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Teen to Teen

When life becomes one big stress


High school can be specially trying. For me, I went from being a little girl with big dreams of college—an Ivy League education, to be exact—to a teenager who was expected to make those dreams become real. My anxiety was sky high over failing at the task.

I was in calculus, advanced English 12, advanced anatomy, ACP chemistry, Spanish IV, and ACP psychology.  Sure I graduated later that same year with a final GPA of 5.11 in the scale of 4.0, but I remember the nights I stayed awake, looking at where the moon should be visible from my window,  and worried.

Every big paper I turned in didn’t seem to meet my standards, and I pictured it, among a pile on my teacher’s desk, waiting for red ink to fall on it. My tests, especially the ones for chemistry class, haunted me like ghosts. It didn’t matter if I read the chapters in the textbook twice over, or if I went in to see the teacher at lunch with my innumerable questions; I never seemed prepared for the tests. And, in waiting to get my test back, I put myself through some self-imposed mental torture.

I’m sure this sounds like the dramatic ramblings of someone young and hormone imbalanced. Maybe it is, but so long as the problems felt real and pressing, with direct lines tying themselves to my future, then they were real problems in need of addressing.

I grew more stressed out. Even when I received satisfactory grades, it did little to penetrate the wall of worry I had surrounded myself with; after all, it only takes one hit to sink a ship. It was only after I was wait-listed for my early decision college choice, Yale, already the equivalent of a rejection in my mind, that I started to calm down. The thing I feared had come to pass, but it wasn’t really that fearsome at all.

I figured out all of a sudden that I was going to be able to pick up from this, to go to a good and actually competitive school, get my diploma and eventually a job—that all the things I wanted to do with my life, from writing books to seeing the wonders of the world—had not been irrevocably derailed by a few papers that I kept face-down in my folder so that I wouldn’t have to look at them again.

I also realized that my own approaches to stress had been compounding the situation. It was like I was holding onto the problems so tightly that I lost the ability to maneuver them, juggle them, or handle them in any way other than what I had grown accustomed to. And I had become so shortsighted that even something small appeared large to my vision.

I would never tell someone to just ignore trouble, especially when it is with their school work, because anxiety in its small doses is a survival mechanism meant to induce you to action. But when I was up at night, having already done all my homework and studied, having already talked to my teacher about what I could do to improve, the endless listing of worst case scenarios didn’t help.

Instead, I should have worked on compartmentalizing myself better, at breaking down my studies into a series of manageable tasks, and let myself feel the pleasure of having completed one successfully. I should have recognized that life, for all its natural stresses, also has a way of sorting itself out eventually. It usually throws in a bonus problem later on, but for the most part, if you keep yourself focused on the tasks, you’ll find your original reason for worry to grow smaller.

Perhaps I am not offering anyone any real solutions here. But I think there everyone has needed to hear that things are going to be okay, at one time or another. Everyone has dreamed of receiving some message from the future that all the waiting would be worthwhile. And though I’m still just in my teens and have yet to face some of the issues that are bound to complicate me over the decades, I hope some of you believe me when I say: Problems are meant to be conquered. And even when you can’t see the moonlight shining down on you like hope, it’s still there.

New York University Dean of Liberal Studies, Fred Schwarzback, announced on July 22, 2013 that Elizabeth Horner made the Dean’s List Honors for the 2012-2013 academic year.  Horner just completed her one year of study abroad, in London, UK, under NYU’s Core Study Abroad Program.

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Tags: anxieties , education , failure , fears , growing up , school work , success , teenagers , worry

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