Michelle Peterson

Editor's note: The Deseret News asked members of the community to share their experiences with anxiety. Read their stories here.

Bullying was all I ever knew during my childhood and early teenage years. It's something I think a lot of people have sadly experienced to some degree or another.

For me, it all started back when I was 9. A neighborhood friend invited me to go with her to Lagoon, which shouldn’t be a big deal, right? Wrong. Turns out, another girl, we’ll call her Ashley, usually went in my place for this annual Lagoon trip. By taking Ashley’s place, I had unknowingly become an instant threat to her. Cue six long years of bullying from Ashley, and a handful of other girls in our neighborhood who she got to follow along.

First came the demeaning handwritten letters I’d find in my backpack, then the cruel pranks, closed social circles, horrific rumors... the works. During my middle school years, I was desperate to make the bullying stop. So I started changing anything I possibly could about myself. My hair, how I dressed, the things I liked, and so much more!

Add in some financial struggles my parents were having, along with a binge-eating disorder I had developed, and you have a perfect storm for my own personal teen anxiety.

For years, it was a struggle for me to get up and go face each day, mainly because I never knew what form(s) of bullying I would have to deal with. That in turn caused a lot of anxiety for me. I was constantly restless, on edge, tired and overeating. I wanted nothing more than to dissolve into nothingness so that all the stress and pain I was experiencing would end.

Looking back on my childhood, I sometimes feel a lot of sadness for that younger self who felt hopelessly alone in her struggles. Sure, my mom did what she could to help, but with a husband who was always gone working, four younger kids to look after, and a wayward brother who always needed bail money or a place to crash, I knew she didn’t have much left to give when it came to my own personal issues.

But in the moments when she could help me work through what I was dealing with, she taught me a very important lesson she learned from her own bullying experiences that came from growing up dirt poor in the literally-the-middle-of-nowhere Wyoming.

The lesson was this: when you are going through something hard in life, remember that it could always be worse. And she was right, it could. It didn’t mean that what I was going through wasn’t bad, because it was. But it taught me to see beyond myself, to find the bigger picture, and realize that I didn’t have to sit and wallow, but instead, could give myself the power to control how my bullies’ actions affected me.

Tired of letting these girls in my neighborhood have control over my life, I decided to take matters into my own hands the summer before high school. I made new friends, began to completely ignore my bullies, and slowly started to rediscover and embrace who I was as a person.

Like most things, this transformation wasn’t easy. But over time, a lot of the anxiety that had haunted me my entire childhood slowly began to disappear, and in time, I finally felt like I could breathe again.

When it comes down to it, anxiety is something we’ve either heard about, seen, or personally experienced at some point in our lives. However, these days, teens are experiencing it more than ever to due to smartphones and the constant exposure of “perfect lives” that are being portrayed through social media. That's why it’s so important now, more than ever, to do what we can as adults to help teens navigate through this new phase of life that no generation before has experienced.

Anxiety is something that will never go away. But if we take the time to talk with our teens about anxiety, watch out for red flags, and get professional help when needed, teen anxiety can be very treatable and many teens can learn how to independently cope with their anxiety and have a happy, thriving life.

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Michelle Petersen is a mom of four, Utah native, former elementary teacher, and owner of her own virtual assistant business, chelliepete.com. For almost five years, she cultivated The Mumsy Blog, a popular local mommy blog she created to discuss and highlight important and informative lifestyle topics like motherhood, raising children, and being a woman in today’s world. Michelle is a former segment specialist for KUTV News This Morning. When she’s not helping other mom bosses successfully run their empires, Michelle loves spending time with her kids, going on road trips and rummaging through local antique shops.