I don’t think people fully understand what it feels like to live with “high-functioning” anxiety—unless you’re the one in the pilot’s seat.
“High-Functioning” Anxiety symptoms (although not a formal diagnosis recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) look and feel similar to Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), but the difference lies in the response. Those who suffer with GAD, tend to take more of a flight response. However, with “high-functioning” anxiety, the fight response kicks in and coping behaviors tend to look like pushing ourselves harder, striving for perfectionism, not letting others down, a focus on routines, seeking control with high achievements, difficulty processing “gray areas,” and a tendency to take a more black-or-white or right-or-wrong viewpoint on situations. “High-functioning” anxiety can also be hard to spot by others because the typical external symptoms of anxiety (sweating, panic attacks, difficulty concentrating, etc.) don’t often show.
It’s taken me a very long time just to get to this place and I am still navigating a lot of the challenges that living with “high-functioning” anxiety has bestowed upon me. It is not a fun place to exist in—restless and sleepless nights, excessive exhaustion, and mental breakdowns because you never feel “good enough” for the task at hand or you’re always ‘busy’ and overanalyzing everything.
Here are five things that help me survive:
1. Turn off the noise. Most things in life are simply just that: noise. We are inundated by advertisements, social media posts, TV series, and polarizing news stories. It’s OK to turn it down or even turn it off. There is peace in simplicity, quiet, and the unfollow button. Give it a try and see how much it makes a difference for you.
2. Take a break. When I feel like I’m climbing the walls and can’t deal with things, I catch myself spiraling with negativity. That’s when I know that I need a long timeout for myself. It could be a long weekend to look at different walls or just some much-needed time alone to process (journaling allows us to put those thoughts at the root of the stress onto blank pages).
3. Try to find a balance. We all have busy lives, but making time to be unbusy has become mandatory. I started making space to do this and really focused on protecting my peace. I just sit and listen to sounds around me. I take it all in by breathing and appreciating what the universe has given to me that I don’t always notice. Angela 1, Anxiety 0.
4. Quit putting stock in things that don’t really matter. I had to stop doing a lot of things I loved so I could reset. I had to have really tough conversations with myself about my purpose—what it is and what it is not. When it all feels like too much, take it one moment at a time.
5. Be gentle. There was a point in time when I would talk so badly about myself because it’s truly how I felt inside. I’m still growing, but I am learning to be kinder every day. I have been a people pleaser my entire life and it hasn’t gotten me anywhere but hurt. I’m learning to say “no” with grace and to be content with the results.
It’s a tricky thing, this “high-functioning” anxiety. The upside is that you get stuff done because your sense of drive and determination often festers as though your life depends on it. It helps me to stay creative and even approach things in a different way, but when it’s bad, oh it can be so ugly with the lies it tells. It helps me to stop and remember that I am not the only one who suffers from this mental health disorder, this trauma response.
At the end of the day, anxiety doesn’t define me. It isn’t who I am, it’s a part of who I am.
You are not your thoughts. Anxiety is not who you are—you deserve to know peace. We encourage you to use TWLOHA’s FIND HELP Tool to locate professional help and to read more stories like this one here. If you reside outside of the US, please browse our growing International Resources database. You can also text TWLOHA to 741741 to be connected for free, 24/7 to a trained Crisis Text Line counselor. If it’s encouragement or a listening ear that you need, email our team at [email protected].