Have you ever wondered what it’s like living with high functioning anxiety? Think of a duck who is calmly floating on top of the water that looks so well put together and relaxed. However, under the water, the duck’s feet are frantically paddling. That is exactly how it feels to live with high functioning anxiety.
If you also have high functioning anxiety, you can go about your everyday life and even excel in some aspects, but feel like you are a mess on the inside. You have constant obsessive thoughts spiraling around, worry, stress, a need to be “perfect”, etc. It is never ending on the inside. I would bet that about 90% of the people who know me would never guess this is something I struggle with every second of every day. Sadly, it is and it can be very overwhelming.
If you have read my last week’s blog, “How to Survive the Holidays with Social Anxiety", you know I struggle with social anxiety too. You may be familiar with the terms anxiety or even social anxiety. So what is high functioning anxiety? High functioning anxiety is a term used to describe someone who deals with anxiety but identifies with functioning reasonably well in society and everyday life.
Most of you with high functioning anxiety tend to be busy or find ways to keep yourself busy in both your work and personal lives. In addition, this leads you to not have time to deal with the worry, stress, anger, sadness, and self-doubt spiraling around in your head. That’s what makes you high functioning, rather than low functioning like what many think of when they think of anxiety. Where coping means shutting down and avoiding things. Let’s start with talking about what this may look like for you.
Common everyday struggles with high functioning anxiety
These are just some of the common struggles/characteristics that you may face everyday with high functioning anxiety:
People pleaser - fear of driving people away, letting others down, or being a bad friend/ spouse/child/parent/etc.
Talking a lot, nervous "chatter"
Nervous habits - playing with hair, cracking knuckles, biting lips/cheeks
Need to do repetitive things - counting stairs or anything, rocking back and forth, etc.
Lost time - Like arriving too early for appointments
Need for reassurance - asking for directions multiple times or checking on others frequently
Procrastination followed by long periods of crunch-time work
Avoiding eye contact
Rumination and a tendency to dwell on the negative - "What if?" thoughts and dwelling on past mistakes
Inability to say "No," always having an overloaded schedule, being constantly busy
Insomnia - difficulty falling asleep or waking early and being unable to fall back asleep
Others think that you are "difficult to read"
Limited social life - turning down invitations
Inability to "enjoy the moment" - being unable to relax and be in the present or expecting the worst in any situation
Feeling intimidated by the future
The tendency to compare yourself to others - falling short of expectations
Mental and physical fatigue
Loyal (to a fault) in relationships
Characteristics of high functioning anxiety
Those with high functioning anxiety like things to be done in a certain way and they must be done perfectly. Sometimes these are what society refers to as a type A personality. If this sounds like you, you are often known for your strong ambition, determination and ability to get things done. You are known as the go-getters and hard workers. You pay very close attention to detail to achieve the perfect outcome.
Sometimes people like this are even referred to as an overachiever. There is usually a constant need to please others and you might rarely say no. You will put your own needs and feelings on the back-burner so you don’t let anyone down.
My Story with Perfectionism
Perfectionism is the number one thing that I have dealt with my whole life. I have this constant need for perfection. This stemmed from being perfect at doing my chores as a kid or a need to get all A’s in school to now being the number one employee and doing every task perfectly or being the best friend, daughter, sister, etc.
Everything, I mean everything, needs to happen according to the “plan” I have set in my head. If things don’t run this way (which in most cases they don’t), I completely beat myself up for it. This leads to negative self talk, bad moods, and a spiral of redoing it until I get it perfect.
I find it extremely hard to tell people no. I am a big people pleaser. I have always strived to make others happy and proud of me in every aspect. It is very exhausting and I feel as though I am always failing even when I know I am not.
I often lie awake at night thinking of all the things that still need to be done. It feels like a never ending cycle of “what has to be completed next” and “there is no time for breaks or to relax”. Tossing and turning over the little things that I feel didn’t go exactly right and worrying about tomorrow.
How to Overcome Perfectionism with High Functioning Anxiety
Be perfectly imperfect
Part of my struggle with perfectionism is that I am constantly facing self-doubt and an overwhelming sense that I am not good enough. I am always thinking about how others are perceiving me and judging me.
So what do I do? I strive to be perfectly imperfect. If you are able to welcome the idea of being amazing and doing great things but also knowing that it is okay to have flaws, the less pressure and the easier it is on you.
Think of it like this. If someone were to come up to you and start talking negatively about themselves you wouldn’t just agree with them. You would most likely encourage them and tell them it is okay not to be perfect. You would remind them that not everything is always going to turn out perfect and THAT IS OKAY.
So if you do that for others then you should be doing that same thing for yourself. Having those same conversations with yourself can help remind you that imperfectness is perfectly okay.
Change negative thoughts to positive ones
Negative thoughts are a major component to high functioning anxiety. Instead of letting these negative thoughts get into your head and create a tornado, try turning them around. When you feel a negative thought pop into your head like “What if I don’t make this deadline” or “what if I mess up in this meeting and everyone thinks I am stupid”, then take a step back and try to change it to something else.
Your replacement thought could be something like “I always make my deadlines and even if I don’t, it won’t be the end of the world” or “I just need to do my best and if I mess up, that is okay. I am human”.
This is way easier said than done. Take it from someone who knows. However, just taking a step back and letting yourself know whatever happens is okay and if something does happen, you are human. We make mistakes. Sometimes you just have to take a deep breath, shake it off, and move forward. You won’t be the only person in the world to ever make a mistake or miss a deadline.
Seek Guidance and Help
The big thing with those that suffer from high functioning anxiety is that you think you don’t need or “deserve” help because in your mind, you aren’t that bad off. You tend to think that those that can’t get out of the house, shut down completely, are sad all the time, etc are the only ones that should seek help. Boy is that far from wrong. Just because you may think you have it all together on the outside doesn’t mean you are any less worthy of getting guidance and help. Listen to how you are feeling and know that it is valid.
Professional therapists and counselors are equipped with the training and knowledge to help you and meet your needs wherever you are at. They can help you find techniques and tools to cope with things like perfectionism, stress, negative thoughts, and more. All of the things talked about in this blog, our therapists can help you with. You do not have to suffer. It can help to just talk about your struggles and get it off your chest. Sometimes you need to vent to someone who isn’t super close to you like a family member or friend.
How Counseling for High Functioning Anxiety Helped Me
If it weren’t for counseling, I wholeheartedly believe I wouldn’t be where I am today. I was hesitant about counseling, read my blog talking all about my journey, but I am positive it saved my life.
I thought I didn’t deserve therapy but having an hour a week to just let it all out was amazing and such a weight lifted off me. In addition, being able to get tools and techniques I could try to cope with my severe anxiety was even more amazing. Don’t wait to get help. Take the jump today so you can stop feeling like a calm duck who is frantically paddling trying to hide their struggle.
How We Can Help
We have amazing therapists who specialize in anxiety treatment!
We have experienced therapists who specialize in anxiety treatment. They can help you rediscover your everyday joy, teach you tools to make your anxiety more manageable, and regain control over your life again.
If you are looking for general support, or if you would like to talk to someone more about how we can help you, follow these simple steps:
Contact us today for a free 20-minute phone consultation
Begin your journey towards a calmer, more relaxed life
Other Therapy Services Available at Catalyss Counseling:
Here at Catalyss Counseling, we want to meet all of your counseling needs in the Denver area. Our supportive therapists provide depression counseling, therapy for caregiver stress, grief and loss therapy, stress management counseling and more. We also have specialists in trauma and PTSD, women's issues, pregnancy and postpartum depression or anxiety, pregnancy loss and miscarriage, and birth trauma. For therapists, we can also provide clinical supervision! We look forward to connecting with you to help support your journey today.
Lexi Rupp is the Marketing Coordinator at Catalyss Counseling. She coordinates all our social media channels, emails, and as well as other marketing duties. She has a strong passion for mental health because she believes counseling saved her during a hard time in her life. Lexi has dealt with social anxiety and high functioning anxiety and she knows the value of therapy/counseling. She hopes to educate others on the importance too! Follow Catalyss Counseling on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram.