Finding peace with high-functioning anxiety

Finding peace with high-functioning anxiety

One of my favorite quotes is: “Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind.” While there is debate over who originally penned these words, their message is clear. Every person we encounter is carrying something we are unaware of — such as grief, stress, health issues, etc. In any given moment, we are presented with an opportunity to make the world a little lighter through kindness, gentleness, and understanding.

Needless to say, tensions are running high these days. The political climate and pandemic have created an atmosphere of unrest — and this is in addition to the personal challenges we each endure in our daily lives. Showing kindness to others has never been more important, but it’s also essential that we reflect that kindness back to ourselves.

Many of us live with an undercurrent of anxiety that propels us into perfectionism, achievement, and self-criticism. If you find yourself analyzing your interactions, worrying about the future, and striving to please others, you may benefit from learning more about how to cope with high-functioning anxiety. From my own personal experience with high-functioning anxiety, I can confidently say that it has pros and cons and—with a little awareness—high-functioning anxiety can be channeled in a way that works for you, rather than against you.

A common misconception about anxiety is that it always results in paralyzing fear and debilitating stress. While this may be the case for many anxiety disorders, high-functioning anxiety can present much differently. Those with high-functioning anxiety may appear calm, but they often feel a sense of worry on the inside. Because of this, many people with high-functioning anxiety are unaware that not everyone experiences symptoms like overthinking, nervous habits, and a need to please — and as a result, they don’t take measures to alleviate their condition.

Before diving deeper into the ‘negative’ aspects of high-functioning anxiety, it’s important to understand that it can also express itself in very positive ways.

10 Positive Characteristics of People with High-Functioning Anxiety (from @theanxietyhealer):

  • Overachieving
  • Proactive
  • Positive
  • Outgoing
  • Organized
  • Neat and tidy
  • Detail-oriented
  • Social
  • Helpful

Thanks to these common attributes, many people with high-functioning anxiety are successful and pleasant to be around. However, the same behaviors that cause these positive characteristics can also be expressed in less beneficial ways.

10 Struggles for People with High-Functioning Anxiety:

  • Inability to say ‘no’
  • Overthinking
  • Mental and physical fatigue
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Appearing unattached and distant
  • Worrying about the future
  • Procrastination
  • Nervous habits
  • Need for reassurance
  • Preoccupation and difficulty relaxing

So while high-functioning anxiety often results in a hard-working, likeable nature, it also comes with some downsides that make it more difficult to enjoy all the beauty that life has to offer. Fortunately, there are some simple practices that can keep the negative facets of high-functioning anxiety at bay—many of which are free.

10 Cost-free Practices for Manage Anxiety:

  • 5-4-3-2-1- Grounding Technique: Acknowledge 5 things you can see, 4 things you can feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, 1 thing you can taste.
  • 4-7-8 Breathing Technique: Inhale through the nose for 4 seconds, hold breath for 7 seconds, exhale forcefully through the mouth for 8 seconds. Repeat up to 4 times. 
  • Cold exposure: Take a 15-30 second cold shower, apply a cold washcloth to your forehead, or put ice on your wrists for 10 seconds.
  • Follow a restorative yoga video.
  • Do a guided meditation.
  • Drink a mug of herbal tea.
  • Go for an unplugged nature walk.
  • Call a loved one.
  • Journal for 15-30 minutes.
  • Listen to calming music.

These strategies are very effective for self-regulation when you can feel anxiety welling up within you. If you’re financially able, you may want to consider implementing some other coping strategies that encourage mental wellbeing and internal balance. 

3 Investments for Managing Anxiety:

If the characteristics of high-functioning anxiety resonate with you, you may consider introducing some of these beneficial coping strategies into your daily life. Fortunately, high-functioning anxiety can be self-regulated so long as you can recognize the symptoms and are familiar with practices that alleviate them. 

Above all, remember to show yourself kindness when worry and fear arises, and focus on your positive traits rather than dwelling on the negative. Bring this gentleness and care into your interactions with others, understanding that everyone we encounter is fighting a battle we know nothing about.