good job, behave this way, do this, do that; it’s bad to do this, it’s good to do that; I should fall in line with everyone else.

Of course, I’m not saying we should go against the grain all the time. There are some aspects in life where it’s probably a good idea to fall in line. The concepts of not judging people by the color of their skin or not being a serial killer are pretty good examples.

But to just accept that everything needs to look the way society, the media, a religion, teachers, school, or even your parents tells us is not necessarily serving us best.

All this did for me was create anxiety. I had a path in my mind, and if anything threatened me falling off that path then, in my head, I would be castigated from society, nobody would love me, and my whole world would cave in.

It was as if I was constantly on the lookout for things that could move me away from how things should look. The result was being in an almost perpetual internal state of worry, panic, and dread.

But why do things have to look a certain way? Just because a direction, path, or way of thinking worked for one person, doesn’t mean it will for anyone else.

This is when I realized it was perfectly okay to challenge convention. To investigate different ways of thinking without the whole world judging me and everything falling apart. And that it was perfectly healthy, even necessary, to figure out my own path.

4. Learn to love the darkness.

This was something that took me a while to truly understand and accept. But when I did, it created a monumental amount of inner healing and peacefulness.

We all have dark parts of our past. Some maybe have darker parts than others, but that doesn’t make them any more or less valid.

For a long time I wished those dark parts weren’t there. I would look into my past and feel frustration and resentment for those dark parts that caused so much pain.

I’d look into this darkness and think about how it shouldn’t be there. That it was wrong and bad it existed, and because it did, I would be judged if anyone found out; therefore, I wasn’t worthy of being happy.

In reality, every moment in my life, the good and the bad, was part of a vast sequence of events that led me to this very moment. We need the darkness in order to experience light, up to experience down, and sadness to experience joy. Without one, the other cannot exist.

Of course, deep wounds take time to heal. I’m not saying we should all be able to click our fingers and instantly love every aspect of the past, regardless of how traumatic or painful.

But opening up to the idea of letting go of resentment and frustration, and appreciating dark moments in the past for what they really are, is such a powerful step. They don’t define us, and they don’t need dictate who we are. They have given us the opportunity to harness this very moment and unleash the amazing things that are inside us on the unsuspecting world.

What would you tell your younger self if you had the chance to speak with them?

About Michael Glover

Michael Glover is a Mindset & Performance Coach, helping people balance mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health in order to build strength from the inside-out and realise their truest potential. He is host of the Enlightened Entrepreneurial Badasses podcast and blogs over on his site at iammichaelglover.com. Feel free to add him as a friend on Facebook.

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  • QueenBee Witched

    How wise you are at such a young age. Much of this began to be my work as I turned 40, and thankfully the lessons continue as do the revelations. Thank you for sharing your nuggets of wisdom. You are far ahead of the game and I hope you continue to share what you have learned throughout the years to come.

  • Michael Glover

    Ah thank you so much, QueenBee (awesome name). So glad you liked the article and I really appreciate your comment. I shall be sure to keep sharing for many years to come 🙂

  • Mary So

    Thank you so much for sharing. It’s always reassuring to read words that resonate so deeply and realize we’re not alone, as weird and awkward/anxious as we are 😉

  • Michael Glover

    Thank you, Mary! So glad you liked the article. Embrace that inner weirdo!

  • wendyb

    Right now going through a small dark spot in my life. This post reminded me of a few things I know inside but am not feeling at the moment. Thanks for the kick in the butt to get me out of my “pity party”!

  • This article was just what I needed. Thank you so much for sharing! You have truly made my day a lot better. It was exactly what I needed to read right now. Thank you again!

  • Michael Joyce

    What a great article! I have to admit, I feel like my current self is quite similar to your younger self; someone who has been struggling with the issues you described. So it was quite a relief to hear how you overcame them. Thanks a lot for the advice!

  • Michael Glover

    Nothing wrong with a pity party sometimes, Wendy. It’s not always going to be sunshine and rainbows. But like you said, finding the space and drive to get out of them is the key. Kudos to you for finding that! So happy my article assisted and thank you for commenting 🙂

  • Michael Glover

    Thank you so much for the comment, Vanessa. It means so much to me that anything I write helps people. Here’s to the rest of your awesome day 🙂

  • Michael Glover

    Thank you, Michael. So glad you can resonate and it helped you, my friend!

  • Leo Oliveira

    Thank you so much for sharing your personal experience, Michael! It is really relieving to see that we’re not the only weirdos on Earth, feeling insecure about pretty much everything that surrounds us, doubting, suffocating into this anxiety-packed kind of loop. You’ve made my day. 🙂

  • Michael Glover

    Thank you so much, Leo! We most definitely are not the only weirdos on this earth. We all have our own, unique inner weirdo that needs to come out 🙂

  • Lakshmi P Chenchugari

    Michael, I got so many answers from your article , for the issues that are torturing me

  • socially-anxieted

    “I graduated from college, got my first full-time job, left said job,
    started several businesses (…) met the love of my life, and traveled to
    various parts of the world.”
    That is not social anxiety.

  • Anisa

    I really like this, I’m 17 years old suffering with social anxiety and i’m introverted. This really helped me in realising that what I’m going through is not an isolated case, many people have gone through this and come out stronger 🙂

  • H

    I think he’s saying he worked through his social anxiety in order to do all of those things.

  • Michael Glover

    Awesome! So glad you liked the article, Anisa 🙂 You are most certainly not alone!

  • Michael Glover

    Exactly as H said. That sentence is basically a few ‘highlights’ of what took place over an entire decade in my life. I managed to do a lot of those things (e.g. businesses and travelling) after coming to teh realisations (and many more) that I talk about in the article and learning to deal and cope with my social anxiety 🙂

  • Michael Glover

    So glad you liked it, Lakshmi. Thank you for sharing 🙂

  • Eat A Peach

    Yes….To travel around the world would be unimaginable, unthinkable and torture for those afflicted with clinical social anxiety.

    My heart breaks for my sister who is afraid to call and order a pizza. It fills her with dread. The new on line ordering made her so happy. She and my nephew (19 years old) leave the house once a month, scurry to the market 10 minutes away, get gas and supplies and come home, relieved. They do not venture out again for weeks.

  • Farah

    This is literally describing how I feel. you’ve offered me a new perspective so thank you. I teared up a bit while reading.

  • Emma

    This was beautiful. I relate to this so much, I’m twenty years old right now, and wonder what my older self would say to me now. I’m really working on my anxiety, and reading stuff like this helps, especially the part about creating your own path in life. I spend a lot of time thinking about what I should be doing and what people think. No one in life is the same. We are all human, and I’m only just recognising this. Thank you, Michael.

  • Jack Sparrow

    This is a really interesting post. I had similarly difficult teenage years with no outside support and often wondered whether things would have been different if I’d read/heard advice like this. Deep down I think that you need to be ready to hear the message for it to have a breakthrough effect – but in the meantime, every little piece helps to build up a reservoir of self esteem and power, slowly, step by step.

    What I would say to younger people reading this: know that you are not alone and please take the time to find out what you need to feel safe and happy. A few years spent discovering yourself now could well change the decades ahead of you.

  • Michelle

    Mind.. BLOWN

  • Karen

    Thank you for posting this! I feel like I can relate to many of these..I really enjoyed the last part about learning to love the darkness. I came from a difficult childhood and was in the foster care system for awhile. Today, I’m in grad school finishing up my masters in social work. Despite this, I always have anxiety about feeling like a fraud like there is still something wrong about me coming from a dysfunctional background. I guess embracing my past will help me to accept my flaws and strengths..