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3 Ways to Cope with High-Functioning Anxiety

3. Slow down.

Key points

  • Focusing on someone’s performance tells you nothing about what they’re thinking or feeling.
  • Behind a cool and calm exterior, one may struggle with underlying anxiety.
  • Slowing down can help you observe and appreciate the small things that make life meaningful.
Nikita Vantorin/Unsplash
Source: Nikita Vantorin/Unsplash

One of the great fallacies plaguing our achievement-oriented society is that anxiety is found exclusively in people languishing in different facets of their lives. In other words, people who suffer from anxiety must be struggling on a professional, financial or interpersonal level.

This is the furthest thing from the truth. Focusing on someone’s performance tells you nothing about their thoughts or feelings.

I have worked with countless high-functioning people who struggle with anxiety behind a cloak of achievement. On the surface, they appear to be the epitome of success. They excel professionally and are determined to go the extra mile. They are flocked with requests because they can be counted on to get the job done. They are admired for their uncanny ability to balance competing work, family, and social responsibilities. The idea that they are experiencing anxiety, let alone suffering from it, seems outrageous.

But the anxiety is real. So is the suffering.

Behind the cool and collected exterior, anxiety is constantly gnawing at them. They worry about not meeting their lofty goals and letting down their boss, spouse and friends. Putting their guard down at the end of a stressful workday reveals pent-up irritability. They may be quick to snap at the slightest frustration at home, such as when their kids are loud or leave behind a small mess from playing.

They feel exhausted from the immense pressure of juggling numerous responsibilities. Yet, taking a break is a chore in itself. It induces a feeling of restlessness because they feel the urge to do more. Sleep becomes elusive because their overactive brain has picked the tranquility of the night as the ideal time to go into overdrive and worry about the next day.

To compensate for the fatigue, you may see an anxious achiever with a coffee mug at hand. To help unwind, they may have an alcoholic beverage or two at the end of the night.

If you identify with the above description, you may be experiencing high-functioning anxiety. Though not a clinical diagnosis, high-functioning anxiety is real and painful. Not meeting the criteria for an anxiety disorder and performing at a high level does not make you immune from anxiety or suffering.

High-functioning anxiety does not only impact you. It can also hurt your closest relationships. Being preoccupied with different worries prevents you from being emotionally present with the people who matter the most. Feeling constantly depleted or, worse yet, irritable does not foster intimacy in relationships.

If you recognize the impact of anxiety in your life, don’t lose hope. Here are three tips to help.

1. Give yourself permission to seek help.

A common misconception is that seeking help is reserved for desperate situations in which one struggles to get by. But why wait until the situation becomes dire?

You don’t have to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. It is ok to seek professional help to manage your anxiety even if, on paper, you are getting the job done. Performing well does not mean that anxiety is not impacting your health, life satisfaction, or interpersonal relationships.

2. Explore your expectations.

Our competitive society is obsessed with performance. Behaviors associated with achievement and the attainment of social status are on the rise. The problem is we have raised our bar of expectations to unattainable and unsustainable levels. You would never expect from others many of the things you demand of yourself.

Take a moment to reflect on the sheer number of expectations you subconsciously inherited from parental figures, friends, and society. Give yourself permission to drop the impossible expectations, especially those that no longer serve you. This is an essential step in reducing anxiety.

3. Slow down.

Our obsession with achieving more sabotages the “here and now,” which, ultimately, is all we are guaranteed. We have become so fixated on reaching future goals that we do not consider how such pursuits impact our relationships and overall happiness.

However, life cannot be reduced to the pursuit of goals. Nor is life a sprint. Make the most of your finite time by slowing down to observe and appreciate the small things that truly make life meaningful.

Finally, if you are experiencing any difficulty with anxiety symptoms, please contact your local healthcare provider or mental health professional for help. In case of a mental health emergency, please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency department.

To find a therapist, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

This article is not medical or therapy advice.

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