7th September 2021 Blog

“A position of constant anxiety”: How I started living in the present

Anxiety • Young people •

To celebrate Youth Mental Health Day, student nurse and YPAG member Nkem Naeche shares her top tips for moving forward from an anxious mind-set.

Nkem Naeche

Young people in the UK can universally relate to feeling anxious about their future. In fact, in a study by YouGov of 18–24-year-olds, six out of ten participants had become so stressed by pressure to succeed they had felt unable to cope.

As an almost newly qualified nurse, I find the statistics unsurprising. I could relate as, over the course of my three-year degree, I had heard first-hand accounts of young adolescents of various backgrounds report the same feelings at one point or another.

A state of constant anxiety

At the age of 18, due to personal reasons, I went from being a dependent to a self-reliant young adolescent who had to work a stable part-time role, pay rent and bills, and study in college to ultimately take myself to university.

Looking back, I realise now that I had been living in a position of constant anxiety surrounding the future for the last five years and it was exhausting.

As a student nurse, I found it extremely hard to support myself financially, to be able to create savings for my future as well as find time to socialise as much as my peers who studied other subjects and spent significantly less time in university. Granted, completing a nursing degree over a pandemic was not part of the plan, but it made my experience a lot more traumatic.

For a long time, mistakes and failure were unfathomable.

A consequence of suffocating control

My anxiety developed as a consequence of the almost suffocating control I’d had to have on every decision and aspect of my life to ensure that ‘my future’ would be mapped out exactly the way I planned it.

For a long time, mistakes and failure were unfathomable. Comparably, 57% of young people in the UK have said they have become stressed because of a fear of making mistakes. Even now, I struggle to make decisions that make me happy for fear of it being the wrong choice or one that may potentially hinder what my idealised future may look like.

Whilst living as an independent adolescent, I worked tirelessly to keep up with the expectations my parents had of me. As my parents were migrants, I felt generational pressure for them to see me succeed, to aspire and achieve traditional goals such as owning a house or getting a steady job – something which 42% of young people currently believe is unrealistic.

In addition to this, young adolescents face the pressures of succeeding and competing with other young people of my generation whom on social media appear successful, wealthy and ‘living their best lives’. In the 2019 Prince’s Trust eBay Youth Index, conducted on 2,162 young adolescents aged between 16 and 25, it is reported that 48% of young people felt more anxious about their future when comparing themselves to others on social media.

Time is fleeting

Working as a student nurse showed me a different side to life that not all of us get to experience. Taking care of those whose health has deteriorated, those who we look after in their last moments, showed me that time is fleeting, and we do not all get the luxury of a long healthy life.

With all of this in mind, approaching the final weeks of my degree, I felt exhausted, dispirited, and displeased with how I had been living. I decided that enough was enough. Below are the three things I did to change my mind-set and my lifestyle:

  • Stop making every decision based on the future

Remembering to live in the here and now takes an active approach but it means that not every decision has to revolve around where you see yourself in 10 years. Trust the process because everything can happen in an instant – that’s okay!

  • Prioritise your health and your happiness

Your physical, mental, and emotional health come first and only you can prioritise yourself. Invest time in doing things for yourself like sleeping in if you need it or, my personal favourites, getting breakfast at a café on your own or a massage, just because you feel like it. f

  • Comparison is the thief of joy so why let it steal yours?

Everyone’s path is unique to themselves, and we should remember this even when we see others flourishing, social media or otherwise. We have so many tools at our disposal such as muting content and unfollowing hashtags or people. I make it a general rule that anything I see which makes me unhappy is not allowed in my vicinity.

I hope you find these tips helpful as I promise they have helped me. In the words of Oogway, ‘You are too concerned with what was and what will be. Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery and today is a gift, that is why it is called the present’.