The daily struggles of managing high functioning anxiety
When we think of anxiety, it is easy to focus on those who suffer from devastating disorders that impact a person’s ability to lead a normal kind of life. We think of those with depression who find it difficult to get out of bed, or those who have unbearable phobias or frequent panic attacks. But there is another kind of anxiety that isn’t well-researched or understood, yet growing numbers of people claim to experience its impact on a daily basis.
High-functioning anxiety is not officially recognised as an anxiety disorder, possibly because the people who suffer from it are typically successful individuals who seem to excel in all they do. I know from personal experience that people who experience high-functioning anxiety often feel like they project a false façade of calm and confidence that aptly conceals their internal feelings of worry and angst. Not unlike the image of a swimming duck, appearing peaceful and serene on the surface of the water, whilst it’s little legs remain unseen as they paddle furiously below.
People with high-functioning anxiety typically make amazing employees. They are dedicated, hard-working and rarely take sick days. Their strong desire to please others means that they take a lot of pride in all they do and their homes are often tidy and organised. In addition to this, these kinds of people are also very good at hiding their inner worries from the outside world, meaning that friends or colleagues are often shocked to discover that anxiety is an issue for such seemingly high-achieving individuals.
As a working mum of 4, I am often asked how I do it. I receive comments like ‘you are amazing’, ‘you are so organised’, and ‘you have achieved so much’. I have always found these kinds of compliments difficult to receive as realistically I know I do not have it all together in the way that people seem to think. I worry about the most ridiculous things — like which day of the week I will need to pick up another loaf of bread before we run out (yes — something that mundane can be cause for concern). I also go into a state of internal panic if I am running even a few minutes late for an appointment or meeting, and most often will arrive half an hour early instead. Like many people with high-functioning anxiety, I have an obsessive need to over-plan everything and god help the person who messes with my well laid plan (did I mention that we don’t usually like the unexpected thrust upon us either).
One of the things I have struggled with the most over the years is turning my brain off at the end of the day and maintaining good sleep habits. Whilst my day is usually non-stop and busy, I find that by the time I slip into bed my brain is not able to pause and allow me to relax. I have tried a number of ways of managing this, and for many years I fell asleep watching trash TV every evening to help stop the barrage of thoughts from rolling around on repeat in my head.
Recently, at the recommendation of a friend, I read the book ‘Phosphorescence’ by Julia Baird and was intrigued by her description of the meditative effects of swimming. Whilst Julia Baird enjoys her daily ocean swims, the thought of getting into the freezing cold water at our local beaches is not appealing to me at all and I can think of few things worse than sand in my swimsuit. Fortunately, we do have a heated swimming pool at home and whilst I don’t have the whole experience of marvelling at coral formations and spotting stingrays, I do find that swimming in a full-face mask certainly has a meditative effect on me. When swimming, the focus is on the movement of my body and on my breath, I suppose not unlike yoga. This shift in focus chases the worries from my head and clears my mind. I am able to leave the pool with endorphins pumping and find that when I finally slip into bed, sleep finds me more easily (although I do still enjoy a bit of trash TV).
It has taken me many years to develop effective strategies for managing my high-functioning anxiety but here are my top 5 ways of keeping the worries under control:
1. Exercise every day — for me this is most effective in the evening to clear my mind before sleep.
2. At the end of each day, plan the following day. Identifying and prioritising the most important tasks makes them feel more achievable.
3. Keep a ‘to do’ list — but separate into categories of importance. For example, identify tasks that must be done as soon as possible, tasks that must be completed by the end of the week and tasks that must be completed by the end of the month. This creates a clear plan and a sense of organisation.
4. Keep a notebook by the bed for jotting down any important reminders that come to you whilst trying to sleep. This way you won’t forget them but you can stop thinking about it until the following day.
5. Let others know when you are struggling. This is especially applicable for family and friends so they can be understanding and supportive when needed.
I suppose in reality, high-functioning anxiety seems to be associated with specific personality types. Given that these people tend to be successful and high-achieving, I truly believe that finding effective strategies to control the anxiety will result in people who can use their ‘super powers’ to continue achieving their goals, but with improved mental health and a greater sense of joy and happiness. After all, — what is success without joy and happiness.
If you would like to learn more about high functioning anxiety, check out the links below:
Why not check out my Facebook and Instagram pages, titled The Write Book.