Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash
The Face of High Functioning Anxiety–It isn’t what you’d expect.
I have been working with a particular client for some time; I will call her Jane. Jane is an amazing woman. This leader is well liked in her work place. She is funny and creative. Jane often struggles with the same things that many leaders do; staff dynamics, tight deadlines, slim budgets, and high performance goals. However, Jane has learned to take things in stride and her performance in the workplace is rock solid. So why would she need to work with me? Because what I haven’t told you is that Jane has High Functioning Anxiety.
At the time, I didn’t have a ton of experience with High Functioning Anxiety. Obviously, I knew something about anxiety. We all have it. And…to a certain extent, anxiety is a good thing. It keeps you alert, sensitive to your surroundings, and safe. There has been more and more media coverage about the topics of anxiety and depression and the need to normalize mental illness. However, I assumed that if you struggled with anxiety, it negatively impacted your day-to-day functioning. Then, I met Jane and I knew at that time, I needed to get educated about High Functioning Anxiety.
What Does High Functioning Anxiety Look Like?
Similar to other disorders, anxiety exists on a spectrum of severity, symptoms, and treatments. With High Functioning Anxiety in particular, I discovered some incredible information that not only helped Jane but helped me too! Did you know that people with High Functioning Anxiety are typically very successful people (overachievers) holding elevated leadership positions? They are very intelligent, hard working, and productive people. They are also masters at hiding their condition not only from the external world but even their closest loved ones. In fact, people with High Functioning Anxiety mask their anxiety in their overdoing, overthinking, and over-performing which is why it is so difficult to spot. They appear successful, confident, and altogether.
What to Look For
Some common symptoms experienced by people with High Functioning Anxiety are:
- Excessive worry
- Sore back, neck, shoulders
- Fatigue yet unable to sleep
- Avoidance of social situations
- Inability to complete simple daily routines
- Feelings of not being good enough
- Over-analysis, obsessing, ruminating
- Aversion to noise
How Can I Help High Functioning Anxiety
With some new found knowledge and understanding of anxiety, my next question was, “How can I help?”. As an executive leadership coach, there were some things that I could definitely help with and some that I couldn’t. First, I advised Jane to seek appropriate medical care from her family doctor. Delighted that Jane wanted to continue working with me after having seen her physician, I had highly effective strategies ready to go that would help to her to speak her truth, to acknowledge her fears, to cope in the workplace, and to honor her person–just as she is.
If you know a someone with High Functioning Anxiety, here are some things you can do to help:
- Help the person to recognize their specific symptoms. Each person is different and may experience anxiety in different ways.
- Be compassionate. Help the person to know that anxiety is part biological. Treat anxiety like you would any other physical condition.
- Stop feeding the fear. Help the person to know the fear, name it, and accept it. This takes the power away from the fear and returns it to your loved one.
- Exercise! The endorphins released during exercise help the anxiety to dissipate. Walking during breaks and lunch is necessary. Participating in yoga or some other form of exercise outside of work is also important.
- Meditation and deep breathing can be miraculous. They can help the person to get in touch with their body, their sensations, their breathing, and redirect the negative thoughts being experienced by the person.
- Tell People. The best thing you can do is encourage your loved one to have a safe person at work or other social situations in the event of an emergency. And even if an emergency never occurs, it is good to have the support of others when its needed.
Superheroes of High Functioning Anxiety
To me, Jane is a superhero. Jane has opened up the dialogue regarding anxiety and other mental health disorders in her workplace. She has been open about her struggles and has worked with colleagues on identifying the possible signs and symptoms of anxiety and depression in employees. Jane continues to be an incredible corporate leader. Like everyone else, she has her good and bad days. I suspect, however, that when Jane retires her legacy won’t be tied to “what she did/accomplished” at work. Her legacy will be one of leadership; championing the normalization of mental health issues and the support she gave to others struggling with High Functioning Anxiety.