I’m sixteen and I get pretty anxious with a sprinkling of obsession.  Funny thing is, I’m not on social media, bullied at school or mesmerised by the reflection I see of myself.  I still feel like I live on the edge and, at times, this can be crippling.

Over the past four years, I’ve had to experiment with a load of different techniques and resources, some self-taught and some accessed through others.  It’s been more miss than hit, but I think I’m now getting better at managing myself.  The most extraordinary thing is that I feel like I’m starting to harness the power of this part of my personality and maybe I’m less defined by it than I once was.

I thought for ages before deciding to write this to figure out why I might expose myself in this way.  There were two simple reasons that tipped the balance – I thought that this might help me to put a stake in the ground for how I feel now, and that might resonate with others. 

“I don’t aspire to be a mental health ambassador or champion, just my own gladiator.”

So, I’m in Lower 6th at Ursuline High School in Wimbledon.  I’m approaching the half-way point on my A Levels.  I found anxiety and obsession a huge and impenetrable barrier to achieving the highest success in my GCSEs.  I passed everything, and still managed to sign up for three A Levels, but an A* student, I was not.

All the way leading up to my GCSEs, obsession often took a huge toll on my mental health.  I sometimes became consumed with thoughts I didn’t want in my head at all.  I found that distressing and it upset my loved ones too.  Fixating on the outcome of something and making shady predictions was also a daily occurrence for me.

“I often ended the day feeling exhausted from my thoughts.  The worst thing was that I then started the next day and did the same thing over again, all creating a cycle of escalating anxiety.”

This is interesting because it was a turning point for me – that summer before starting Sixth Form, and especially after I got my GCSE results, I started to think that I might be able to use my obsession as focus and determination.  I wondered if I might be able to suspend anxiety for long enough to get organised.  Honestly, the thought that the same things that had crippled me might be used to propel me was emancipating, even though I wasn’t yet free.

I started school with an open mind and soon found that when I dialled up my creativity, it drove an attention to detail in my work that was intricate and complex.  It allowed me to start to look behind what I was told and the opinions of others to develop a deeper understanding and familiarity with them.  It felt intimate at times – like I gave myself the space to dive deeply into something.

I need to calm myself down now, because I might be making it sound like I’ve got it all beat.  I haven’t.  I work incredibly hard to manage myself, my thoughts and my feelings.  At times, it feels like I am trying to cage the ‘Tiger King’  inside me and he’s determined to get out – thanks Netflix for this window into the life of obsession!

“Just keeping things together means that I have to use a whole menu of different techniques every day to keep the show on the road.”

Now, I think the good days are starting to outnumber the bad.  I’m finding more effective ways of breaking the obsessive cycle and I’m starting to find more peace.  Of course, it’s not everything, but here’s a few techniques that are working for me really well these days:


I observe my thoughts.  This means that just because something pops into my head, I don’t have to investigate it.  I just say ‘yup, you’re a thought’ and try to continue with what I’m doing.  Because some of these thoughts can be persistent, I use mediation through ‘Headspace’ (an app I’ve downloaded on my phone) for guided meditations lasting three to fifteen minutes every day.

Even when I don’t feel the calming impact instantly, it slows things down in my mind and the calm can build over days and weeks.  It’s also a great way to break the tension in a moment of distress – it breaks the cycle when I feel like I’m spiralling. 

“That moment to pause is powerful.”


Postponing thoughts took me a long time to do effectively and it’s still a work in progress.  Postponing means I acknowledge I have a thought and schedule thinking about it for a more convenient time. 

“I don’t push it to the back of my head or try to figure it out, I just say ‘yup, I’ll get back to you later’ and continue with my day.”

Although I find this tough, I also think it can be enormously powerful because it reminds me that I’m the one in control.  I guess it also tells the thought that it’s not the boss of me.

Label and characterise

This has been dynamite for me.  I label certain types of thoughts to help me to quickly decide what to do with them.  I might call self-critical thoughts ‘critics’ or ‘bullies’.  When the thought pops into my head, I’m quick to say the label, which allows me to have a pre-decided way of dealing with it.

I have some fun with this – I don’t just label the thought, I can give it an image in my mind too.  It’s easy for me to think of ‘bully’ thoughts as Ursula from ‘The little Mermaid’, for example. 

“That slimy, lumbering purple mess trying to capture me is enough for me to quickly know what I think of it!”

That’s all my top tips for now.

Just one last thing, I always try and start each day leaving behind the baggage and negativity of the day that’s passed.  No matter what I might have got wrong or how badly I might have felt, I know that the new day brings another chance for me to compose a symphony that, one day, an orchestra might play.