Coping with High Functioning Anxiety

Identifying and understanding how to manage life with anxiety.

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Photo by DISRUPTIVO on Unsplash
Photo by DISRUPTIVO on Unsplash

About 40 million adults deal with an anxiety disorder at any given time, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). In fact, anxiety is very common and prevalent int he African American community and is often a key indicator for those who have attempted suicide. To narrow it down even further of those dealing with anxiety there are a percentage that suffer from “high functioning” anxiety. This type of anxiety is essentially covered up and passed off with a smile. People dealing with high functioning anxiety often come off as excelling in work and life and are able to handle most things that come their way. They are confident and high achieving making their suffering go unnoticed, and/or not taken seriously by those around them.

What does high functioning anxiety look like?

People dealing with high functioning anxiety often suffer in silence for quite some time and struggle with first fully understanding what is going on with them, but then how to communicate it to others. These are a few signs of high functioning anxiety in real life.

  1. You worry excessively
  2. Your anxiety is interfering with your daily life
  3. You excel in your career, but struggle so much in your personal life
  4. Your routine getting disrupted makes you feel upset and you cannot seem to get back on track
  5. Your feelings get dismissed by others because you do not seem like you “need help” to others around you
  6. You talk negatively to yourself often
  7. Your mind never stops racing
  8. You can’t sleep and often find yourself up for hours
  9. You focus on being perfect and if it isn’t you can not let it go
  10. Things people don’t pay any attention to you obsess over

Generalized Anxiety Disorder vs High Functioning Anxiety

The major difference between Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and High Functioning Anxiety is (1) the ability to show up even when you don’t want to and (2) meeting many of the characteristics of anxiety without having the actual diagnosis. GAD is classified as having extreme worry or fear that interferes with your ability to function and take part in life; however those suffering from high functioning anxiety although may have extreme worry, lack of sleep and poor concentration thy are are still showing up at work and in their personal lives.

How to Manage Your Anxiety

There are several techniques you can use to help manage your anxiety. These activities will help to ground you back into the present moment, distract you from your anxious thoughts and hopefully calm you down so that you can move forward in your activity. There is no substitute for getting professional help; however learning how to effectively cope with your anxiety day to day can be very beneficial.

5 senses grounding technique – Using your 5 senses can help bring you back to the present moment. It is not only a great distraction but a simple technique that you can try at any time. Start either in your chair or standing still the point is to still your body. Next close your eyes and breath in and out through your nose and count to 3 when you breathe in and count to 3 when you breathe out. When you open your eyes you are going to focus on identifying your senses. Now out loud you need to do the following:

5- things you can see: these need to be things close in proximity to you either in the room or in your immediate direction.

4- things you can feel: again focus on what you can feel in close proximity. Think of things such as how your skin feels, how you clothes feel, the furniture etc.

3- things you can hear: pay close attention to the noises around you. Are you in traffic listen for the cars, the wind, if you are in a store listen for people talking, shopping carts etc.

2- things you can smell: this is pretty self explanatory. Whatever you can smell around you will do.

1- things you can taste: if you know that you feel anxious from time to time and will use this exercise carry pieces of candy with you to make this part easier.

End with taking a deep breathe and then attempt to move forward in calmer manner. If it did not work try it again from the beginning to calm down.

Hold onto something and focus – For this technique find something in your house or close proximity that is textured that you can hold and feel and something that you do not mind looking at to focus your attention on. In the moment bring your full attention to it and describe what it looks like, how it feels in your hand. Make note of all things including how heavy it is, the color and make an effort to focus on every little detail that you might not notice on a regular interaction with it that object. If you know you are going to be in stressful situations keep a small object with you in your purse or pocket to help you do this technique easily. Remember to breathe and come back to the moment.

Distract yourself- The main purpose of this technique is to take your mind off of whatever is causing you worry. Bring your mind back to focus on something that is less stressful and less emotionally draining. You can pick a color and then direct your attention to all things that are that particular color. It is simple for example if you pick blue focus on all things blue in close proximity to you. Another way to distract yourself would be to count backwards from 100, 50, or 25 if whatever number works for you. It takes mental focus so it is a great distraction from your current anxious thoughts.

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