High Functioning Anxiety
I'd like to opt out, please.
I was working as a Social Worker, standing in the middle of the Emergency Department. There was nothing but utter chaos in the middle of a Friday night. Cops, doctors, nurses– people everywhere– were asking for something, needed help in another room, ran from the ambulance to a room and shifted from task to task.
When my shift was finally over in the morning, I drove home but I don't remember how.
My mind was flying but my body was defeated. I couldn't stop going over and over the checklist of things I needed to get done or stop reviewing the things I had done to make sure I did them right. Did I speak to the parent incorrectly? Did that doctor understand what I meant? What if something else happens when I am not there? Did I finish that note? Did I put everything in my handoff?
I was BURNT out and still continuing to run one hundred miles per hour.
And yet, I felt like I wasn't doing anything at all.
Social workers wear a plethora of hats to support everyone. They have to constantly think two steps ahead. They need to collaborate and simultaneously educate on the next best step, all while staying current with the information.
One day, I had this magnificent doctor come up to me. We had to give hard news to a family and throughout the whole meeting she kept looking at me. For a moment, I didn't really know if she wanted me to say something or do something, but then one look in her eyes told me everything: she was looking at me for her own support and approval.
After the meeting, she came right to me and asked, "Did I do that right?" My heart sank for her and I told her, "Yes, you did everything right. That was really hard and you did a phenomenal job." She sighed in relief. But she, too, wanted to make sure it was perfect, was upset about the intensity of the information, and questioned herself and her abilities.
High Functioning Anxiety does not discriminate. It is highly apparent in helping professions but it is not isolated within that domain.
The tightness in your throat and chest, the constant worry that you cannot let go of even when the event has passed, has a reason. It relates with the need to meet unrealistic expectations that we set for ourselves without the help or approval of any outsiders.
When I first learned about High Functioning Anxiety I wanted to deny it all together.
Described as Type-A personality or Perfectionist.
Hard time saying "no."
Procrastinates on important tasks.
Need for isolation.
Difficulties with sleep habits.
Loud Inner Critic. (Check out my Blog Post on The Inner Critic.)
Unrealistic standards (that they personally set).
These particular symptoms made me want to pack my bags and move to the planet of Denial. I didn't want to admit that this is what I was experiencing, but then I started seeing it.
It screws us up. We become constantly tired, irritable, frustrated, and angry with the pressure it puts on us. You attempt to feel a feeling but you are so worried that you won't get back up once you actually allow the feeling to exist.
Internally, the script becomes an audience of all of the negative comments you have ever heard and criticism you have received. Yet you're still center-stage, performing every act you've ever known, trying to get the script to calm the heck down.
The Monger part of the Inner Critic (see Blog Post) is High Functioning Anxiety's driving force. It tells you to keep going even though you're very aware that you shouldn't. You can check all of the items off your list but this Monger gets louder and louder, telling you that you haven't done everything or you could do more.
Here is the hard reality: YOU ARE IN CONTROL OF THAT CRITIC.
You have more control over what your mind tells you than you even know you do. I know this because you're still reading and you're hoping that I'll tell you that there is something magical to make it go away.
Unfortunately, there isn't, because I would know about it by now and I would be the top sales rep for that magic.
But there is another way, a way that includes you doing some serious work to break some of the self-sabotaging habits that you believe are making you productive. There is a way to lower the volume on that inner critic and reduce the criticism that you use to judge yourself, but it begins by recognizing it. By hearing it.
As a Therapist and a Coach, I can hear the critic come out so clearly and so viciously within sessions, and sometimes just by meeting people. To me, it now has a visceral feeling that constantly goes, "Is this what you hear all day?"
I point it out all the time to my clients: "Do you hear what you just said about yourself?"
One of my favorite things to do within sessions is to inform my clients of the parts of the inner critic and then have them listen for a week to each one of the voices. We all have it– we might as well start identifying what it is so we can understand where it is coming from.
Mine likes to do this fun torture soundtrack called, You're Not Doing Enough. It plays on a loop as I reflect on events or situations that happened, that are completely done and over with, but projects into what I am doing now.
The inner critic intensifies high functioning anxiety. The soundtrack of the inner critic drives you to making higher and more unrealistic expectations of yourself, leaving you in a constant state of internal anxiety that's hard to get out of. An inner struggle that no one else can see.
What does your Inner Critic sound like? How does High Functioning Anxiety help you? Would you be better off without it?
High Functioning Anxiety is not a requirement for the work you do or how you function within your professional or personal life.
If you could find a better way, wouldn't you want to?