Okay, you might have loved your first-grade teacher. Fair enough. However, if you’ve had generalised anxiety disorder since you were a small child, chances are it started on your first day of school and maybe was even the result of your teacher’s actions.
That’s what happened to me. I was always anxious yes, however, my belief is that things took a turn for the worst when I was in my first year at school.
I see the same thing happening now with my son who’s starting school. The terror of going to a big new building where you don’t know anyone was the start of my social and general anxiety as I knew it.
Imagine walking into a large room of strangers looking up at as they sit around in a playful circle. To many, this is a fun adventure but for the anxious sufferers amongst us, this scenario doesn’t sit well.
So, I’m not here to tell you school is bad and you should never go, rather I want to open your mind up to the possibility of school and later systems in society sourcing your anxiety. When you can become mindful of this, you can start to become you again and not just a name on a register.
The idea here is, it may not have personally been your first-grade teacher who started your generalized anxiety off, but instead the institution structure as a whole.
You may look at this view as a negative one by me but understand that when I removed my thinking from the ways of the system, only then did I start to creatively change and it was a huge turning point in my fight against my anxiety. Ultimately much of my own anxiety was sourced and heightened from my school years.
Becoming A Name On A Register
When we start in first grade, we don’t know what to expect apart from the fact that we’ll be in a new place we don’t particularly want to go and that we don’t know anyone.
We’ve spent the first four years of our lives free to wear what we want and roam around at our leisure and now we’re faced with wearing a uniform so that we conform with the school’s regulations.
Okay, not too unbearable, I mean we all have to do this right?
The minute we become a name on a register is the minute we hand over our creative freedom and start a life long journey confined to answering to others. It took me a long time to realize why I was so anxious at school and the whole idea was something that I never really gelled with at all.
We are now a name that answers to a teacher who we may or may not like, the person employed to teach us, motivate us and make us learn what the government wants us to learn. You can argue that this is very relaxed in first grade but the conditioning does start from the get-go.
Learn What We Tell You
I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t able to focus and learn in school. I didn’t do badly at all and received all my grades but something was always missing. I was not interested in anything that was being taught.
I would find myself trying to learn for the sake of getting good grades not because I was passionate. This, in turn, led me to feel very anxious mainly due to the fact I was spending my whole day taking in information that muddled my head even further.
I mean, we all get bored in school but what if nothing on the curriculum interests you? It wasn’t until after school that I discovered my true passions and interests.
Because we are forced to learn what we’re told, it instantly stunts our creative minds. We’re lead down a channel that we wouldn’t and usually don’t pursue after education.
I like English now since leaving school. I was always very good at it but I didn’t develop a love for writing until I had the shackles of education removed from me.
If you can count more than 3 subjects you liked or like at school you’re in the minority.
Follow Your Peers
The moment we step into our first classroom, we look around at others to see how we should be behaving and what we should be doing to fit in. I believe this sort of behavior starts at a young age at school and you probably still do it to fit into social situations now.
Instead of finding our own way, many of us will emulate the behavior of others. When the whole group in a classroom behaves a certain way, it becomes the normal behavior. If we diverge from this behavior we are then considered not normal and naughty.
We follow our peers because we don’t want to seem out of place. If you’re a highly anxious person or a creatively charged person, then this type of behavior can stunt you and can make you feel depressed in the long term.
When you’re copying your classmates to behave in the ‘normal’ way, you start to lose who you are and end up being a certain way just to fit into the crowd. You can even find yourself keeping quiet when really you want to answer that question the teacher asked just because it’s ‘not cool’ to do so.
The truth is, every child entering that classroom for the first time has no idea how to behave. They are all looking at each other for some guidance.
The Trend Continues
This trend of fitting in and emulating others’ behaviors continues into high school where it’s even more important for teenagers to feel like they fit in.
The adolescent starts going through hormonal changes which then affects their appearance and mental state. This period of time gives added anxiety to those who suffer from trying to fit in.
We end up going through school during a time where our bodies are screaming with emotions. This is a time where anxiety can really become heightened and play a big role in depression, social anxiety and an increased need to be accepted.
Usually, college is the same. Although more relaxed than school, we’ve now spent most of our lives being told where to be, when to eat, when to talk and we’re so far away from our creative four-year-old selves on that first day of school.
Can you remember how you felt when you were four? I barely can but I know I had huge amounts of creativity.
Yes, of course, being a child comes with excitement and creative joy but there’s more to it. When we’re ages 1 – 4 we happily interact with other children without judgment or guilt. This period of our lives is hugely important for our social development.
After these four years, we’re thrown into a structured institution with others who equally don’t have the capacity to interact with 20+ people.
The issue is, we’re not equipped to mentally handle school when we’re thrown in on our first day. It’s alien and although we learn through experience, the contrast of pre-school and first grade is night and day.
We can’t wrap our kids in cotton wool and there are other benefits to school but because we don’t have the capacity to be mindful at four years old, we’re not able to come to terms with our first years in education.
This leads to high levels of anxiety that can often end up evolving into generalized anxiety disorder and other forms later in life.
It’s only after we leave education that we can become mindfully aware of the life lessons we’ve learnt from it but during it we are stuck and can’t see the bigger picture.
The Wake Up After Education
After all of our battles during our education years, whether grades or personal, we’re let go into the bigger world.
Maybe you’re still holding in many anxieties that you absorbed in school that you haven’t dealt with.
The last 10 – 15 years have shaped you into the person that you now are. You couldn’t be any further away from who you were on your first day. If you say that you still are that person, I’m not sure you’re being honest with yourself.
The obvious truth is, our experiences shape us. More importantly, they shape how we think and behave. So, by now you’re looking for a job that’s going to support you for years to come.
It will support that house you want and that car you want to drive. It looks like most of your friends are getting jobs in real estate so naturally think, ‘that’s what I’ll do as well.’
So you’re still thinking with your first-grade brain. You’re still trying to fit in.
What if you tried to harness the creative part of your brain you left at the door on your first day of first grade? Would you try and get a job you want and not try and do what everyone else is doing?
It’s about getting your individuality back. Easier said than done when you’ve been a name on a register for over a decade I know…
If you can change the way you look at things, you can change everything.
How To Become You Again
Obviously, I don’t want the brain of a four-year-old again! However, I do want the playfulness that my four-year-old self had. That’s what I’ve been working towards for a long time now.
Whatever the responsibilities you may have, you have to become playful again.
I gained much social anxiety during my time in education. I compared myself to others, I didn’t enjoy any subjects and I couldn’t see what I’d do after I left college. The anxiety was based on what everyone else was doing.
You can see how that first day of school trying to emulate others’ behaviors is dangerous for your development. We still do it. I bet you do it too. Are you comparing your successes to others? Do you see someone achieve something and think bad about your own abilities?
You have to stop. It’s a long process that takes years to reverse after leaving school and education but you can do it. It starts with focusing on what you personally enjoy. Allow yourself to be creative and above all, be playful again.
There’s so much to this so if you have any further ideas on this, please leave a comment below.
Here’s to your ultimate success – Sean
This post was previously published on ProjectEnergise and is republished here with permission from the author.
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