On Being Anxious

navigate_crop380wI am guessing that all of us have felt anxious at one time or another. You know some of the symptoms – perspiration, cold hands or sweaty palms, your stomach upset, your heart beating rapidly, pacing and an inability to relax.

Amid all of the wonderful experiences life has to offer, we all have to face, from time to time, these moments of high anxiety. Our students are in the middle of taking Advanced Placement exams and preparing for final exams. These “high stakes” assessments can cause students to become anxious, particularly if they are focused on maintaining a certain grade point average or looking for college credit for courses in order to more efficiently double major or minor in a subject area. The college acceptance process, particularly for highly competitive schools, has become more stressful in recent years.

Add to the college admission adventure, students’ mixture of feelings about leaving familiar surroundings of their high school and going to a new place that might be larger or far away from home. Meeting new friends and managing the independence of dormitory living are new aspects of school life for most college bound students.

Learning to deal with these anxious feelings and manage through them is a valuable life skill. As we all know, these moments of anxiety are a part of life, and we face them as different situations arise over our journey through life.

As I finish my 30th year as a school administrator, I have lived through many anxious moments and certainly have shared those times with colleagues, students, and their families. Whether it was working out a plan for families to afford to keep their children enrolled in school the year following the stock market dive in 2008 and the “Great Recession”, or most recently embarking on a $12.5 million comprehensive fund raising campaign for Archmere, that includes raising $800,000 in Archmere annual fund dollars by June 30 of this year, challenges face us that seem beyond our capacity to manage. However, I have found that in many of these situations, collaboration with others and mutual support and innovative conversation can make the difference. Engaging with and inviting others by sharing our concerns, anxieties, and points of view can often provide not only solutions or paths forward, but also can be effective in relieving the anxiety.

Something else that I found relieves anxiety for me is an approach I learned at Archmere years ago as a student. It was the simple mantra, “Trust the process.” I believe I heard it from several teachers over my high school years, but I recall that the approach was a part of every discipline. To this day, the short statement reminds me to take challenges one step at a time, working faithfully each day to advance, learn more, or simply to know when there is no more work to be done, and to realize that “process” usually implies time. So patience, waiting, trying, failing, and trying again are all a part of managing through situations, as well.

These thoughts come to mind as our son graduates from Columbia University next week with his Master’s Degree, and he begins his job search. I remember the Spring of my senior year in college wondering if anyone would hire me. I thought, “Would I ever be able to earn a salary to be on my own as an adult?”

Once I did get the job offer and began working after graduation, I then thought, “Will I ever be able to buy a home or support a family should I get married?” Living on a budget was the next learning curve that generated anxious thoughts. And I am experiencing that again with our daughter, who just began her first job in the IT field, having graduated from Drexel University. We have had discussions about car payments and insurance, apartment rents and home mortgages, as well as the cost of groceries and the benefits and temptations of on-line shopping.

I see my own children dealing with and managing through anxious questions, and I have faith that they will handle them well, because I believe that they know how to “trust the process,” having developed a strong work ethic, good analytical skills, and an openness to have conversations with my wife and me.

The seniors have less than one month to graduation on June 5. I can see in them tremendous potential to accomplish whatever they set out to do. As they leave Archmere, I hope they recognize that they know how to deal with adversity and the anxiety that often comes with it. Like the rest of our students who will be returning to Archmere next year, they have grown in maturity and wisdom each year to develop their sense of independence and confidence, not to dismiss a humility and reality that they still have much to learn and experience. To receive the Archmere diploma means that our senior students know the process and excelled at following the process of learning and development. Will they ever experience sweaty palms or an upset stomach, or a racing heartbeat before a college mid-term exam or trying to find off-campus housing? Probably so, but all they have to do is continue to “trust the process” that is now a part of them.