‘I’ve been invited to my high school reunion and I’m freaking out…why?’

When you’re invited to a high school reunion, an array of feelings can arise because it’s as if you’re being transported back into a high school context. It can be exciting or anxiety-inducing. We spoke to psychologist Nancy Sokarno to provide some insight and hopefully some tools to help you through a reunion you might be dreading. 

High school can be a great experience for some. A place where lifelong friendships are formed, even soulmates are found. For others, it can be a nightmare no amount of money would ever be enough to force you to relive.

Being a teenager is awkward—at least, it used to be before social media seemingly enabled kids these days to skip the awkward phase entirely (seriously, what’s with that?)—so being transported back to your teens via way of a high school reunion can be an intimidating thought.

Being invited or attending a high school reunion can often cause insecurities of the past to all of a sudden reveal themselves in the present,” says Lysn psychologist Nancy Sokarno.

“Whether that be insecurity, embarrassment, anxiety, shame, guilt – all these feelings are quite common throughout adolescence and it is normal to feel them again when considering the context.”

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These feels are totally valid, says Sokarno, but it’s a good idea to remind yourself that your former peers have probably changed a lot, and so have you. By comparing your life to the timelines of others, stress and anxiety can easily follow.

The reason we attach such significance to our experiences at high school is that, emotionally and mentally, they’re our most formative in who we are as adults.

“The self-identity that we form as an adolescent actually forms the basis of our self-esteem later in life,” observes Sokarno.

“You may have changed a lot since then, however, it’s likely your values and morals are based on what you learned during that period of time.”

A reunion can be a great time to catch up with old friends with whom you’ve lost touch, but it can also be an opportunity to gain better insight into your current self.

“If you felt like an outsider in high school because of high school cliques, you might find they’re no longer there and you do actually fit in in a different way,” says Sokarno.

“Or you might talk to your high school crush and find out that you weren’t as out of their league as you thought.”

If you are dreading your high school reunion, there are ways of changing your mindset.

Go in with an open mind

“Any anxiety or fears you have about the occasion are largely unfounded because you’re worrying about something that hasn’t happened yet,” says Sokarno.

“Fear often originates from imagined scenarios, so don’t get caught up imagining the worst.”

Remember that success is different for everyone

It’s not always about money and riches, says Sokarno, and how you define success may be different to how someone else does.

“Many people assume that to be considered successful you have to have become rich and have a high-powered career,” she notes.

“Success for you could mean that you followed your career dreams, met your life partner or found happiness within yourself.”

Remind yourself it isn’t a competition

“It might feel as though you have to come armed with a list of successful achievements however the night should be about reconnection and reminiscing, not about competing with others,” says Sokarno.

Let go of old opinions of yourself

It might feel like you’ve been transported back in time, which is a common source of anxiety, but “you don’t have to believe in old narratives anymore,” says Sokarno.

“Let go of those thoughts you once had about yourself and remember that you can be comfortable being who you are.”

Nancy Sokarno is a psychologist at Lysn. Lysn is a digital mental health company with well-being technology that helps people find their best-fit professional psychologist while being able to access online tools to improve their mental health.