High Functioning Anxiety
First, what IS “high functioning anxiety”?
Well, it’s not a medical term. It’s a society generated term for a person that has anxiety while being engaged and functioning in daily activities. Usually, but not always, a person has mild generalized anxiety, perhaps social anxiety. A person may be un-diagnosed with anxiety. Possibly because of the social stigma, not discussing symptoms with their primary care doctor or their doctor not asking. A person not being aware that how they react to situations is not … well … calming. There tends to be, from an outsider’s perspective, an overreaction, a dramatic reaction. Often the response is not in proportion to what is going on.
Second, what does this anxiety look like?
Good question. Some of the following traits are “normal”, but with anxiety, it is constant or excessive. For the sake of this blog post, let’s talk about me, with what I experience(d).
In the mind:
I’m an “over” – over busy, over thinking, over worrying. I’m overachieving, with a high degree of perfection and often I’m very successful. At graduation, I earned sum cum laude and received the award for “Outstanding Program Graduate”. I’m “anal”, not about everything, but enough things. You might call me “Type A” or a “perfectionist“. I often get stuck on irrelevant topics. Overanalyzing the worst-case scenario is draining, but I didn’t let that stop me! I can over-prepare, wasting time. High expectations run the show, and I beat myself up when learning.
I’m hyper focused on what I’m doing and it can be difficult for me to shift gears. Thoughts, fears, and to do lists, are constantly running in my head, detailing the “what IF’s”. Certain feelings or stressful events that occur are compartmentalized, or repressed. A life skill to handle mundane life stressors is missing. I’m a RULE FOLLOWER. I get stuck seeing things in black and white. Why? Goodness, it helps calm the fears of “what IFs“. I count a lot in my head such as counting steps, or the pattern on the wall. I use this tactic to distract myself from the never-ending worry. Self-talk is often negative and critical, especially of any mistakes. I’ve impulsively reacted, and was all emotion, in a not fun roller coaster kind of way, during moments of anxiety.
I react with the freeze, fight, or flight response instead of purposeful responses. As I live in my head, I’m disconnected from my body.
In the body:
My nervous system is on high alert, driving me forward, while activating my startle reflex. It’s a fun family event in my house to scare me, as they just need to walk in the room. What happens next? I’ll perform the running man dance out of fear. Tickle time – no thank you. I’m already too high strung and tense in my body. Sometimes touch is overstimulating. Insomnia is my companion due to not being able to shut off the mind. I must release all this nervous energy so I grind my teeth at night when I finally do fall asleep. My legs shake or kick when sitting. Pacing and I go hand in hand. There is no relaxation on the couch where the cats, husband, or daughter can snuggle with me.
My body tells me to go, go, go, you’ve got to move it, move it.
My tone of voice might be sharp when having a low-key discussion, due to emotions in an elevated panic state. Panic attacks have happened. I often experience the oh so painful and scary chest tightening, throat closing, and / or gasping to breathe. My body holds the feelings of being overwhelmed in my back and shoulders. I often have headaches. When I’m overwhelmed, I’m frozen, unable to move, speak, or react. I just stare at you (it can be unnerving for the other person). Smiles have hidden my inner turmoil. I have canceled attending social events as I’m tired. Nope, I’m exhausted.
Third, HELP! That sounds too familiar, what can I do?
A good first step is to talk with your primary care doctor. You could seek a prescription, as needed basis or daily dosage, that is to be figured out with your doctor. Homeopathic / Naturopathic doctors are also a good place to start, where supplements such as probiotics or flaxseed may be suggested. Acupuncture could be beneficial. A person can use cognitive behavioral strategies such as journaling, redirecting, gratitude, meditation, or mindfulness.
You can use the self-help strategy by reading articles, books, or blogs for help. Talk therapy, with a social worker or psychologist could be helpful. Hypnotherapy has been proven effective. Physical strategies such as exercise, biofeedback, and yoga can help. Studies to back the usage of essential oils. Support groups as well as social supports of family or friends could be beneficial. Getting out into nature and putting down the electronics has proven effective. You can also get a life coach.
What has Danielle done?
Hmm, have I told you I’m an overachiever? I’ve done quite a bit.
What has NOT worked FOR ME:
Talk therapy, we go into the past too much and it causes me more anxiety I found myself resistant to cognitive behavior strategies with therapists. Reading blogs and books gave me some awareness but no support, accountability, or management. I attempted Acupuncture without success, but that is most likely due to only going once.
What has been effective FOR ME:
Speaking to my primary care doctor and using an as needed prescription. Seeing a Naturopathic Doctor – too much to go into – but working on my hormones, and using supplements has helped immensely! Physical exercise and biofeedback work. Essential oils, including, but not limited to lavender, ylang ylang, and sweet orange. Getting out into nature, like walking a nature path or watching the animals (even squirrels) has helped. I started removing unneeded alerts, for example Facebook is NOT installed on my cell.
Probably the most effective strategy for me, has been with life coaching. Because of the nature of life coaching, I was receptive to cognitive behavior strategies and have had significant growth of self-awareness of triggers, priorities, values, and personality – all helping me manage the anxiety. Developing awareness has monumentally helped me learn to manage my life, alleviated my anxiety, has eased my relationships, and has made me a better version of myself. I’m exhausted sometimes, not daily.
What can Danielle do for me?
Another excellent question. Honestly, I will take you down a discovery path. I will lead you to discover your hidden triggers and work on reducing or eliminating them. You will learn your values and needs, and be able to work in these areas to keep your body and mind aligned. Your mindset will be challenged, and you will be able to change it to what works and helps you, instead of hindering you. There will be discovery that your personality is adaptable, and you don’t have to live like this anymore. You will move forward and act to relax, breathe, and grow.
What works for me may or may not work for you. I would love discussion on what ways you have explored to manage anxiety, what you look forward to trying, or anything else that you would like to mention. Drop a comment below!