How I Manage My High Functioning Anxiety

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Okay, let’s first start with the fact that I didn’t even know I had any kind of anxiety let alone heard of high functioning anxiety until I came across this Thought Catalog listicle. I thought I just went through stints of stress just like anyone else. Until I dove into the rabbit hole that is Google and poof, like magic, it all made sense.

To be completely honest, I almost didn’t write this blog. I kept hesitating and procrastinating. I even told myself there were more important things to do like laundry, dishes, meal prep, cleaning my apartment, etc. But then it hit me: I am seriously hesitating to write this particular blog post because I’m ashamed to admit that I suffer from anxiety. Shit.

But therein lies the problem, right?

Mental health issues are still taboo and not talking about it doesn’t help either. In fact, it just perpetuates the vicious cycle. I can’t just tip toe around anxiety in a past blog on how nature helps with my anxiety but yet not talk about it. Right? Right. That’s dumb and not brave at all. Most importantly, I’m not about that life. I love to challenge myself to be my best self, as corny as that sounds.

So I’m going to take you through the signs that Thought Catalog mentioned, which anxiety coach Palak Vani of shared her insights on as well, and what I do to help myself when I’m in it.

1. You’re constantly called “type A” or “anal retentive” or just “a perfectionist.”

I’ve been called a perfectionist and I used to take offense to this but now I just see it as “I’m the girl who gets shit done.” In my mind, I am just doing what I am supposed to be doing: working really, really hard, especially for a career that I chose and love like journalism. But, Vani says that people may get “very anxious if things are not done a particular way,” which I relate to on so many levels. I like being efficient and avoid being wasteful when doing almost anything. That’s one way wherein this affects anyone else because if they let’s say clean a certain way, I think to myself, “Damn, if you’d just listened to me, you could’ve saved yourself like an hour and lots of energy.” But I’m learning to just let people do their thing.

2. You have little ticks that manifest physically, but they just seem like “bad habits” to the outside eye.

In other words, body focused repetitive behaviors like nail biting, hair picking, knuckle cracking, and lip chewing says Vani. I used to bite my nails as a kid and while I kicked the habit I do find myself picking at my nails if I’m feeling a little anxious about work, writing, etc. But I combat that by keeping a fresh manicure on a regular basis. I can’t ruin a good manicure. It hurts my heart. Vani even says, “many people this sort of thing because of anxiety, while others do so in response to stress or boredom.”

3. You don’t know when to say when.

According to Thought Catalog, saying “no” is hard for people with high functioning anxiety and this couldn’t be more me. In college, it was so bad that I was in about 5 or 6 clubs and yet still found time to party. I got about 4 hours sleep a night my first year but it wasn’t until my roommate saw exhausted I was that she told me I was taking on too much. She said I had “Mother Teresa” tendencies and it was her (thank God!) who taught me how to say no without feeling guilty. But this is still a tendency I have to fight on an going basis. Funny story: I even had a guy I dated call me an “over booker”, ha! I here I thought I was doing a good job at covering it up. To handle this, I constantly have to look at my calendar and make sure I am scheduling (literally!) time for my mental health, well-being, and do whatever I want to do.

4. You can relate to the idea of “compartmentalizing” your emotions.

I am not sure if this is just the way I was raised or a skill I’ve had to learn how to master working in news. My mother was always telling me to never let them see you sweat and I was told from day 1 at my internship to never bring home to work. Meaning leave your emotions and problems at the door because we are here to work. Which is a good skill to have on so many levels, but I think it poured into my personal life because I find myself being a little emotional delayed when shit hits the fan. I see the dramatic emotional problem, realize it might not be the best time to deal with it then, and then file it away in some cabinet in my brain. Without fail, 3 days later, I am crying at absolutely and I don’t know why. So, in order to not lose my mind, I try to assess and process things as they come to avoid an unnecessary spill over days later.

5. And because of this, you’ve been called “stoic” or “unemotional” even when that couldn’t be farther from reality.

I handle a crisis or emergency in a calm and collected manner and act accordingly. My former therapist said that I “jump into survivor” mode and people like me are really good ER doctors or firefighters. But not everything is an emergency! Now I write it out or call my best friends to vent because, according to Vani, bottling things up can lead to unnecessary anxiety later, or worse a panic attack. And, nobody wants that!

6. You joke about having FOMO — but it’s much bigger than that.

I think this has a lot to do having trouble saying “no” to things because there is fear of missing out on a good opportunity or being there for a friend or family member. I’ll then think to myself, “Then, if I can’t be there for a friend, does that mean I am being a bad friend?” This might be my biggest stressor lately because I am so busy at my new gig at a startup, podcast, and now writing that I often have to say no to insanely fun activities and it breaks my heart.

7. You worry about opening up because you’ll be accused of “not getting it” because you seemingly live a normal day-to-day life.

This might be everyone and anyone that suffers from anxiety or another mental health issue. The #1 misconception is that because I am functioning then it “must not be that bad” but that doesn’t mean anything. But this is the main reason why I am sharing my story so that others know that they aren’t alone and can share and own their truth.

8. You lose a lot of sleep.

Vani and Thought Catalog both agree that many people who suffer from anxiety have trouble sleeping because our minds start racing as soon as our heads hit the pillow. When your mind is going a mile a minute, and (yikes) if you’re ambitious, you better believe it’s hard to just go to sleep like others do. If I don’t make sleep a priority then I won’t just feel shitty the next day but seriously anxious. So now I know to invest in some SleepyTime Tea (with valerian!) and take a melatonin if possible, if I see I am not tired at all at night.

9. Most people would just call you an “overachiever.”

I have no quams about going above and beyond and I’m proud of my work ethic. But, as Thought Catalog so perfectly put it, “people only see the achievement part, not the stress, the anxiety, the sleeplessness, and the self-deprecation that it took to get there.” And, this couldn’t be more true.

10. You joke about needing to be busy to be happy.

I cannot believe I used to joke about this and, even worse, set my self-worth on how productive I was that day or week. Phew! I am awesome whether or not I go to the gym, run some errands, etc. There is only so much satisfaction you can get from checking off that to-do list. It took breaking old habits and relying on my Google calendar to see what was a priority and what was just a distraction. Seeing how you spend your time can blow your mind. But Vani says, distracting and avoiding are not the most effective long-term responses to anxiety.

11. One of your biggest fears is letting people down.

The amount of self-imposed pressure I have put on myself over the years is kind of bananas. Once I let the deep dark cave that is my mind take over I start questioning if the thing or person I said no was the right decision or I am letting my parents down by not doing them that favor. But, in order to keep myself honest and accountable, I now always ask myself if I did the best I could for that thing or person and if the answer is yes then I keep it moving.

If you’ve ever felt like this then know you aren’t alone. It took me a while to realize that while I may suffer from anxiety from time to time, it doesn’t mean that I am any less awesome. It just means that I get a visit from the anxiety monster a bit more often than other people.

But if you do feel this way and haven’t gotten therapy, I suggest you do. It’s the best decision I ever made in my life and I still use the tools that she recommended so long ago. <3