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The surprising benefits of embracing your anxiety, according to someone living with it

<i>Kimberly Person/Into Dust Photography via CNN Newsource</i><br/>Haley Weaver has always been anxious.
Kimberly Person/Into Dust Photography via CNN Newsource
Haley Weaver has always been anxious.

By Michelle Icard, CNN

(CNN) — Haley Weaver has always been anxious.

When she was 5 years old, she worried that her parents wouldn’t come back home after hiring a babysitter and bit her fingernails until they returned.

Her coping skills evolved as she grew up, sometimes for worse (lying to impress middle school friends) and sometimes for better (taking long walks for clarity). Eight years ago, she started drawing a doodle a day to calm her anxious thoughts and channel her feelings into something productive.

She shared her daily drawings on her now popular Instagram account @haleydrewthis to have a creative practice outside her draining day job and to create connection with others who might be feeling the same way. Now, all this art has turned into her new graphic novel, “Give Me Space but Don’t Go Far.”

Her first book comes out at a time when anxiety is on the rise and many people are at a loss with how to cope. Anxiety’s impacts are far-reaching, interrupting sleep, disrupting life goals and impeding relationships, all of which compound the effects of isolation and worry.

Parents of teens or young adults with anxiety may worry about how their children are coping but find that asking directly yields little insight. Weaver said she hopes her book will reframe our collective take on anxiety and serve as a tool for starting those tough conversations in families.

I spoke with Weaver about her anxiety and how her new book can give other people with anxiety a starting point for talking about it.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

CNN: Most people believe their lives would be better if their worries, fears and insecurities completely vanished. But it doesn’t sound like you want to get rid of your anxiety. Why?

Haley Weaver: At its core, anxiety wants to keep us safe — safe from disaster, safe from judgment, safe from rejection — the list goes on! That said, anxiety does not always operate from the most rational place, and figuring out how to listen to anxiety’s worries without letting it rule our every move is the tricky part. I aim to share the importance of both accepting the reality of anxiety’s presence while building a “community” of coping mechanisms to help manage the harder thoughts.

CNN: Was it hard to be vulnerable about the various coping tools you used to deal with your anxiety — some helpful, some harmful — as a child, teen and young adult? 

Weaver: Of course! Not to be meta, but my anxiety about sharing my anxiety was present throughout the entire writing process. I feared that opening up about some of these painful and personal moments would let the world in on my biggest secret: that I don’t have it together. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

At the same time, most of the media I resonate most with — be it memoirs, movies or music — involves extremely vulnerable storytelling. I knew this book would be most effective if I was brutally honest about my experience with anxiety, and I’m so glad I was. Since my book was published, people have reached out to tell me how seen they felt while reading the most vulnerable chapters. It’s been the greatest gift.

CNN: What do people get wrong when their children have anxiety?

Weaver: Instead of viewing anxiety as an obstacle to their child’s happiness, I believe parents should help their kids see anxiety as a part of themselves that needs to be cared for just as much as any other part of their body. Additionally, caring for anxiety may look different depending on how the anxiety presents — maybe it’s helping kids pinpoint helpful coping mechanisms. Perhaps it’s leaning on the expertise of a doctor. There’s no one solution for anxiety, but rather a myriad of coping skills and support systems.

CNN: What is a common misconception about anxiety?

Weaver: That anxiety is inherently negative. In reality, anxiety wants us to proceed through life with caution. It’s only when anxious thoughts impede one’s day-to-day life that we should take a closer look at why our anxiety is heightened and perhaps seek advice from a mental health professional.

CNN: How can we better support our loved ones who are dealing with anxiety?

Weaver: Start by asking what your loved one needs. A listening ear? Some validation? A shoulder to cry on? Advice? This will help them feel like there’s a safe space to land while helping you support them.

If their anxiety impedes their ability to enjoy life, it may be worth helping them make an appointment with an expert. I am no expert, but my experience in talk therapy and with anti-anxiety medication has been incredibly helpful to my daily anxiety management.

CNN: You have a lively cast of coping skill characters. Do you have a favorite?

Weaver: They all have their place in my heart! But I have a soft spot for the Liar, who encourages me to lie to fit in with peers — he’s a hoot, even if he is a scam artist.

I also love the Writer, who helps massage out my anxiety’s knots with every word written.

CNN: Who is your book for?

Weaver: I wrote this book for anyone who struggles with anxiety or cares about someone who deals with anxiety in their everyday life. I hope to inspire readers to rethink their anxiety’s role in their lives, that our anxiety is something to tend to, not fear. And with care, practice, and sound strategies, we can learn to keep our anxiety close (but also take much needed space from it)!

Michelle Icard is the author of Eight Setbacks That Can Make a Child a Success: What to Do and What to Say to Turn ‘Failures’ into Character-Building Moments.

™ & © 2024 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

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