I have what they call “high functioning anxiety”. If you have read my previous post on anxiety you should have learned excellent tips to cope with anxiety, activities you could do to lower anxiety and how journaling helps anxiety. What you have not known is that I struggle with anxiety.
A person may be diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder if their anxiety causes impairment or disruption in life where as an individual with Functional Anxiety has mild anxiety.
Though this is not a recognized diagnosis, in the mental health field, we still choose to use the terms because it describes what an individual is experiencing.
Where someone may struggle to go out socially due to fear of crowds or feeling of not being in control, a person with Functional Anxiety will go out however has discomfort. For example, I go to Walmart and walk quickly, with a shopping list and use the self checkout to get in and get out!
Basically I can function at a higher level than someone with Anxiety Disorder. It seems to help me succeed in life rather than hold me back, but I will speak of the downside to this later. My anxiety drives my need to plan EVERYTHING, arrive early to work (and many events lol), have difficulty saying no to additional tasks and -of course- have a fear of failure.
Symptoms of High Functioning Anxiety
- People Pleasing
- Anxious habits (clicking pens, shaking legs)
- Showing early for appointments, events, etc.
- Poor boundaries
- Racing thoughts
- Extreme planner due to fear of worst case scenarios
- Constantly comparing yourself to others
- Poor coping skills
- Difficulty asking for help
- And much more….
There are some positive symptoms of high functioning anxiety that often overshadow the negative.
- Always on time (discomfort if you are not)
- Team players (because you rarely say no)
- Extremely organized
- Overly helpful
- Energetic to others
- Loyal to others
- Do things 100% percent
- Clean and neat
- Calm demeanor
My Experience With High Functioning Anxiety
I did not notice my anxiety until high school, though I am sure it was brewing before then. I would overthink the status of relationships, ask multiple questions to ensure I got the information right the first time I did ANYTHING, and I overbook myself.
This continued into college. I was full time in school, a full time manager, joined the military, in multiple clubs and organizations, was dating my now husband and trying to maintain my social life. Needless to say I did not know what the word self care meant.
I graduated cum laude, maintained my employment and applied to graduate school. What people did not know about my journey was that I was constantly tired as I did not sleep well at all. I constantly compared myself to others both physically and emotionally and never felt that I was doing enough.
I was more than loyal to individuals I should not have been solely because I constantly questioned myself or my decisions. If I did not do everything I could to make the friendship/relationship work, I stuck it out. My motto was “this way I know I tried”. Needless to say high functioning anxiety caused me to allow myself to stay in situations I should not have.
Luckily in graduate school I began to learn even more about mental health and had a professor that met with students individually to ensure we were taking care of ourselves. She listened to me talk myself in circles about how i just could not find the time to do all i needed to do.
Her response, “ you have a hard time telling yourself no don’t you?”. To be frank I was pissed! I had just told you that I needed to find a way to make more time for more things and you want to talk about boundaries. Ugh!
She noticed my body language and explained what high functioning anxiety was and why it was imperative to my health, career and education to learn to practice mindfulness and take time off.
Me? Take time off?!?
Ha! I would show her! I went harder, woke up earlier, stayed up later, finished papers early and put in extra hours at my internship.
This is it.
This is the moment things changed for me. I was working at an gero-psych inpatient hospital and was severely injured at work. I had to stay home for 3 months!!!!!! I lost it! To make matters worse, it was the last semester of school.
I did my assignments within two weeks, I put in extra hours at internship just to get out of the house and still felt revved up. I began PT and would do the exercises at home so much, I was able to finish PT early.
I was in a state of disarray. I remembered that high functioning anxiety thing my professor said. I emailed my professor from last semester and asked for a conference call to discuss this functional anxiety thing. I asked so many questions, that I think I confused her haha.
“Why and how does this develop” “How do I help others with this” “How can I help others when I need help myself” the questions were endless. My amazing professor answered them all and told me the greatest thing of all “ You will always be great at helping others, you just have to put that same energy within yourself”.
Wow. Thanks. That is so easy to do. *She says sarcastically*
A few days later it hit me. Yes, me, a mental health professional took days to follow the guidance of a professional that has been in the field for over a decade and teaches others.
Here Are 10 Things I Did To Cope With High Functioning Anxiety:
1 . Therapy
I found a therapist in my area by using psychology today and recommendations from colleagues. You can use some of my tips here.
2. Self Care
I scheduled mental health days, because if I did not schedule the day it would not happen. Also I would plan to do anything that brought me peace like the ones I list here.
I created this blog! This has helped me to research and normalize the conversation about the spectrum of mental health disorders and how they present differently in each person. You can create a mental health blog too and this guide could help.
One of the greatest things I learned was how to meditate and I learned by using guided imagery first. It is difficult to try to meditate without someone telling me what to do because I will start to feel antsy and want to knock off things on my “to-do” list. Here is one of my favorite ones Calm Safe Place!
Yes, the simple but hard to remember skill! I often use the breathing techniques from meditations because, again, I like having a guide. I can do it without a guide but it is much easier to have one.
If you follow me on social, you will see me in my workout gear and the old reliable Planet Fitness logo. I am able to run off the excess energy that anxiety sometimes gives me that prevents me from thinking clearly. Here are some exercises you could do that could help you!
7. Girl’s Day
I have to stay in contact with my friends! They help reduce my stress and challenge my negative or anxious thoughts. I am lucky to have friends who are in tune with their spiritual side and mental health, so they often hold me accountable.
8. Limit Caffeine
Caffeine – if you didn’t know- gives you that amped up, take on the world feeling. I should tell you that I stopped cold turkey when I learned caffeine triggers anxiety, but I would not lie to you! Instead, I cut back from MANY cups of coffee to one in the morning and cut out soda. In my home you will find sparkling water, water and coffee haha.
When I get really worked up I pick up whichever book I am reading at the time. Recently, I have begun to read for 1 hour at least 4 days a week (on my lunch break) and it gives my brain something else to focus on.
As though you have not heard me preach this enough, journaling is the way to go. Journaling helps you identify triggers, process events, find positivity in bad situations, and manage your stress. Here are some journaling prompts you could use to get started and how to get started.
There are many things I did in therapy or on my own, that I have put together in the Ultimate Anxiety Workbook to help others. I took information I learned from class, personal experience, professional experience and from others who struggle with anxiety and put it all in the workbook!