This week I had an ah-ha when I noticed I was stressed to the max but was telling myself ‘everything is fine.’ My body was screaming stress, and my anxiety was in full force, but my mind was trying to convince me it was no big deal. This is a classic pattern of High Functioning Anxiety listen to see how to recognize the pattern and what to do about it.
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Hey, gang. So excited to be back here. Today I want to talk about the way to get through anxiety. We all know this starts with feeling your feelings. We all know this because I’ve talked about it ad nauseum on this podcast, but that’s way easier said than done, which also is something I talk about a lot on this podcast, too. We have to acknowledge what we feel because the anxiety keeps us trapped up in our heads in this, “Ah!” frantic energy and we need to drop back down into our bodies and acknowledge what else is going on other than just the frantic energy that’s happening around us.
This week, I had a fascinating realization on this whole phenomenon of stress, and the curse of I’m fine and how we deal with it when we have anxiety, especially high functioning anxiety. The more stressful things that happened in our lives, the more we convince ourselves we’re fine. You would think that the more stressful things that happened in our lives, the more the wheels would be falling off and we would be crying and stressed out and giving ourselves all this extra love because we’re so stressed out.
But no, actually the opposite happens. The more stressed out we get, the more we convince ourselves we’re fine and that everything’s okay. I’m going to give you an example just to illustrate the point. Let’s say you have a stressful week. It’s Sunday night, and you’re heading into the week, you know it’s going to be stressful because the kids’ activities are picking up, they’re in full swing. You have a project due at work, and your partner is going to be traveling for part of the week. Oh, it sounds very stressful.
As the start of the week, you say to a friend on Monday morning, “Oh my gosh, I am so stressed out. This week is going to be packed. We have so much going on.” And your friend says, “I get it. I’m here if you need me, I have a light week, so I can help out if you need some help.” You’re so appreciative; you say “Yay, thank you so much.” you give a big hug and you move on. And then Tuesday hits and your oldest comes down with strep, the dog escapes and runs all over the neighborhood, and your car gets a flat tire. And on Wednesday, your husband who was supposed to be home that night, calls to say his flight is delayed and he’s hoping to make it home by Thursday.
So your stressful week, “has turned into hell.” And what happens is you act like everything’s fine. The more stressed out you get, the more you say, “It’s fine. I got this.” And then I bet what happens is your body starts showing you you’re stressed. You might have indigestion or headaches. You can’t keep a thought in your head. You’re extra grouchy, and the tensions run high. But in your mind, everything’s fine. You got it. The plate is full, but you’re on top of it. It’s this opposite thing that happens.
Your body is screaming with stress, but your mind has taken over. I would argue that your Monger and your BFF have taken over and are telling you, “Just keep going. We got this; we got this.” And so you are in pure survival mode, and there is no way when you’re in pure survival mode, you’re going to start acknowledging your feelings. It’s just not going to happen. So this aha came to me, this realization of this pattern, came to me this week with me.
And we got a new dog last Sunday. He’s absolutely adorable. Waterson is his name. He’s this beautiful black lab, 14 months old, and he’s a handful. We’re trying to get him acclimated to our house. We’re trying to get him acclimated to our cats. It’s a lot, and so that alone would be a lot. But then on top of that, I had a bunch of doctor’s appointments this week. We had some issues in our personal lives, just stuff has been happening that’s put on the stress, our plate is full, and it was Thursday afternoon, and I couldn’t keep a thought in my head. I feel like everything keeps flying out of my brain without me even thinking about it. I’m just dropping balls all over the place.
And I thought, “Well, wow, I only do that when I’m stressed, but I’m not that stressed. I mean, we don’t have a lot going on. I don’t know why I’m acting this way. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” I just kept going, and more and more stuff kept piling onto the plate, and my indigestion crept up, I started getting a headache, and I thought, “Wait a minute, you are stressed. When is it enough stress for you to acknowledge it?” It was just kind of this aha that I feel like I passed this threshold.
I go along with all my stress, and then I hit this threshold where it’s just, I’ve crossed over into survival mode. When I’m in survival mode, that means I’m also in denial mode of what’s happening, and so I completely ignore my body. I completely ignore everything around me, and I plow ahead with the attitude, “I got this, I’m going to keep going. Just moving forward on automatic.” Meanwhile, my anxiety is through the roof. I’m driving my husband crazy because I have all this anxiety. I’m over analyzing every little thing. My anger and irritation are up higher. All because I’m ignoring what’s going on and this happens all the time.
I say to myself, I say to my clients and I probably, venture to guess, you can see it in your life, too. What’s happening is your Monger is running the show. You’re overwhelmed. Your Monger steps in to remind you how overwhelmed you are, how many balls you’ve dropped, how much you suck, everything that’s going wrong. And so your BFF steps in, and remember your BFF is the voice of false self-compassion. Her favorite thing to do is to blame other people. She’s going to blame your husband for traveling. She’s going to blame the dog, she’s going to blame your kids for having too many activities, and she’s going to get you all riled up in a sense because she’s blaming everyone around you. And she’s going to say, “Go ahead. Have that third drink.”
She’s going to encourage you on Wednesday night when your husband calls and says, “I’m not coming home until tomorrow,” to drink that bottle of wine. Then, Thursday morning you wake up, and you have a hangover, and your Monger is even louder than she was before. That argument between those two keeps you in this high stakes anxiety. It’s overwhelming. You can’t handle it, so you go into auto mode because you know how to do auto mode. You’re good at white knuckling it. You’re good at toughing it out and holding it together and soldiering on. That is one of your strengths.
And so it’s recognizing when you were soldiering on and toughing it out, and your body is screaming to say, “Whoa, there’s too much going on here. We need to figure out how to take care of ourselves.” That combination, the more stressed we get, the more we ignore our bodies, the more we ignore the messages of the Biggest Fan who’s there whispering saying, “Oh, Sweet Pea, whew. We need to slow down. We need to do this differently.”
A couple of weeks ago I posted on Instagram about a habit that I have that when I go to the bathroom, I don’t look at myself in the mirror because I’m always onto the next thing. Usually, just onto the next thing and not paying attention. I’ve been trying to do this practice of looking in the mirror and touching my hands over my heart and saying, “Okay, Sweet Pea, what’s going on?” And giving myself a check-in.
This week, as I was super stressed out and running from thing to thing, I stopped doing that. I stopped checking in with myself in the mirror. A, I didn’t even notice I wasn’t doing it; but B, it was a real recognition of, “Oh my gosh, I am in such a survival mode. I’m not even doing the things that I know make me feel better.” And that is to stop and check in and see what’s happening because our Monger convinces us there’s no time. We have to keep it going. We have to keep plowing ahead. We can’t be stopping. Ah, there’s so much to do. There’s so much to do. There’s so much to do.
Underneath our calm, “I’m fine. I got it all together,” is this hyper energy, this hyper high functioning anxiety energy. And the only way to get rid of that crazy energy is if we slow down and we acknowledge what we’re feeling, and we say, “Oh my gosh, I am so overwhelmed right now. I am so frustrated that I have to drive the kids everywhere. I am so lost and confused about this project that we have for work. I don’t know how we’re going to finish it all. I am so overwhelmed with all the responsibilities I have, and I need to figure out how to do this differently.”
And then, when we slow down and get into our bodies, and then we can say, “Okay, wow, my head hurts. Oh my gosh, I have horrible indigestion.” We could take some deep breaths, do a little dance, get it a wiggle and then we can pull back and see the big picture and say, “Oh yeah, remember on Monday when your friend said, ‘I have a light week, and I’d be happy to help.’?” Maybe I could call on her and say, “Could you pick the kids up on Thursday? I need to stay late at work and figure out this project.”
When we get out of the fight or flight mode, when we get out of the soldiering on and the sucking it up, buttercup, and we’re able to acknowledge what we’re feeling, slow down and get into our bodies and kindly pull back to see the big picture. We can see we have other options that someone offered to help, maybe fast food and pizzas are how the week’s going to roll, and we’re just going to be okay with that. And we’re going to try to sneak in our fruits and vegetables where we can. Maybe it is a week that we are going to have to ask the kids to step up and help out because dad isn’t here and I’m losing it, and so we can ask for help.
All of that stuff comes when we kindly pull back to see the big picture. But here’s the glitch, the pull, the pull of the good girl, the pull of the perfectionist, the pull of, “I got this, I’m fine,” is so strong, it’s built into us. It’s so much a part of us, and it’s such a place where we find pride that it hurts us. It’s hard to go against that voice. That’s where I just am saying, “I hear ya. I get it. I understand how hard this is, but I also know that we can’t keep doing this. We can’t keep pushing ourselves to the point of headaches and backaches and indigestion and overwhelm and stress and insomnia and all those things our bodies are screaming at us. We can’t keep doing this, and so we have to find a different way. I hear you that your high functioning anxiety has helped you get to where you are, but I also hear you that it’s hurting you.”
This hard wiring is hard to un-wire, but it’s possible. I caught myself this week and then in the past I would never have caught myself. This aha would never have happened. For me to be able to say, “Wait a minute, listen to your body, what’s going on?” That’s a huge win. I’m still in the middle of the week. It was still stressful when that came to me. I wasn’t just, “Sucking it up, buttercup.” I wasn’t just plowing forward. I was able to stop, and so I encourage you to find a way you can stop. Is that putting a sticky note in your car to that says, “A.S.K.” So you acknowledge what you’re feeling. Is it starting your morning every day by looking at the day and saying, “Wow, where is this day going to be stressful? Where can I put in a break? Where can I take care of myself?” And just understanding the day and doing some pre-planning, so you don’t get into the fight or flight mode.
You don’t get into the, “I got this,” place. You catch yourself before you get there and you’re able to put in some buffer rooms. Any of those, there’s a lot of ideas and a lot of ways to go around this. I am going to stick in the show notes a PDF on your feelings, and I want you to take a look at that. It’s also in my book, The Happier Approach. I have a page that’s devoted to the feeling, so if you have The Happier Approach, you can pull that out, and it’s beneficial to look at that to be able to see, “Okay, wow.” And maybe saying, “I’m feeling angry, but really underneath that anger, I’m seething, or I’m super frustrated or irritated or, wow, I am feeling insecure right now.” This feelings list helps you tap into what else is going on other than just, “I’m angry at my husband for being late.”
What else is under there? I’m feeling lost, and I’m feeling like a bad mom. I’m feeling insecure and being able to acknowledge those feelings makes such a difference, and it helps prevent that pushing externally, that drive to get everything done because that’s what the mode we go into. We get into this mode where we’re just about accomplishing, and we forget that we’re human beings who have a body that needs us. It requires attention. We need to pay attention to our Biggest Fan. That’s her saying, “Come on, Sweet Pea. We can do this, but we got to take care of ourselves.”
I would love to hear what you think about this idea. If this is something you can relate to, so send me an email on NancyJane@live-happier.com. As I’m getting into these different episodes on high functioning anxiety, it’s been awesome to hear from you guys saying, “Yes, I can relate,” or “No, I can’t relate here, and maybe this isn’t me, or maybe this is me.” I love interacting. You can email me and let me know how that’s going or chime in on my Instagram, that’d be great. It’s always awesome to hear from you guys.
And until next time, here’s to living happier.
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