What the heck is high functioning anxiety? Well, let’s get clear on what anxiety is and the continuum in which we may see it.
First, let’s get clear on what anxiety is and the continuum in which we may see it.
Often when we think of mental health issues we can go to the more extreme ideas of what they look like. For example, many times when people think about depression they may imagine someone who cries and sleeps all the time and isolates themselves–even on the brink of suicide. Or, when someone thinks about an alcoholic or addict they envision someone who is drunk at all times and who has lost everything or a “junkie” who is shooting up drugs under a bridge. And then there is anxiety. Maybe people picture someone who cannot go out in social situations because they will have a panic attack. Maybe you picture someone with phobias.
Many times these are the expressions of an issue that has evolved for some time and the severity has increased. We hear over and over that there are invisible disorders, and higher functioning people tend to be the victims of this. When you are someone who performs well, if not optimally, at work, or they keep a beautiful house, and everything appears to be perfect, others may not see what is happening below the surface.
Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. We all experience anxiety from time to time. Anxiety becomes problematic when there is not an imminent event, however, there is worry about the possibility of there being one. High functioning anxiety looks like very controlled behavior. They do their best to control how they are perceived, that they are doing everything perfectly so that no one knows their vulnerabilities.
So, while on the outside everything looks “perfect,” on the inside there is a never ending the stream of thoughts that keep that person “wound tight”. They are scared to crack because they are afraid of their own anger. They are afraid of their own feelings of guilt and shame. They worry how people will treat them if they knew the truth about them. That they are just as messed up as everyone else (only the anxious person sees their “mess” as way worse than anyone else.).
The worst part of high functioning anxiety, and depression, for that matter, is that these people are less likely to seek out support/counseling. They don’t see themselves as that bad, compared to more of the stereotypical anxious people, and feel they just need to “suck it up.”
Anger and Anxiety
Anxiety and anger are closely related. Anger is a secondary emotion that is often a mask for other emotions we do not know how to communicate or express.
There is a book called “The Dance of Anger” by Dr. Harriet Lerner. She describes 2 types of women: The nice lady and the bitchy woman. I am sure that the difference is clear based on the names themselves; however, anxiety will often show itself in anger. The nice lady is a great example of a high functioning anxious person.
The nice lady does not voice anger; they give in, go along, and do not expose any clear difference between themselves and others. They are nice and accommodating, and who doesn’t love that? The anxious thought is that if I do expose myself, if I stand up for myself, people will be angry and possibly withdraw from me. Despite no evidence to support these fears, we allow those anxious thoughts to control our actions. We do our best to control the outcome, even if it means that I deny my own needs.
I believe that the nice lady is a great example of a high functioning, anxious person. The nice lady does not voice anger; they give in, go along, and do not expose any clear difference between themselves and others. They are nice and accommodating, and who doesn’t love that? The anxious thought is: “if I do expose myself, if I stand up for myself, people will be angry and possibly withdraw from me.” Despite no evidence to support these fears, we allow those anxious thoughts to control our actions. We do our best to control the outcome, even if it means that I deny my own needs.
We all know what happens when we stuff things for too long.
We explode, or as a client said to me recently, implode.
Healing the Anxiety
I recently saw an infographic on what mindful people “do”. The number 1 was that they do not believe all of their thoughts. I firmly believe in the power of mindfulness for curbing the unhealthy version of anxiety. Being able to monitor our thoughts and be able to accept them and examine where those thoughts come from. There is a great acronym that encourages this process which is FEAR: False Evidence Appearing Real.
We need to remember that all things are temporary, even the good things. They all roll in and out like waves.
Some are bigger waves than others; some more destructive than others, but they still roll out. It is said that emotions have a shelf life of 90 seconds. You may think that that is impossible, but that is because we don’t allow emotions to come and go. We fixate on them over and over which means that that emotion, which you are stuck in can last hours, if not days, or longer.
Think of commercials, as an example. They are approximately 90 seconds, they are made to elicit emotions. If one of those commercials for the ASPCA comes on and you feel angered and sad about those poor puppies (like me), you may find yourself still thinking about those puppies after the commercial has passed; you will have missed the next commercial(s) which was an odd but funny commercial such as these: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wOJNMNczZKU. When we get stuck in our head about worries, anxieties, and fears (WAFs) we miss out on other aspects of life.
We must remember to practice being present, not denying the pain that we feel, but to accept it into our lives and examine its influence on our day to day experiences. If you have high functioning anxiety and are needing assistance in how to “let go” of control please contact me at Mindful Wellness Counseling.