How to Manage High-Functioning Anxiety and Succeed
You may be familiar with this term. if you seek #high functioning anxiety On TikTok, you’ll find videos with more than 114 million views. But even if you don’t break out in rashes, you probably know what it’s like to go into fight or flight. reply where your heart rate increases and your thoughts begin to race. When this happens, his first instinct might be to avoid anything that causes him anxiety, such as getting on a plane or giving a presentation.
It’s important to note that while high-functioning anxiety isn’t a disorder, the distress experienced by people (like me) is very real. We often struggle with overthinking, dwelling on past mistakes, expecting the worst, and needing reassurance from others. But instead of trying to escape stressful situations, we push back our anxiety and manage to “succeed despite lingering feelings of fear, dread and unease,” he says. Tonya Lester, LCSW, a therapist practicing in Brooklyn, New York. “The anxious, high-functioning person believes that if she doesn’t feel nervous and agitated most of the time, she is either breaking free or about to become a total slacker.”
Why do we get stuck thinking that anxiety helps us succeed?
Growing up in an Indo-Caribbean family taught me that getting an education was the best way to honor my culture and earn the approval of my loved ones. I learned to cope with the loss by channeling my anxiety into school work. At 7 years old, I could not prevent my dad from dying nor could I, at 17 years old, alleviate the suffering my grandmother endured due to dementia. But I was able to control my anxiety long enough to get good grades despite my deteriorating mental health.
From the outside, someone with high-functioning anxiety may appear to have a plan for success. They tend to be great achievers, appearing calm, organized, and attentive to detail. Because they don’t want to risk failing or disappointing anyone, they often see anxiety as “fuel to get things done,” he says. Daryl Appleton, Ed.D., MDFortune 500 psychotherapist and executive coach. “While this may have some obvious advantages, such as improved performance and productivity, the disadvantages include perfectionism, imposter syndrome, and basing our value on what we do versus who we are.”
Being high-functioning is almost like anxiety’s version of “no pain, no gain.” By striving for perfectionism, we can get caught up in a procrastination cycle and then feel overwhelmed as we manage to meet deadlines. This cycle, which Dr. Appleton refers to as a “type of success delusion,” further reinforces that we need to be in a state of confusion to achieve our goals. As a society, because we often celebrate achievements like winning gold medals, reaching the top of the music charts, or getting into an Ivy League school, it can be hard to let go of high-functioning anxiety even when we’re trying hard. on the verge of fatigue and exhaustion.
Why it is important to change your relationship with anxiety
High-functioning anxiety is often rooted in perfectionism and low self-esteem, leading us to believe that our only choice in life is to be an eager super-achiever or a go-with-the-float loser. This type of thinking does not serve us and, too often, we are not even aware of it. An example from Lester shows this thought process in action: Imagine starting a job and your new boss tells you that his goal is to make you scared and unhappy all the time. Your boss constantly tells you that you are a failure, minimizes your ideas, berates you, and overlooks your achievements. “The anxious high-functioning person allows that boss to live inside his head,” he adds.
With high-functioning anxiety, we can get used to thinking that it’s normal, and perhaps beneficial, to feel nervous and overwhelmed all the time. But this is not true. “When our minds are clouded with fear, we are more likely to make careless mistakes and ignore innovative ideas,” says Lester. “Anxiety cuts us off from traits that are responsible for high performance, such as conscientiousness, creativity, and passion.”
How to Manage High-Functioning Anxiety Without Losing Passion or Drive
Although high-functioning anxiety is not a clinical disorder, you can still benefit from mental health support, especially if anxiety is interfering with your enjoyment of life. For example, if your goal is to change careers and you’ve been doing almost everything but sending out resumes, it’s easy to double down on procrastination by overloading yourself with work or social commitments to avoid a job search. In that case, Dr. Appleton recommends asking yourself, “Am I feeling pressured to achieve it because this is the goal I want? Or am I trying to win someone else’s approval?
Once you have a clear idea of the motivation behind your goals, you can determine what steps are needed to move you forward. Start by tracking your mood, looking for patterns like when minor stressors become more intense or prolonged, says Dr. Appleton. Take steps to reduce anxiety, like going for a walk, making sure you get enough sleep, and saying no to things you can’t fit into your schedule. As you consider your next career move, be sure to separate who you are from what you do, he adds, since your self-esteem can become entwined with your job title.
In addition to self-care, consider reaching out to a mental health professional who can help you challenge unhelpful thought patterns and develop new ways to deal with stress. For example, they may suggest trying what’s called a “reality test” by asking yourself, “Is what I’m telling myself true, or is there another way to look at this situation?” says Lester.
Remember that it is okay to feel anxious during difficult times. A reasonable amount of “pressure can sharpen our focus and help us respond appropriately to the issues at hand,” says Lester. Learning to manage anxiety is not about being carefree in the face of stress. Instead, it’s about practicing self-compassion by acknowledging mistakes as part of your growth and taking time to celebrate your accomplishments.
“High achievers who are motivated by passion, purpose, and curiosity are just as successful as those who are inspired by anxiety, and they enjoy their lives, too,” he says.