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High-Functioning Anxiety

On the outside you appear to have it all together. Confident. Organised. Driven. Proactive. Perfectionist. Detail-orientated. Achiever. Successful and excelling in all areas of their life.

Sounds perfect right?

It would be… if all of the above came with a switch that could turn off the racing thoughts, tendency to stew on everything and the fear of failing that comes with this overachiever behaviour.

What is high-functioning anxiety?

The stereotypical image of someone who has anxiety is that they are worried about everything, nervous and restless. You're thinking to yourself: That can't be me. Anxiety doesn't stop me from getting sh*t done, everyone tells me that I'm brilliant at my job and I hit every goal that I set for myself.

High-functioning anxiety can be difficult to spot (in fact it’s not until recently that I realised myself that I had HF Anxiety). Often beneath that perfect exterior, the sufferer would find it difficult to admit that they are struggling with their anxious thoughts and feelings and in my case I just wouldn't give myself the time to think about it as I was too busy trying to get everything done.

Perhaps you're questioning how someone so successful can possibly suffer from anxiety...

I’m here to remind you that just because someone comes across as calm and collected, doesn’t mean that they are not experiencing anxiety internally.

For the high-functioning individual they appear to be able to effectively manage their day to day life but that doesn’t mean that their thoughts aren't riddled with stress, overwhelm and bouts of anxiety. Their inner turmoil is masked with smiles, accomplishments and in some cases extroverted behaviours.

Since there is no official diagnosis, the research is limited. But symptoms of high-functioning anxiety might include:

  • Overthinking

  • Sleep issues – insomnia, waking up too early, waking up during the night

  • Restlessness coupled with feeling guilty when you are not doing something ‘productive’

  • Repetitive or obsessive behaviours - e.g. checking and rechecking emails, counting, confirming details.

  • People-pleasing behaviour -e.g. not wanting to no or taking on more than you can handle.

  • Arriving super early for appointments and meetings with the fear of being late.

  • Procrastination followed by long periods of immersive work

  • Tendency to dwell on the negative - e.g. what if I had/hadn’t of done…

  • The need to be in control of every decision and situation.

  • Difficulty enjoying and being present in the moment

  • Comparing yourself to others

  • Mental and physical fatigue

  • Muscle tension - e.g. headaches, clenched jaw, teeth grinding.

  • Use of alcohol or other substances as an unhealthy coping mechanism

How is it different to other anxiety disorders?

The key difference is how the sufferer responds to the anxiety. We tend to think of anxiety as a 'fight or flight response' - usually the case is that we want to remove ourselves from the anxiety-provoking stimulus that our brain perceives as danger. However, high-functioning anxiety stimulates a more 'fight' response, in which the individual 'powers through' the challenge but then can spend lots of time ruminating and dwelling on how things could have been done better/differently.

My experience with high-functioning anxiety

I’ve been there. I have the T-shirt and I know how it feels.

I was always described as the one that was always busy - I was the first one in work every day, worked through my lunch breaks and rarely appeared stressed, Everyone would look at me and marvel at how calm and collected I appeared. I was excelling at work, meeting deadlines (often wayyy before the actual deadline) and taking on more tasks because I was seen as the person who could ‘handle’ it and get it done.

No matter how busy I was, I would just nod politely when asked to do stuff. I already had a never-ending to-do list to complete and yet somehow I would force myself to find time to get it done (even if this meant taking away time from my personal life and sleep).

From the outside I looked like an elegant swan paddling across the water (I remember someone using this actual phrase to describe me when they were amazed by how much I was able to get done) but little did they actually know what I was experiencing. The truth was I felt like my body was tied to a breeze block and I was being pulled down, furiously kicking my feet to try and stay afloat.

Looking back, I'm not fully aware of when this all started - and in some ways it's neither here nor there. But I do know that it's not something that can be sustained. Eventually my stress bucket got so full that it overflowed (if you're thinking what is this stress bucket you are talking about then check out my previous post here).

How can you manage this anxiety?

As an individual with high-functioning anxiety you can get so focused on getting to the next deadline and hitting your next achievement that your work-life balance suffers.

In order to keep your anxiety in check it’s important that you prioritise time for yourself - for self-care, exercise, hobbies, a healthy diet and spending times with people you like.

It’s also vital that you are aware of your boundaries and that you can say ‘no’ when you are too busy or when something does not align with you. Saying no is not a sign of weakness and does not make you any less of person.

Getting further help and support

It can be difficult for someone with high-functioning anxiety to admit that they need some form of support. Perhaps you justify it by saying that there are people who are worse off than you or you’re afraid that you will have to admit that you are ‘bad’ at something.

Even though you desperately need time to yourself to get your sh*t together, you are too afraid to call in sick because of the perception others would have on you. I was well known for rarely being ill – part of that was because my brain was in constant survival mode, there was no time to be sick as my list of jobs was endless. Instead, I was exhausted and would often crash out on the sofa by 8pm and awake early (usually before 5am) so I could crack on with my to-do list.

Part of the reason I never sought medical advice was because I didn’t want to appear ‘weak’ or that I couldn’t cope. It was only that my anxiety got so bad that it was beginning to impact my relationships and I felt bad for letting the people around me down (another symptom!) that I decided to seek some support. As someone who tries to avoid the doctors like the plague (and the fact that it’s easier to win the lottery than it is to get a doctor’s appointment outside of work hours and there was no way that I would have asked for time off - yet another high-functioning flag!), I looked for complimentary practices that would help and that’s how I ended up finding Solution Focused Hypnotherapy.

How can Solution Focused Hypnotherapy help?

Solution Focused Hypnotherapy can be an effective way to manage the symptoms

experienced. One thing that I liked about it was that I didn’t have to pour out my feelings and try to unpick the reason for my problems (this would have only led to me blaming myself and beating myself up for getting myself into this mess in the first place).

In the sessions we focus on your goal, what you want to achieve and your preferred future. Then we look at identifying small manageable steps to get you there. Combined with hypnosis, it’s super relaxing, which also helps to quieten your anxiety and that negative inner critic.

Remember that you can still be passionate, work hard, be driven and have great achievements. But these things should not come at the expense of your mental and physical health, relationships and personal life.

If you are struggling to manage your anxiety and are looking for a gentle, effective way then get in touch to book a free informal chat.


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