Theresa Lear Levine picture

Do You Have High Functioning Anxiety?

Today, we’ll talk about high functioning anxiety.

I’m kind of embarrassed I haven’t brought this up before because it’s something that I’ve had for a long time, but I didn’t realize what it was until more recent years. High functioning anxiety can show up commonly with ADHD, which I’ve been talking about more recently, so I wanted to make sure that we talk about it more.

So I would just like to shine a little of light into the corner of high functioning anxiety today. So that we can open the door to more conversations about this in the future.

Because I’ve helped many clients with this and also personally worked through these issues myself,

It puts me in a place of great empathy and understanding and allows me to coach in a little bit of a different way than perhaps someone who hasn’t lived through it themselves.

It really revealed a lot of patterns and behaviors that made untangling my own mental mess, easier.

And that’s what it’s all about, right?

Having good coping mechanisms, and having simple ways to manage the things that otherwise can really wash over us in negative and lasting ways.

Women with high functioning anxiety tend to be overachievers.

And are often successful and doing amazing things. Despite that, they’re still living with a high level of anxiety… this kind of consistent, persistent level of anxiety that underlies everything they do

That also leads them to feel unsatisfied and to be very hard on themselves.

The anxiety in this case normally has the effect of helping them to move forward, rather than anxiety that might prevent somebody from success or achievement. achieving a goal what have you. So that’s a little bit of a difference there because in both cases, there’s anxiety. But in one case, it’s a driver. And in another case, it is the block.

Here are some ways that high-functioning anxiety presents itself.

Let’s look at some of the ways that it can show up so that you can identify if it is what you’re dealing with.

Are you someone that always wants to finish things on your own? For instance, do you have trouble asking for help in your life, receiving assistance, or delegating things?

People that have trouble saying no, sometimes also fall into that whole, people-pleasing sort of category and an emotional need to do that as well.

I don’t have any trouble saying no. And I’ve, put a lot less emphasis and importance on what anybody else might think about it. So I’m, that’s something I’m very grateful for in my life. And those things people pleasing and lack of ability to say no, are part of a lack of boundaries.

If you have a really difficult time, with work-life balance and feeling like it is all overwhelming, or feeling like the pace of everything is faster than you could ever possibly keep up with, that’s also a symptom of high-functioning anxiety

If you’re having feelings of overwhelm and feeling like everything is coming at you in waves that can also be a symptom, a thing you might notice in somebody who is experiencing high functioning anxiety.

And unfortunately, burnout also goes hand in hand with overwhelm.

So if you’re living in periods of high overwhelm, then it’s a lot more likely that you can find yourself burnt out just really fatigued. I know that I have gone through periods of burnout.

I was often just like, “gosh, no, I have such good energy, why am I burnt out?” Maybe it’s my hormones, maybe it’s adrenal fatigue, maybe I was looking at all these different quarters.
But it didn’t occur to me during those previous periods of burnout, that my anxiety had worn me down. And I was just done Oh, and I can still find myself in those states.

But that can be a telltale sign of high functioning anxiety, and something that I’ve gotten a lot better about preparing for and dealing with the crashes that I used to have guys like when he would come back from a trip. It would sometimes be the whole weekend or several days of just this really exhausted state and just not even understanding why I felt that way.

I work out every day, I eat well, and I’m hydrated. Why do I just want to sit here and do nothing?

And why is my mind not functioning with clarity? Why do I feel like just somebody has turned off the switch and I can’t turn it back on is how it would feel.

We don’t have to live and work in ways that run us down and exhaust ourselves in order to get to the end goal that we think is the most important thing.

We all need to learn to be more and not do more.

There are ways that we can alter our states and get there without having to stress so freaking much along the way and suck every last bit of enjoyment out of the actual goal achievement because that is not the goal, is it?

Nobody’s ever like, “I want to achieve this amazing goal and while I’m doing it, I want to be miserable, burnt out, rundown, mentally exhausted, and of no real service or use to my family, not feeling present in my day-to-day moments, not getting to enjoy, cherish and appreciate the things I say that I value most. And that’s how I’m going to achieve my goal“… Said no one friggin ever, right? And yet, that is the way that people with high functioning anxiety go about achieving goals.

And I know because it’s how I used to go about it too. And it sucked. So just putting that out there in case there’s anybody out there that is chasing goals, passionately.

But with complete disregard, for their own quality of life. And even sometimes the quality of life of those around them, while they scurry, hustle, grind all these things that are actually unnecessary for their goal achievement.

Okay, just a little something to chew on there. And type A personalities…. That’s also full of traits that are going to present themselves as high-functioning anxiety. So just that, that big-time ambition that needs to be highly organized. And I’ll put that out there because, you know, high functioning anxiety ADHD, a lot of times organization is a huge downfall for people with ADHD.

But with high functioning anxiety, a lot of times you’ll find yourself making a list about your list. Breaking down your list into more lists.

Overworking can also be a key indicator that you’re dealing with HFA, aka High-Functioning Anxiety.

So if you’re somebody that feels like, you cannot be still with yourself, you constantly need to be doing something like busy is a badge of achievement, you might be doing this.

That is something that definitely used to be me, and something that I have to remain conscious of because I can easily get back there. And I’ve worked through my issues on this one.

And I know there are themes of avoidance and numbing, and just not wanting to sit with certain feelings. And I’ve taken the time to sit with them and to use EFT tapping to get through them.

I can show up differently. Since I’ve done that. And you know what, it wasn’t painful.

And it wasn’t as difficult as I liked to tell myself it was going to be before I did the work. So important to know, guys, because somebody out there that’s reading this is avoiding doing self-work on something, because you don’t want to revisit it, you think it’s going to hurt, you think that it’s gonna be more painful to face that bothersome memory, that habit, that reality that you’re living with right now.

And then it is to just keep living with it. And it’s not true. It’s you can tell yourself a better life than that guys.

And if you need help working through it, that’s the stuff I help people with, working through traumas, working through those feelings that are so tough to sit with, and learning how to just be with yourself, the way you are worthy and enough working towards your goals, releasing goal trauma, and becoming that greatest version of you. That is honestly already in there.

So if you’re an over worker, you’re just constantly busy, constantly go, go, go won’t sit with yourself won’t get calm.

And still, you’re probably carrying around a pretty high level of stress from high functioning anxiety. And perfectionism is also a really big player here.

I consider myself a recovering perfectionist. And I look at it much the way that an alcoholic looks at being a recovering alcoholic, like, once you’re a perfectionist is you’re kind of always one but you’re learning ways to get further and further away from it.

And to build those coping mechanisms and those beliefs and things that allow you to know that, you know, Done is better than perfect, right? And perfect. Not a real thing anyway. So why are we chasing it?

I think the answer there lies in the fact that we believe, again, it’s stories, wherever they came from. We believe somehow that we have this control over things.

And we are so friggin scared to surrender that control that terrifies us. Yet, we never had control, to begin with.

We are clinging to just empty ideas that we can’t bring to fruition anyway.

We have to put that need to be perfect aside, guys. Because it doesn’t exist, the control doesn’t exist. And time is friggin fleeting.

You actually want to do what you say you want to do in this lifetime. You have got to show up differently. Nobody cares. If you missed a period in your sentence, or you forgot to cross a tee or you stuttered or you repeated yourself or you’re a day late or whatever. Like in the scheme of things.

Do these things matter? Five minutes from now, a month from now, five years from now. Do they matter?

If the answer is no, you need to give yourself some grace and start just showing up and doing your thing and stop worrying about all the little nitpicky details that are keeping you from you.

They’re keeping you from your best self, they’re not making you better, and they’re not making the end product better.

They’re just keeping you separate from all the greatness that you’re trying to achieve. When you try to rein in that level of control. That doesn’t exist anyway. Okay. So, again, needing to be busy all the time, you need to be a perfectionist, and just always be productive. If it kills you, that a day passed, and you were not feeling productive. There’s probably some high functioning anxiety. I know that one still hits me because productivity is something that I, bask in, I love a day that is both enjoyable and productive. It’s like, the perfect blend for me if I can get when I get days like that, especially if you can throw in some good focus, and some good food and some family time.

And it’s just a little bit of everything, like, that’s my perfect day. They don’t happen all that often.

So if that’s the only thing that I want to register as being a great day, I’m gonna have a lot of days that I don’t feel like are very great.

I have learned to, work around that one too. And to realize that even on the days, when I would want to criticize myself for not being productive, still doing more than most people do.

I really got to give myself some grace there. So I have, and I encourage you to do the same because you’re probably doing far more than you’re giving yourself credit for, you are not celebrating your little wins.

And it’s time to do that, genuinely do that. So when you’re that critical of yourself, that is another sign of high functioning anxiety.

And usually, it’s your own expectations that you’ve set for yourself, that you’re being critical about.

A lot of times, it’s not even something that anybody else is holding you up to. Sometimes it is.

When you’re putting yourself in those situations, and you’re putting those expectations, dialing it up super high, super perfect, super got to do it just right, you’re probably also going to find that you’re experiencing the symptom of not being able to relax very well at all.

So, it’s all going to start kind of clicking with you, if you’re somebody that lives in any of these states, then you probably have anxiety, whether you knew that or not, and probably has high functioning anxiety. And a need to appear successful is important. And comparison can come up a lot with high functioning anxiety, comparing yourself to others.

And we all know that that’s the thief of joy.

Positive and negative comparisons are not always the way to feel better about anything.

Sometimes it’s impossible to avoid comparison, in certain conversations, lines of work, that kind of thing. But just being more conscious of it and where it is not helpful can really be helpful. And overthinking. Oh, this is one this is a big, big hallmark of high functioning anxiety, overthinking, having a hard time making decisions. And just that whole, like, you know, they talk about analysis paralysis.

That’s exactly what happens. A lot of times when you have high functioning anxiety, you get stuck.

The stuckness is a huge thing to do and with stuckness comes procrastination. And it’s this loop. It’s this loop of, you know, you want to do all the things you want to be super productive and yet, you’re getting stuck, you’re overanalyzing, you are completely paralyzed and you’re not moving forward.

So you end up with more anxiety and more frustration and you know, more need for the over-organized over a planned structure that you believe is going to bring you to the next thing which comes back to that whole it’s time to be and not do and allow your energy to take a role in the accomplishment Instead of trying to make it all a mind game, our mind can’t heal this.
This comes down to a nervous system.

And, you know, bringing together all of our four bodies that I talk about all the time, the mental, the emotional, the physical, and the spiritual.

And it is work worth doing. Because otherwise you get lost in the details, you get lost in the overall organization. And you get lost in over-preparation, and you never feel ready, you never feel prepared, no matter what you do.

And you never feel like it’s perfect enough. So and you don’t want to appear that way.

As someone who has high functioning anxiety, you want to appear efficient, you want to appear organized, you want to appear confident, you want to appear like you’ve got it all together. And a lot of the time, you don’t.

And that’s okay, that’s okay.

But it’s not okay if you end up ruminating in these negative circles, about the things that are not working out for you, or that are not going as planned. And that can be difficult when you are in a loop of over-planning.

And then you’ve planned and you’ve really, really thought about it, and you know how it should work. And then it doesn’t, you can really start to ruminate when things get that way. And then you start worrying about the judgment of other people and all sorts of other things. And let’s not forget that our high-functioning anxiety can also have physical symptoms.

So it’s not just all this stuff that’s happening in our heads and our hearts, it’s the stuff that’s happening in our bodies.

You can break out in sweats, you can have a hard time getting a deep breath. And you can notice that maybe your heart feels like it’s beating out of your chest.

Sometimes, you can also have, like, pulled muscles, muscle tension, aches and pains in your body, all sorts of things that can manifest as a result of living in this high-stress level.

So it’s definitely worth calming your nervous system so that everything can lower the resistance and feel better. And, you know, with overthinking can come, like I said that the negative rumination, but also, you can end up in a cycle of like worst case scenario type stuff in your head.

And that’s not helpful either. But it’s common, a common thing that happens to people with anxiety is that you know, you end up thinking, gosh, like, what’s the worst thing that could happen, and then you start kind of living that scenario out in your head, and you forget to play the opposite game, which is what’s the best thing that could happen.

And that’s a fun game to play, versus what’s the worst thing that can happen. I can also show up with like, you know, be like a nail biter or other, you know, negative habits, maybe you always have to chew gum, or you’re like chewing the caps on your pens or doing some kind of a nervous habit, you know, picking out your cuticles, or some people like biting their lip or end up with these things that are almost like tics that they just tend to do over and over again.

And that isn’t awesome, either. Right?

Definitely worth checking your habits, to see if they feel like they’re being driven by nervous energy, anxious energy, by a need to appear or show up in a way that is honestly above and beyond what humans are supposed to do.

And this is also another area where it can get a little confusing with ADHD because focus and concentration can be hard when you’re anxious.

So a lot of times people have ADHD, they also have anxiety. And sometimes only one is misdiagnosed and not the other. Because symptoms can be similar. You know, it’s the same thing with trauma, and ADHD. There are a lot of similar symptoms going on there.

Sometimes people don’t realize that they have both, and they only think they have one or the other. And there are different ways to treat each of them and different modalities that can be helpful.

So again, it’s just one of those areas where some increased consciousness can really make a really big difference and help you to be able to relax better, to be able to sleep better, because a lot of times anxiousness can lead to sleep disruptions, insomnia, and just not getting that really restful sleep. or enough hours.

I know that for me, insomnia showed up hardcore when my youngest was. Because when I was pregnant with them, and then that first year, and, of course, it was easy to say it’s because I’m pregnant. It’s because I have a newborn, it’s because they’re waking up so much, I’m waking up.

But even when I could sleep, I couldn’t let go of my thoughts enough to get good sleep. And it was during that time that I came back to essential oils and crystals and meditation in a more in-depth way, I was already meditating daily, and it was still like, not enough.

And I learned about binaural beats and self-hypnosis, and so many other things that I still use and employ to this day that is majorly helpful. And I sleep so well, these days, it’s amazing to go from feeling helpless about being able to sleep.

And you know how it is, especially when you have a baby or young kids. And you know that like your day, even if I mean for me because I’m working at home mom.

So technically, if I didn’t have other people to worry about, I could sleep when I need to sleep and I could be awake when I need to be awake. But when you’re a mom, in general, you just don’t have that flexibility.

And when you have a baby, and they wake up when they want to and they’re upset about something or they need to eat or whatever.

There you have no control, even less than normal, over when you get to sleep, rest and do the things that you want to do in the order that you want to do them… which is triggering for people with ADHD and anxiety, both of which really benefit from routine.

So just mentioning that for new moms out there, just moms in general, sometimes those younger years with kids can be really, really difficult when you have anxiety or ADHD.

Because while we love babies, sometimes the baby phase is a huge challenge to our organization or need for routine.

And it can really elevate anxiety, insomnia, a lot of that kind of stuff.

Those are all symptoms and ways that this shows up.