It’s no secret that most people make their own stress. We worry over things, which accomplishes nothing, and ruminate about the past, which is equally useless. I’m pretty good at catching myself when I am out in the worry-zone. This is a result of years of practicing present-moment awareness, which is something that I find extremely useful to manage my stress. My daughter, however, is another story.
She is a freshman in high school and a bit of an over-achiever (I have NO idea where she gets THAT from!). My husband and I both have been diagnosed with anxiety disorders, so we made a special effort to raise her in a laid-back atmosphere, which also helped us chill out. She seemed to be pretty mellow until about 6th grade, when the homework increased. And when I say increased, I’m talking going from an hour or so nightly to 4+ hours of homework every night. Part of the reason that happened is because she took many more pre-AP (pre-advanced placement) classes than she had before. This sent her into overdrive in junior high. Her anxiety levels got so high and she was so distressed that we got her some help from a therapist and a psychiatrist. That seemed to help a lot…until high school.
Now, she gets very upset if she makes a low A or (heaven forbid) a B in a class on her report card, progress report or even an individual assignment. I was obviously concerned with this unnecessary standard she has for herself, so I asked her why. She claimed that “everybody” already knew what University they were going to and what they were going to major in. She was worried that she wouldn’t be “good enough” to get into whatever college or University she decided to go to (and yes, she has some choices picked out). All I could think of was my 9th grade self, totally oblivious to colleges and majors. After all, I was a freshman. My college kind of got picked out for me when I was a Senior because I got a free ride to Blinn Junior College for graduating in the top 10% of my class (I still don’t know where that overachiever gene comes from). And even after I transferred to the University of Houston, I changed my major a couple of times. I always thought that college was where you figured out “what you wanted to be when you grew up.”
My daughter tells me that times have changed and that things are just more competitive than they used to be. That may be true; I have seen evidence of it in my readings and from parents of other (and older) high schoolers. But that pressure is nothing compared to what she puts on herself. I have a friend who teaches at my daughter’s high school and she told me that the friends that my daughter hangs out with are the “high stress” crowd. You know, the nerds. While I am proud that my kid has such great taste in friends (Who rules the world? Mean girls? No…NERDS!), their influence seems to be counterproductive to my daughter’s overall stress management.
It’s been my challenge to try and explain this to my sweet girl. Nothing I say seems to get through, to the point of frustration. She knows about present-moment awareness and uses it in extreme anxiety situations. She knows it works. But she won’t or can’t use it when it comes to her future. As a parent, it kills me slowly inside to see my daughter suffering while I hold the key to the “cure.” But I can’t make her take it. She has to get there on her own. The only thing I can do is be supportive of her, answer her questions honestly and tell her that I’m proud of her. Oh yeah, and stay in my own present moment, even if she won’t. I am the adult with more life experience and I know that this, too, shall pass.