It’s the same routine whenever I go for a massage. “You’re carrying a LOT of tension in your shoulders”. Tell me about it, you should see the inside of my brain…in a non-gory horror film kind of way.
Often when we think of the word anxiety we imagine a person unable to leave the house or panic attacks in crowded rooms. But little is known and spoken about another side to the disorder – High Functioning Anxiety. I only found out I suffered from HFA last year during some of my first counselling sessions. Before then I thought my self-deprecating, high pressure, perfectionist thoughts were normal and my busy-ness was just a by-product of my job and high-achieving nature.
A lot of my habits and thought processes became so much clearer as the proverbial penny dropped and it was only when I understood what I was dealing with in my own mind that I was able to stop, process and cope with what I now knew were unnecessary thoughts and worries caused by anxiety.
What Is High Functioning Anxiety?
High Functioning Anxiety often looks like perfectionism, high achievement, being super busy and living at 100 miles an hour. It can often show in habits such as repeatedly playing with your hair, biting your nails, fidgeting, over analysis of situations and panic over any changes in plans.
Negative inner thoughts come into play multiple times a day and plague your dreams.
You’re not good enough, your friends don’t really like you, you’re boyfriend doesn’t love you, people are going to leave and they’re right to do so because you’re not worthy, you’re a letdown, you’re so needy, everyone is going to judge you.
On the outside you seem calm, successful, in control. Not a visual panic attack in sight. On the inside it feels like your mind is a web browser with a hundred tabs open at all times. You keep yourself busy with so many hobbies, sports, knitting, playing an instrument, colouring, that all seem like simple busyness and intrigue, but are actually a socially acceptable way for you to burn off the excess mental energy you have to prevent it from feeding the worries instead.
Nothing you ever do feels good enough and relaxing often seems impossible. You need to be in control to calm your anxiety but often you just want to be looked after and told what to do so you can reliquish some of the pressure for a little while. Both of which you beat yourself up for.
It can be hard for people to understand and often you’ll just get dismissed as an unnecessary worrier or a control freak. But with the right relaxation techniques and people who are aware and ready to listen, you can control high functioning anxiety and learn to let some of those worries go.
Here are some tips that have really helped me over the past 6 months. I still struggle sometimes and I’m still working on the balance between letting my thoughts play out on their own and putting the blanket over the really unnecessary ones. But for the most part I feel so much clearer and in control (in a good way) of my negative inner voices and my anxiety as a whole.
5 Tips For Dealing With High-Functioning Anxiety
1. Always look at the evidence for your worries. Do you have any or is this just what you think people might say or react to whatever it is you’re doing. If there is no evidence to support your negative thoughts then try to think again from another angle. What if they’re actually happy for you instead of judging you? Now there’s a novel thought.
2. Use relaxation techniques wherever possible. Meditation, running, reading, whatever works for you. Find something that calms you down and do it every day, not just when you’re anxiety is highest. Keeping a state of calm can really help with your worrying thoughts and if you feel them creeping in, your heart rate rising, that panic racing through your mind…just breathe. I use a combination of calming teas, meditation, exercise and gentle tasks such as adult colouring to help me, and I’m also working on having more distance between me and my phone throughout the day.
3. Use positive affirmations every single day. Find something that’s good about yourself and say it in the mirror over and over until you start to believe it. When your anxiety levels rise, repeat your affirmations and use your relaxation techniques. It’s incredibly difficult to ignore the negative voice telling you that you’re not good enough or that you deserve all the bad things that may come your way, but it’s imperative that you block it out with positive feelings instead. Because in reality, you’re awesome. End of.
4. Write down your triggers and tells. Figure out what makes your anxiety levels rise and also the behaviours you show when they do. Knowing more about what triggers you and how your body & mind cope will enable you to help control them and spot when you might be acting out of anxiety rather than true feelings. Try to set times to sit and write down your anxieties in a list. Then try to expand on each one and analyse them. Why do I feel this way? What exactly do I mean by that? Expand on the words ‘sad’ or ‘worried’ or ‘anxious’ – e.g. ‘I feel Worried.’…what about? Why? Is this worry legitimate or a ‘what if’?. Don’t give your anxieties free reign of your mind all day, you’ll drain yourself. Instead try to use your writing time to process and then actively keep them at bay afterwards. Even if you have to allow yourself a second sitting later in the day.
5. Talk to people. Share your thoughts with friends and partners along with your tells and triggers and do not be afraid to ask for help. It’s good to know how to self-soothe but you can also seek calm in others and not feel guilty about it. Those who love you will want to help and no, you are NOT a burden, always remember that. If someone you know suffers from high functioning anxiety listening and learning their triggers and tells alongside them will help that person feel less alone when they’re feeling extra anxious.
It can feel daunting for new people in your life who don’t or can’t understand how your mind runs, and it can also be scary to let new people in thinking they’ll probably run a mile! But it’s important to understand that this is part of you and hiding things or pushing them away will only make you feel worse. It’s best to own it, tackle your anxiety head on and just keep working through, one list and chamomile tea at a time.
Do you or anyone you know suffer from High-Functioning Anxiety? What do you use to help keep your anxiety levels down?
Let’s start a discussion down below.