Written by Dr Michaela Dunbar
Image by @tinakunakey
Have you lost count of the amount of times someone has said you’re overthinking a situation? Are you driven for precision and details, in an attempt to calm your mind of it’s constant fear of failing. Do you often feel anxious, and keep yourself overly busy to mask how worthless you feel in your workplace? Are you always expecting the worst when someone says they need to talk to you, and constantly picturing and preparing for the worst case scenario? If you answered yes to this question then you might benefit from learning about high functioning anxiety.
High functioning anxiety?
High functioning anxiety is the experience of high levels of anxiety, and the physical symptoms that come with it BUT seemingly functioning well in your day-to-day lives. Doctors cannot diagnose high functioning anxiety because it is not a recognized disorder yet, making it difficult to get the appropriate treatment. However, the symptoms are very real:
- Worry, fear, and anxiety
- Irritability and frustration
- An inability to relax
- A need for perfectionism
- Fear of failure or judgement
- A desire to keep busy all the time
- Overthinking and overanalyzing
- Anxiety before events
- Elevated heart rate and faster breathing
- Sleep problems
- Changes in appetite
- Digestive issues
Experts don’t fully understand the causes of anxiety disorders, but they most likely occur due to a combination of factors, such as:
Genetics: People with a family history of anxiety disorders, or other mental health conditions are more likely than others to develop anxiety.
Trauma: Long term exposure to stress, or trauma at any point can trigger chronic anxiety.
High functioning anxiety can make your life feel like an uphill battle. That’s not sustainable, and you don’t have to live like that. If you want to make your life easier, and be the best version of yourself, the most efficient place to focus your time is on your actions. On making what we call ‘towards moves’. Actions that take us towards our goals, towards being the best version of ourself, instead of ‘away moves’, which take us so far from how we really want to show up.
For example, if you have a lot of self doubt and you want to stop worrying about what other people think, and believe you’re good enough regardless, you need to stop acting like you aren’t good enough. When you act like you aren’t good enough it just makes the lie easier to believe. Throughout your day ask yourself, if I believed I was good enough what would I do in this situation? Would I apply for that job, would I start that business, would I set a boundary and tell a colleague I dont have the capacity to help, would I leave a toxic environment that isn’t meeting my needs. Then do it. These are examples of strong towards moves.
Here are 7 micro ‘towards moves’ that you can use to manage your high functioning anxiety day to day
- Two minute mindfulness. Focusing only on the present moment allows you to manage your anxious thoughts, fully engage with what’s important and valued to you right now, rather than rehashing the past, or worrying about what you might get wrong in the future. You can’t stop thoughts coming into your mind, our brains are literally designed to think, but you can choose which thoughts you give your attention to. Mindfulness will help you to do this and will also help you to notice your triggers sooner, giving you more time to respond in a helpful way.
- Use positive affirmations everyday. What we give our attention to grows. It’s that simple. If you constantly think of yourself as incompentent, lazy, not good enough, then your behaviour will follow, and that can turn into a self fulfilling prophecy. With positive affirmations you are giving your attention to positive aspects of your identity, or who you aspire to show up as. For example, saying I am a competent, conscientious, successful person is more likely to get you to overcome procrastination then saying, I’m useless and I always mess things up.
- Deep breathing. This helps to deactivate your threat response when you’re feeling anxious, and activates your rest and digest response, which is the state you want to be in most of the time.
- Set strong boundaries with your managers, and co-workers. Sometimes the stress and overthinking that comes with high functioning anxiety is magnified when your to-do list is too long. Take some things off your plate. One thing you can start practising today that will help is learning how to say no. Set clear boundaries around what you can and can’t do, and use that time and headspace to put into something meaningful to you, instead of just saying yes because you think the opportunity is going to get taken away.
- Check ins. Conduct a body scan from head to toe and notice where in your body you feel discomfort, and breathe through it without judgement. Do this every hour for 1 minute. Trauma, and anxiety can make you disconnect from your body, However, the healing happens in the connection, so it’s important to get back to it.
- Journalling. Get your thoughts down onto paper, and problem solve them if they need to be, instead of keeping them in your mind taking up space.
- Move your body. Get a quick happy hormone hit such as endorphins and dopamine. Dance, play football, go for a walk, find a pole dancing, or pilates class it doesn’t matter.
- Get in the sun, vitamin D has huge positive benefits for our mood, immune system, hormones and quality of sleep. Good quality sleep is especially important if you want to tackle high functioning anxiety. If you can get out in the sun in the morning that’s even better.
Remember, high functioning anxiety can make you think you aren’t good enough despite all your achievements. You probably have alot of untrue stories about who you are, and what you’re capable of. That’s ok. You don’t have to believe them. You don’t need to overcompensate, you don’t need to shy away from opportunities, you don’t need to be everything for everyone, you can go for what you want. You have everything you need to be successful, without the constant feelings of overwhelm, and anxiety. Make sure to remind yourself of that everyday.
Dr Michaela Dunbar is a Clinical Psychologist, author of You’ve Got This – 7 Steps to a life you love, and Founder of My Easy Therapy, an online wellness platform exclusively for driven, ambitious women, who want to conquer their self doubt, anxiety and imposter syndrome, so they can turn their dreams into reality.