by: Amanda Fludd, LCSW-R
Anxiety affects over 40 million people worldwide, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. It is one of the top 3 reasons people come into therapy. When you think about anxiety you usually correlate it with easily flustered, nervous, scared, and constricted because of impossible thoughts about uncertain outcomes. All of the above is true, but most recently we’ve seen an increase in successful clients at Kensho Psychotherapy, who can achieve high levels of success because of their anxiety, but still find themselves unhappy, anxious, and overwhelmed. High-functioning anxiety is the term used to describe folks who are ambitious, high achievers, and also anxious. Didn’t know that was a thing did you? Well, it is. You would be surprised to know that anxiety for them is constant and unpleasant, even though their accomplishments make it seem like everything is extraordinary. They however, secretly can’t enjoy their success, and are constantly at war with themselves and relentless expectations.
So how do you know if this is you? It may look like this:
• To-do lists for the to-do list
• Always expecting the worst in terms of your performance despite prior success (those are conveniently forgotten)
• A high demand for excellence that may show up as perfectionism
• Mental and physical exhaustion
• Constant overthinking or worry
• Jam-packed schedule due to an inability to say “no”
• The Workaholic – staying late to do just one more thing and not hesitating to take work home
• Never satisfied with gains and already thinking about what’s next
• Procrastination galore
• A clandestine fear of failure
Are you thinking, “Yes that is me?.” Often those who suffer from high functioning anxiety may ask themselves, “How did I get here?”. It can evolve from genetics, brain chemistry, or in response to personal life events (like a deep fear of failing and becoming like your parents, or underlying feelings of shame or guilt related to a trauma, so you work hard, ALL THE TIME) and is often an automatic process that is out your control.
Regardless of the reason, it’s not your fault! You may not have total control over the chemical make-up of your brain, and you certainly didn’t choose your life circumstances, but now it’s up TO YOU to figure it out.
This is where brilliance comes in to restore balance:
1. Get grounded. Clear your mind and recharge your energy by practicing techniques such as deep breathing and focusing on the present. When you are fully present, or have the mental dexterity to bring yourself back using your breath, it reduces anxiety. Think of it as training your mind to come back to center or back “home.”
Follow Your Breath
Dim the lights or close your eyes, and as you inhale (big breath in), trace the air as it enters your nose or mouth and goes into your lungs, and as you exhale (release), follow the air leaving your lungs and exiting your nose or mouth. Repeat for a few breaths.
This grounding technique gets more effective with practice. The key is to pay attention to your breathing, notice if your mind wanders, and if it does, say “that’s ok” and gently bring it back to the breath. Let your body lead and your mind will follow. Set a timer and try it for 2-3 minutes and build your practice from there.
2. Evaluate your lifestyle – Gain the upper hand by treating your body like the queen or king that it is. Commit to going to bed an hour earlier every day this week to get more sleep (ok, pick one night to start), get in at least one healthy meal (go light on the carbs), and embrace some form of exercise. These slight changes are rejuvenating and helps you better tackle the mental mind field of anxiety.
3. Utilize mantras – a positive personal statement that counters those unhelp automatic thoughts like “I’m never going to be successful” or “I messed up”. It can work wonders on one’s self-esteem, confidence, and even create a calming effect for you and your frazzled nerves. Try one like: “I am ____” and fill in the blank with what you need, like capable or strong. You can also try one of acknowledgment and reassurance, like “I am scared and I’m going to do this anyway”. There are even apps for this, so get connected and be consistent with your practice.
4. Practice saying “no” – often those with high-functioning anxiety overextend themselves by saying yes to every invitation thrown their way. Do yourself a favor and say “no thanks” every once in a while. You don’t even need to explain yourself or feel bad about it because having a healthy mind and choosing you first is reason enough.
5. Ask for help – You may be thinking, “I don’t want to burden anyone with my problems.” Many who struggle with these issues suffer in silence. Keep in mind that while deep breathing and affirmations go a long way, at some point you have to tackle the core issues you are probably avoiding. This is where therapy is dope and can help anxiety sufferers understand their love hate relationship with anxiety, unpack core beliefs, and teach how to break up with anxiety and enjoy your success. You deserve that.
Kensho Psychotherapy Services is located in Valley Stream, NY and specializes in Anxiety, Depression, and Trauma. Amanda Fludd LCSW-R is the Executive Director.