Let’s Talk about Anxiety

Cassia Attard
10 min readJun 4, 2021


I was a competitive jump roper throughout high school (yes, it’s a real thing). I was pretty good at it. I won a lot, held provincial records, and travelled the world to represent Team Canada for three years.

The biggest contributing factor towards winning was simple and obvious: Caring. I cared about the sport, and I cared to be the best. That’s what fueled the hard work, time commitment, thoughtfulness and “talent”.

However, a problem arose when I started to care too much about the wrong things. When I turned 15, I started caring about how my performance would make my parents feel. I was constantly aware of what the Skipping community thought about other competitors. Caring about those things didn’t cause me to win, they caused me to panic.

In 2016, my team was competing the Ontario championship to qualify for Nationals. As we lined up for our first event, I started to cry (like… bawl my eyes out). I don’t think my teammates had ever even seen me cry before. Everyone was confused, including me. My team called it “stress crying”. For the rest of the competition, the same thing happened. I was crying and confused for three straight days. We qualified for Nationals, but not by much.

Two months later, we flew to Olds, Alberta for the Canadian National Championship. This time, we were qualifying for Worlds. We were on route to becoming Team Canada for the first time. On Day 1, my team was thrown a curveball — I panicked before, during, and after every one of our nine team events.

Luckily, I could still knock out a back-handspring while crying. We lost a few presentation points on account of my waterworks, but we made it to Worlds. We were off to Sweden in three months.

After the competition, my mom told me that if I couldn’t get my “stress crying” under control, there was no point in flying to Scandinavia to represent my country. She took me to see a single-session therapist. From there, my “stress crying” was diagnosed as performance anxiety.

When I graduated high school, I stopped jump roping only because my schedule didn’t account for it. And I never had a panic attack again! Problem solved.

Nah, just kidding. Performance anxiety was only the beginning…

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Always Under Attack

Starting when I was 15, I not only got occasional sport-induced panic attacks, I had constant underlying anxiety. Whether I was at school, home, with friends, or at family dinner, I was always on edge. I never told anyone about the feeling, so no one ever told me what it was. I didn’t know that I had a problem with anxiety until after graduating high school.

That un-understood feeling caused chronic confusion within myself and for those around me. I decided it was easier to put on a face than let people know how I was feeling. The problem was, pretending is exhausting. When I got home from school, my family would see the worst of it; and let me tell you, a teenage girl who’s tired of putting on a smile for eight hours is not a pleasant presence.

It truly felt like I was always under attack. From the world, the people around me, and myself.

Once I graduated high school, I decided to take a gap year, mostly because I despised school environments and how anxious they made me. Upon reflection, I finally defined that “always under attack” feeling as ongoing, underlying anxiety.

Where to Start?

So, you have anxiety. Great, you’ve identified it. First step ✅. What TF do you do now?

Oh, I know! You ignore it for 6 months and pretend that defining your problem solved it! You can either A) Skip that step — trust me, it’s not very useful, or; B) Come back to read the rest of this article in 6 months.

Oh good, you’re still here. Moving on then…

I’m really fortunate in that I have been able to eradicate my sense of underlying anxiety, and, for the most part, my panic attacks as well. From time to time, I get still anxious. But I would no longer consider it a major part of my life.

Without further ado, these are my tips on how to be a less anxious person.

1. Understand Anxiety for What it Is

Anxiety is your body’s stress response. It’s normal to be anxious when in physical danger – in fact, it’s helpful to be. However, unwelcomed anxiety occurs when your body activates your Fight or Flight response in situations where you require neither punches nor a get-away car. The stress of your family reunion (or whatever invites your anxiety) is being processed by the body as a real threat and thus influencing your brain to believe it’s a reasonable time to panic.

That is what makes anxiety so confusing. Your rational brain gets uncomfortable, but knows it’s not time to panic. All of a sudden, it receives chemical signals from your body saying, “you know what, fuck it. PANIC!”. But, you’re still perceiving the world around you as is; no lion, no murderer. Just racist Uncle Joe and the 17-year-old cousin who picks his nose. So you get confused; why am I panicking when my rational brain knows I’m fine? It’s this dissonance that makes anxiety so unbearable.

I’ve come to realize that:

Anxiety is the physical manifestation of caring about things that don’t matter actually to you.

When I had panic attacks during Jump Rope competitions, I wasn’t scared that I wouldn’t try my hardest. I wasn’t even scared that I wouldn’t win. Sure, I cared about that stuff, but those things fueled me. What held me back was caring about things that I knew, deep down, didn’t matter. Things like how my parents would feel if I won/lost or whether the other athletes would be impressed by my team.

Becoming preoccupied with ideas, constructs, people, or environments that are not worth your time sparks the anxiety-chain reaction in your body. While your rational brain knows it’s only a family reunion, another part of you gets wrapped up in insecurity and begins to believe that racist Uncle Joe’s opinion of your new boyfriend is an actual threat to your wellbeing.

Well, guess what. Uncle Joe’s opinion only holds any effect in the real world if you care about it. And it will only make you anxious if some part of you knows you shouldn’t care. That sounds strange, but think about it: imagine the stereotypical person who is preoccupied with other people’s opinions. They’re not anxious. Why? Because there’s no dissonance for them. They consciously believe it is worth their time and energy to care about what other people think of them. In my books, that puts anxious people at least one step ahead of some 😉.

“The key to a good life is not giving a fuck about more; it’s giving a fuck about less, giving a fuck about what only is true and immediate and important.” — Mark Manson

Overcoming anxiety is learning to give a shit only what about you actually give a shit about. And that’s what I’ll be covering in the rest of this article.

2. Do a Daily Reflection (At Least)

To understand what you actually give a shit about, and what you’re subconsciously spending too much of your shit-giving time on, you need to understand yourself.

“Whether you realize it or not, you are always choosing what to give a fuck about. The key is to gradually prune the things you care about, so that you only give a fuck on the most important of occasions.” — James Clear

Every day, or even more often, take time to acknowledge how you feel and how certain things, people, and places make you feel. Then, keep asking yourself “Why?”.

Reflection & Journaling Tips

  1. Write with the intention of never sharing your reflection with anyone. It’s important to feel like you’re expressing yourself in a judgement-free zone and to allow yourself to be honest.
  2. Notice when you’re hesitant to write certain things down or realize certain truths. Why? What are you scared of accepting about yourself?
  3. Learn to observe your thought patterns and emotions, not judge them. And then don’t judge yourself for instinctively judging yourself.

Anxiety-Specific Reflection Framework

This framework is meant to be used when you’re anxious. Either do it on paper or in your head. I learned this framework in therapy (you’re welcome, I just saved you $90). It consists of four questions:

Question #1: What originally triggered the anxiety?

Was it the people around you? A noise? A smell? A memory? It took me months to realize that I often get anxious when I get nauseous.

Question #2: What am I telling myself?

Look at the core belief that you are holding about yourself that’s making you anxious. Are you scared of judgement? Of failure? Of death? When I get nauseous (my trigger), some part of my brain fears that the feeling will never go away and that it was caused by some terminal illness I’m unaware of. Crazy, yes. But it made the anxiety manageable once I realized that.

Question #3: How is that making me feel?

Other than anxiety, how does that make you feel? Scared? Hopeless? Vulnerable?

Question #4: Does this belief have any truth to it, and what are things I can tell myself next time this happens?

It really helped me to consciously tell myself that nausea is a passing feeling, and I’m not going to die. It sounds obvious, but some part of me feared the opposite.

3. Take Alone Time

This has been a major factor in reducing my anxiety. People are… a lot. Personally, I expend a lot of energy processing other people’s feelings, to the point where I get socially exhausted from sleeping in the same room as someone else. While you may not experience this to my extent, we all care about what other people are thinking and feeling to some degree. Spend time alone, both when you get anxious and in general.

If you’re anxious, just take a second to yourself. Even when you think it’ll be rude for you to up and leave, people probably don’t give a fuck if you spend five minutes locked in the bathroom. You just have to accept that they’re assuming you’re taking a massive dump.

Take proper alone time at the regularity that you need it. Don’t feel bad about needing to be alone. Chill in your room on family movie night. If you live with other people, go to a cafe to work or take a solo stroll.

Everyone needs different amounts of alone-time. I need a lot. Others don’t. Come to understand your own needs.

4. Dip your Toes in Therapy.

Ahhh!!! Therapy!! For the deeply wounded and helpless population!! Yeah. And me. And you. Therapy is for everyone.

I’ve lived a very privileged life. I had a nice childhood with loving parents, good education and plenty of food. In fact, my childhood was above and beyond: we went on family vacations, spent every weekend at our cottage, and always had crazy amounts of gifts under the Christmas tree. Why would I need therapy? I would have never tried therapy if it weren’t for an unarguably traumatic event that I endured last year. However, once I started, I realized that my mental blocks and personal trauma went deeper and farther back than that event: I had childhood trauma.

Everyone has trauma, whether they’ve had a relatively “easy” life, or a distinctly difficult one. Parents try their best, but they aren’t perfect. Maybe they invalidated your negative feelings as a child, or simply liked your sibling more. Those things are normal, but they can carry impact. Friends are also not perfect, and many people carry the weight of middle-school relationships with them into adulthood.

If you have the means, I seriously recommend trying it.

5. Accept Yourself… Then Love Yourself

The desire to be someone else is, in itself, a negative experience. And the acceptance of yourself is, in itself, a positive experience.

If you can accept where you are in life and what you’ve done thus far, a large chunk of your anxiety will melt away. Anxiety is an inherently selfish emotion. When you’re anxious, you’re not thinking about anyone else. If you can stop caring about the bullshit that doesn’t matter (i.e. your insecurities, what old Aunt Marge thinks of you, etc.), you can stop panicking that you’re not enough.

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t strive to be better. In fact, to have an effective growth mindset, you need to accept where you’re at.

Tips for Accepting Yourself

  1. Practice positive self-talk. Even journal about it.
  2. Pat yourself on the back. Allow yourself to be proud of you. When you finish a task, workout, or do anything dope-tastic, actively acknowledge the work you’ve just done. Because, if you don’t, you’ll be constantly seeking validation from others.
  3. When people compliment you, hear it and accept it.
  4. Cut the shitty people from your life who make you feel shitty.

Let’s Recap

  • Anxiety is a stress response triggered by things that don’t deserve a high level of stress.
  • Overcoming anxiety is learning to give a shit only what about you actually give a shit about.
  • Reflect on how you feel, why you feel that way, and what bullshit you tell yourself that’s hurting you. Journal for you and journal mindfully.
  • Take alone time, both when you’re anxious and day-to-day.
  • Try therapy. Just try it.
  • Learn to accept yourself, because self-judgment helps no one.

With this article, I hope to provide some ideas of where to start on the journey to eliminate your anxiety. However, I know that overcoming anxiety a very personal journey that takes time and effort.

I’m proud of the progress I made (see, using my own tips #patyourselfontheback) because it was hard. My friends will tell you that I spent many nights crying and a lot of time confused. If you have anxiety, I’m seriously really sorry. It sucks donkey-dick. But the journey to overcoming it will teach you a lot.

Hope this helped! Sending love to all my anxious homies 💗.

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Cassia Attard

Hey, I'm Cassia! I'm a 23 y/o Sustainability student at McGill. Previously, I've worked as a climate consultant and with various climate-tech projects :)