The Contradictions of High Functioning Anxiety

The Contradictions of High Functioning Anxiety

One of the hardest parts about High Functioning Anxiety is all the contradictions. Here are just a few:

  • You crave peace, yet your anxiety tells you that you need to always be in control.
  • You want to be seen and loved for who you are, yet your anxiety tells you that vulnerability is a weakness.
  • You are tired of feeling overwhelmed and frantic, yet your anxiety tells you BAD things will happen if you let your guard down. 
  • Internally you are so full of doubt and stress, and every cell in your body is screaming, “can’t you SEE how stressed I am!!?!” yet your exterior is full of smiles and responses like, “I would be happy to help!”
  • You appear to have it all together on the outside, yet on the inside, you struggle with insomnia, headaches, stomach pains, and insistent self-doubt. 

These contradictions make treating HFA challenging. Because a client shows up to my office all smiles, telling their story with limited emotions, sharing their goals with determination and confidence, and following the lead of their anxiety, which tells them ‘never let them see you sweat.’  They want help, they want to stop feeling this way, and yet the brainwashing of anxiety is so intense.

Their anxiety has told them that a good person is strong, decisive, and should always know the why of a situation. Because they live in their heads, people with HFA are great at figuring out the why of a scenario. They LOVE analyzing why they do a particular behavior. Usually if a client is excited to see me, it is because they have a “why” they need help figuring out. 

For years, this is where I went wrong. Rather than helping clients see all the contradictions above and how their HFA was getting in their way. I followed my own HFA down the why path and would get caught up in debating the why with my clients. Clients would have a huge ah-ha and feel good about themselves (and so would I) and then in a few days, after the why high wore off, they were back to feeling full of anxiety and on to analyzing another situation for the why to feel better. Unfortunately, I let my anxiety keep both of us stuck in the why. 

The truth is the why doesn’t matter, not when it comes to treating anxiety. All of that analyzing doesn’t help. It’s fun. It provides an insight that can help us know ourselves better. But as far as treating anxiety? Understanding why we do certain things is just an exercise in mental masturbation. 

Now I am clear, it is my job to kindly call out these coping strategies. To lovingly hold up a mirror to the lack of emotion, the confidence, and the veneer of “I got this,” so we can get underneath all those contradictions and start building loyalty with yourself, honor your experience, and stop letting anxiety run the show. 

Here’s what helps:

  • Take a hard look at the contradictions above and notice them play out in your life. When we can see our anxiety traps, we can start breaking them down one by one. (Maybe your contradictions are different.  I would love to hear them in the comments below if you want to share.) 
  • Pay attention to how we feel and allow those emotions to come to the surface rather than letting anxiety beat them down.
  • Talk with someone who knows that our mask of ‘having it all together’ is a mask and we need to be able to remove it now and then, even if it is one of the hardest things we have ever done.

High Functioning Anxiety isn’t simple, but it is treatable.  I would love to talk with you about next steps. Get in touch.