High Functioning Anxiety

6 Simple Ways To Cope With High Functioning Anxiety

Living with high functioning anxiety comes with a different set of struggles.

On the outside, ambition, helpfulness, and organization appear like admirable qualities. But what people often miss, is the vicious cycle of overthinking, self-doubt, and uncontrollable worry hidden behind the mask of success.

You don’t appear as the textbook definition of anxiety, yet you’re still in pain. One of the biggest challenges of high functioning anxiety is feeling like you have to prove your suffering.

Although it’s currently not a medical diagnosis, a lot of research is being done on ‘high functioning anxiety and many believe it will become recognized clinically.

The difference between Generalized Anxiety Disorder (or GAD) and high-functioning anxiety lies in the way you cope. Hustle harder, and push through it, it says. On the other hand, someone with GAD will avoid, withdraw, or even develop phobias. And because symptoms of high functioning anxiety are so rewarded and valued in society, it’s much more difficult to spot.

Here are some of the ways high functioning anxiety can show up in your life:

You’re an overachiever, but not because you “strive for success”. You may find your success is driven by a fear of not succeeding, or letting other people down. 

You’re great at appearing calm. People who know you may recognize your cool, collected exterior. But underneath the surface, there’s a fresh wave of panic ready to set in. You’ve prepared lists and plans for every potential scenario, but your efforts feel heavier over time and you start to feel overwhelmed.

You strive for perfection in everything you do, even if it stresses you out. You may even overcommit to things because saying “no” feels impossible.

You’re the friend that seems to have it all together, even though the way you feel on the inside is a different story. People don’t realize that you may be struggling, even on your good days.

You meet deadlines, but you’re exhausted afterward. High-functioning anxiety isn’t just feeling nervous or pressure under deadlines. It’s the feeling of having to be “on” constantly, even during the workday when a break from your responsibilities is necessary.

You’re social, but your mind is somewhere else. When you’re used to processing things at rapid speed (and in your head), being fully present with others feels impossible. You may even cancel plans entirely because you just don’t have the energy to “put on a show”

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If these are starting to sound like your autobiography, here are a few simple strategies that will help when you start feeling anxious, stressed, or overwhelmed:

1. Take regular breaks.

Rather than waiting for downtime, try scheduling your breaks. Even 5 minutes of calm can make a difference in your anxiety levels. But remember, don’t feel guilty about taking breaks. Look at them as investments of your time. They pay off later when you go back to being focused and productive!

2. Learn to tolerate uncertainty.

    • Acceptance.

      What we resist persists. Acceptance of reality is recognizing our feelings and allowing them to be there. Don’t try to fight irrational anxious feelings — acknowledge them and know that it’s okay to feel that way. This helps move past resistance behaviors and is the only way forward.

    • Thoughts aren’t facts.

      . We don’t have to believe every thought we have because they aren’t always realistic, or true. (let alone helpful)

    • Connect with your values.

      What’s most important to you in terms of work, relationships, play, mind, body, spirit? What would it look like to live out those values on a daily basis?

    • Stay present.

      The opposite of uncertainty isn’t certainty-it’s presence. How can you connect to more curiosity and open-mindedness every moment?

3. Meditate

You probably already know how awesome meditation can be. But, if you’re not a fan of it, try the “feet on the floor” method. It’s actually really simple but super effective and can be used as an alternative to meditation. It can be done either sitting or standing.

    • With your feet on the floor, focus on feeling your feet touching down. Feel your entire foot as much as you can: heel, sole, ball of foot, and toes. As you focus, take a few deep breaths. 
    • When you feel your feet on the floor, you become very present to the moment and get out of your head. This technique brings you into the moment and can help calm you down, particularly when you feel yourself spiraling with racing thoughts.

4. Try square breathing.

Inhale for four seconds, hold your breath for four seconds, exhale for four seconds. Then pause for four seconds before starting again.

If you hate other breathing techniques, don’t worry. Square breathing is quick, easy, and you can do it anywhere without anyone noticing. If you can’t envision a square in your mind, draw one on a piece of paper and go over each side of it as you breathe. You’ll be surprised how quickly this technique can ground you in about 2 minutes.

5. Practice cognitive defusion, or distance from your thoughts.

It allows you to practice observing your thoughts, rather than getting caught up in them. It’s not about determining whether your thoughts are true or false, or important or unimportant, or good or bad…it’s just about recognizing them for what they are: thoughts.

    •  The next time you feel overwhelmed with negative thoughts (or thoughts in general) try singing them or saying them in a funny voice-like Donald Duck. Hear the thoughts as if he were saying them.
    • Or, you can say “I am having the thought that…(insert thought here). This separates you from your thoughts, giving you more control over them. For example: “I’m having the thought that I’m going to fail that test”.

6. Practice self-compassion.

In the midst of feeling shame, guilt, or anxiety, remind yourself:

    • You are not lazy for needing to take a break.
    • You are not unproductive for needing more sleep, more rest, or for taking time off.
    • You do not need to feel guilt for wishing you would have done something different AFTER it has already occurred.
    • You are not required to support more than you can.

If you struggle with anxious, self-critical, racing thoughts and consider yourself an overthinker then don’t worry..I’ve got you…Check out The Overthinking Toolkit.

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Is Your Overthinking Sabotaging Your Success?

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Take the quiz!

Is Your Overthinking Sabotaging Your Success?

Take this quick quiz to find out whether your overthinking habit is holding you back from getting the success you know you deserve.


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Take this quick quiz to find out whether your overthinking habit is holding you back from getting the success (you know) you deserve.