If you have high functioning anxiety, it can feel like a big struggle to get through the day. Even though you are able to accomplish tasks and connect well in social situations, inside you are a ‘bundle of nerves.’
If you spin with mental and emotional energy, you might feel wired, or tired – or both. If you start to constrict the activities you do because you are worried something bad will happen, then its time to do something about it.
How would you know if you have high-functioning anxiety? Here are 6 signs:
The most obvious sign you are anxious about is the nature of the thoughts running through your mind much of the day. Anxiety will show up as “worries”. You might be worried that you’ll get unexpectedly bad news at work, that bad thing will happen to you or your family.
These days our concern over the ‘state of the world’ has grown more intense, and you might even experience a sense of impending doom. You might feel a personal fear about the future that you hadn’t noticed before.
2. Body complaints
Signs of anxiety can come in many forms, including muscle tension, trouble sleeping, getting sick a lot, and gastrointestinal distress. Sometimes you might feel anxiety from a rapid heart rate that gives you a sense of panic.
Anxiety can even manifest as body complaints even when you don’t ‘feel anxious’. And once you have a body complaint you might fixate your attention on it and worry that it has exaggerated importance or threat to you.
Most people have one or more ‘phobias’ (a heightened fear of something that appears “irrational” because objectively the situation isn’t dangerous to you). For example, I feel claustrophobic – fear of being in a small area with no escape-so I have to manage my anxiety on a regular basis when I get into elevators or public transportation. If you have a phobia around a situation you encounter frequently, it can start to feel like a constant stream of anxiety.
4. “Too much” stress
If you are like many women, you have ‘too much to do and not enough time’. You will have an overactive “On” button that you are not balancing with enough time for your body to be “Off” and recover. You start to wear down the ‘feel-good’ hormones in your body and deplete the minerals that give you a sense of calm. If you feel that way for a long time it can accumulate into a feeling of ‘it’s just too much.’
5. Perfectionism/ Need to control
When you are anxious it feels that the world is out of control, and your natural response will be to have as much control as possible. However, if you have high functioning anxiety then your need for order is probably heightened. Are you a person who needs things to look perfect, or be in perfect order? Do you do things over and over until they are just right because it drives you crazy if something is “off”? Do you call yourself (or do other people tease you about being ‘compulsive’?)
6. Compulsive Behaviors
You might find that you use external substances in order to soothe your anxieties. When you feel anxious you might run to the kitchen for emotional eating, you might pour yourself a glass of wine, or take other substances that may or not be legal where you live. Or some women engage in behaviors like seeking sexual encounters to soothe an uncomfortable feeling of emptiness inside.
It’s not easy to feel anxious all the time. A good thing to do is share your experience with your doctor, and also learn about how unbalanced hormone levels can increase anxiety. You always want your mantra to be: “maximize what you CAN control.” Here are some specific actions you can take to help you smooth out your days and sustain yourself when you have high functioning anxiety:
1. Practice routines that will keep your mind and body in a steady-state
Your mind follows your breath. The fastest way to calm your mind is to change your breath. The simplest response you can make to anxiety in the moment is to take 5-10 slow deep breaths. Our automatic way of breathing when anxious or stressed is shallow and rapid, this keeps your body in a state of alert. Instead, start your slow, deeps breathing from your belly so you can take in as much oxygen as possible. Having a regular meditation or yoga routine, or regular use of calming apps are some of the best antidotes to high anxiety.
2. Understand the source of your anxiety
Try to trace when your anxious feeling got activated so you can start to know yourself and what ‘triggers’ an anxious reaction. Develop a strong relationship to your own self – so you can examine what’s objective and reality-based about your worries, along the lines of the famous quote by American author Mark Twain “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.” Learn to ‘talk back’ to your worries and to doubt your doubt.
3. Find alternative ways of soothing yourself
Approach your day with mindfulness. Learn ways of soothing yourself without anxious eating or drinking.
4. Press the “Anxiety Reset Button”
If you are feeling acutely anxious you can always “press the anxiety reset button”. This is an acupressure point located on the inside of the base of your 3rd finger. How does it work? There is a ‘sac’ around your heart that constricts when you get nervous. When you touch the acupressure point it sends a signal through the nerve up your arm to relax that ‘sac’ and help you breathe deeply.
5. Confine your Worry
Set aside a designated time to ‘allow yourself’ to worry. Write or speak into your phone or dump out your worries during this time. When you have anxious thoughts at other times during the day you can jot them down and ‘save them’ for your ‘worry time’. You can also do this with someone you trust – you each allow yourself x number of minutes to worry, and vent, and ‘get out’ all your concerns without expecting to take any action on them.
The best thing to do is to have a purpose for these worry times. Sometimes you just need to ‘get them out’ of your head.
6. Keep yourself calm
Caffeine and other stimulants tend to make you feel even more ‘wired’ and potentially chaotic in your mind. Create a calming environment around you. Try inhaling essential oils that are made from relaxing sources like lavender, or vanilla, or cinnamon (or rub some on your wrists or under your nose to get an effect of calming your nerves.)
And the most important thing is to be kind to yourself. The feeling of anxiety is uncomfortable and it takes a lot of courage and self management to move through it many times a day and still ‘have a life’.