“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”1 Corinthians 13:12
There are some characteristics in young people that the adults around them love to see. Who wouldn’t be happy that their child is exceptionally frugal with money? Who wouldn’t love that their student is highly driven and almost obsessive over the quality of their grades?
However, as someone with first-hand experience, these seemingly admirable qualities can often be indications of severe anxiety. Here are some habits that present as good but are actually products of a troubled mind.
- Being almost hyper-fixated on maintaining excellent grades.
Who doesn’t want their child to actively strive for good grades? This is something that most parents seek to instill into their children. The problem lies in how much of the students’ time is spent on achieving good marks on assignments and projects. They feel guilty turning away from their studies to engage in an activity they enjoy, such as reading or drawing, as every moment away from their schoolwork could cost them a vital grade. Whenever anyone invites them out for a social event, they hastily decline and say “I probably have to study”. They aren’t satisfied with Bs, as they see these tolerable grades as sub-par, now even more fixated on making higher grades.
- Being extremely frugal with their money as well as yours.
Every parent wishes that their child would be considerate with the money provided to them, to spend it wisely and consider how much the money means to those who gave it to them. However, with anxiety, spending any kind of money is a very stressful decision. Even buying basic necessities like shampoo or a new school binder are put off or dismissed as unnecessary. This bizarre reaction is due to the multiple questions racing through the child’s mind, such as “What if I need this money for something more important?” or “What if my parents need this for something I don’t know about?”. In the grand scope of the scenarios that they have created, using this little bit of spare cash could have grave consequences.
- Being very anti-confrontational.
Parents hate it when their child is disrespectful and talks back to them. It is also equally frustrating when their children cause conflict with their siblings, schoolmates, and teachers. Who wouldn’t want children who avoided causing trouble? It might become a problem, however, when the children won’t even speak up in their own defense, even enduring unfair treatment with sealed lips. Afraid of causing any kind of trouble, the youths’ anxious minds interpret any kind of disagreeing as spiteful and disrespectful and decide that it is best for everyone to not say anything at all. Better to bear it silently than speak up and be the cause of a commotion.
- Always being early to classes and appointments.
If their classes are 30 minutes away, the young people will leave with 50 minutes or even an hour to spare, offering up the same reason every time: “I just don’t want to be late.” However, this isn’t just over-preparation. They have the desperate need to be at the location, not only on time but early. They can’t stand the idea of coming into the classroom late, with all eyes on them, as well as invoking the disappointment of their teacher. The compulsion to be early to everything often stems from the anxiety of attracting any sort of judgmental attention. If the students ever happen to be late to anything, they will interpret the small inconvenience to the class as a reason to never, ever let themselves be late again. The fear of judgment from peers and authority figures drives these young people to constantly check the clock, becoming a slave to both time and their imagined scenarios.
- Being in motion constantly.
Youths struggling with anxiety about school and grades will almost never just be present in settings they had been at ease in before, such as family meals or movie nights. They will find any task to work on, such as washing dirty dishes or tidying up random areas of wherever they are. When they are sitting or standing still, they will start bouncing their legs incessantly or tapping their fingers on a solid surface. They might not realize what they are doing until someone points it out to them. They are surprised, as normally the repetitive actions are subconscious. The young people generally seem distracted, as their minds are whirring with an endless list of to-dos. They are calculating how much time they are losing to work on school assignments or important projects, as well as how much additional time will be necessary for the tasks.
While sometimes someone can demonstrate one of these traits and not have anxiety, when two or more are constantly at play in the person’s life, it is a good sign that they are struggling with daily, suffocating anxiety. The fact that these traits appear as positive to outsiders shows how good they are at coping with these symptoms by doing exactly that: coping. Not only do they live daily life while struggling with this horrible affliction, but they also appear, as much as possible, to be a normal person.
Maintaining the facade of normality is exhausting both mentally and emotionally, as these young people know that they are not “wired” like everyone else. Instead of seeing that as a reason to seek out helpful solutions, the anxious youth will see the mental illness as nothing more than an obstacle to overcome and grow out of, like when an injured athlete sits out a season.
Unfortunately, it’s much harder to come to terms with the fact that someone is suffering from anxiety if they are a good student, don’t talk back, are punctual, and are always ready to help out with anything. But the minds of these “good” kids are just as troubled and tumultuous as the “bad” kids who make their mental state obvious by acting out.
As someone who has recognized these behaviors in my own life, I have come to realize that when suffering from anxiety-driven “positive” habits, one might think “Why should I do anything about my anxiety? It keeps me from doing things that would have a negative impact on my life, and the lives of those around me.” One might think that the turmoil in their mind is a small, acceptable price to pay for the appearance of a “perfect” kid.
No matter how put-together you might seem to be on the outside, with enough inward pressure built up, the carefully crafted facade will shatter, leaving you hollow and desperate. That is why it is best to address these habits as what they are: rituals rooted in fear and obsession. No good habit is driven by negative behaviors.
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Until next time!