Episode 098: Ok, I think I have High Functioning Anxiety. What do I do about it?

In episode 097, I described High Functioning Anxiety today I am looking at what do about it and why just overcoming perfectionism or setting boundaries won’t work.

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Downloadable Worksheet: Coping Skills of High Functioning Anxiety

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Hi, and welcome. You are listening to the Happiness Hacks Podcast, and I’m your host, Nancy Jane Smith. I’m a licensed professional counselor, and in this podcast, I share my stories, lessons, and hacks I’ve learned, and I continue to learn on my quest to live happier. The show notes and a complete transcript can be found at, and this is episode 98. Okay, so I think I have high functioning anxiety. What do I do about it?

Hey everyone, so happy to be back here and chatting with you all again. I have to say as a little aside that since I have given myself permission to give some wiggle room around this podcast and not be so militant about getting it out every Tuesday, once a week, or every other week. I have so much more joy about doing the podcast, and I have been more on top of it for doing the podcast.

And best of all it has been fun. So it was a great lesson to me in the power of loosening up and releasing some of those rigid rules that we have on things. And I was curious in your life, is there a place where you could release some rigidity? And it might help loosen things up and bring more joy into your life. Or into that specific activity.

So give it a try. It’s worked for me, especially with this podcast, and I’ve seen it in a variety of other areas in my life, and that’s been fun. So wanted to share that tip with you all. But now let’s get onto today’s topic because I’m excited about it. Clearly, I hit a nerve a couple of weeks ago when I did episode 97, and I talked about high functioning anxiety because I heard from so many people through emails and direct messages of them saying, “Yep, that’s me. Have you been in my head? Oh my gosh, I have high functioning anxiety.”

And so today I wanted to talk about what you can do about it. So the tricky thing about high functioning anxiety and dealing with it is multi-leveled. One, it is challenging because underneath everything you have anxiety and to deal with the anxiety you have developed coping mechanisms. It’s these coping mechanisms that a lot of the self-help industry deals with; perfectionism, people pleasing, focusing externally, all of those things that we do, the push, push, push and the hustle, and all the traits I use to describe high functioning anxiety in episode 97.

We do those coping skills, so we don’t have to feel the underlying anxiety. And so it isn’t about the coping skills and fixing the coping skills because if you start to try to fix people pleasing and you set a lot of boundaries, and you start saying no to people, the anxiety rises within you and is so overwhelming that you’re just easier to go back to people pleasing.

So it’s a twofold problem. And then underneath it all, it’s a secret. It’s this shame that you have about having the anxiety and feeling this way. And so because of that, because your Monger is demonic, as my husband likes to say mine is because your Monger is so loud, you don’t tell anyone that you’re dealing with this anxiety. And whenever we’re living in secret and in shame, it makes things that much harder.

So because of that, those three factors, the coping skills, the secretiveness, and the actual anxiety, it’s a little challenging to deal with this high functioning anxiety. It’s not impossible, but it does require some new ways of looking at it then you probably have been looking at it. And that’s what I want to talk about today.

So specifically today I want to be talking about the coping skills you’re dealing with, and you’re using to work with your anxiety. And that’s how I think we can start to make change is when we can start recognizing the coping skills. And once we start recognizing the coping skills, then we can start seeing the anxiety and dealing with the underlying anxiety.

If we spend so much time trying to fix the coping skills, we’ll never get to the underlying anxiety because it’s way too much to deal with.  I’m going to tell a story to illustrate how this will work. Let’s take the example of you’re at work and your boss gives you a project, and you immediately are like, “Of course, I got this,” because people pleasing is what you engage in, and you like to be there for other people, and you get a lot done, and you’re the go-to person for your office.

So when your boss comes in and says, “Hey, can you do this project?” You’re like, “Of course, I got this.” And so you add it to the pile of stuff that’s on your desk, and it’s one more project in the long list of projects. And then you get home and you’re like, “Oh my gosh, why did I do that? Why did I say yes to that project? I should have said no, blah, blah, blah.” And you beat yourself up for not saying no.

Next day you go into the office, and your boss comes in and has another project for you to do. And you immediately are like, “No, I can’t do it. I have too much.” Some freak of nature hits you, and you say no to him. And after he walks out and he says, “Okay,” he walks out, you are consumed with anxiety of who do you think you are? You can’t say no, you’re going to lose your job. You’re the one that everyone counts on. What are you thinking? Oh my gosh.

On and on and on and on and on, your Monger goes. And so your anxiety goes through the roof because you’ve said no. And that is a prime example of how High Functioning Anxiety hits us because we go against the coping skill and the anxiety freaks us out. Or we’re working with the coping skill as you were the day before and you said, “Yes,” and then you’re freaking out because you have too much to do.

So what do you do? How do you cope with this? Well, the first thing you’re going to do, and you’ve heard me say it 1,000 times, but I’m going to say it again, is you got to practice A.S.K. At that moment when you notice, I said yes, and I meant to say no, that’s when you say what happened there? What did my boss trigger in me? Why did I say yes?

Oh, I said yes because I’m worried about what he’s going to think. I said yes because I’m scared that I’m going to lose my job. I said yes because I’m super insecure. And then you slow down and get into your body and however that is, and then you can kindly pull back to see the big picture, to be like, “Wait a minute, I just got an excellent review. I’m good at my job. My boss says I’m good at my job and I’m not going to be good at my job if I keep saying yes when I need to be saying no.”

So that K piece of A.S.K. is so important because anxiety and our Mongers keep us stuck in rigidity. As I said at the very beginning when I was talking about my podcast and how opening up and seeing giving myself a little more wiggle room has helped with the podcast and me getting it done, really helped with my anxiety.

And so the way to do that K, kindly pull back to see the big picture. The only way to get there is if you are checking in with yourself. And that’s why Acknowledging what you’re feeling and Slowing down and getting to your body are such an important part of the process because you have to be able to connect with yourself.

And anxiety pulls us outside of ourselves all the time. So even if you are numbing out, which is another coping skill of people with High Functioning Anxiety, or you are overly controlling, having a ten reaction to a two situation, all those things we do to cope with this anxiety feeling. When we can slow down and get into her body, and when we can acknowledge what we’re feeling, then we can kindly pull back to see the big picture, and we can see the wiggle room.

But as long as we’re engaged in the coping mechanism, we won’t be able to pull back and see the big picture and to start building that loyalty with ourselves. The biggest way to ease your High Functioning Anxiety is to start building a relationship with yourself, building loyalty with yourself. And the way to do that is to start being curious about what is important to you. What do you want to do? What are your feelings? How do you feel about the situation?

Because when you have High Functioning Anxiety, you’re constantly looking outside of yourself. You’re looking outside of yourself to find the right answer, for someone to tell you the right thing to do to make someone else happy, to even when you numb out, you’re looking outside of yourself. You’re looking for the shopping or the TV or the food or the alcohol to make you feel better.

You aren’t looking internally. And so that’s the big message here is that we need to start one, recognizing what our coping skills are, and what we’re doing in the world to prevent our anxiety. And then two, practicing A.S.K. when we start feeling the anxiety, when we start noticing that coping skill to step in and say, “Wait, what is going on here? What am I feeling?”

Yesterday on Instagram, I posted a picture of myself in the mirror because I was talking with a client this week in and I had shared how I realized that I will go to the bathroom, I’ll wash my hands, I’ll do the whole spiel, but I won’t ever look in the mirror. And it’s not because I’m don’t want to see myself it’s just that I’m always onto the next thing. I’m moving so quickly through the bathroom to get to the next thing that I don’t pay attention to myself.

And so even the practice of just looking in the mirror every day when I go to the bathroom and checking in, being like, “Hey, how are you doing?” And seeing myself has helped in building that relationship with myself. So I’m not just this computer that’s moving through the day, trying to read what everyone else is telling me to do and making sure I click all the boxes.

The more we can slow down and get in touch with ourselves and see ourselves. And that’s why the power of the bathroom looking in the mirror is so important because it allows you to slow down and see yourself. And that’s how you can start building a relationship with yourself that decreases this High Functioning Anxiety piece. So as I said in the beginning, it’s complex because you have three different things you’re working with. You’re working with the coping skills; you’re working with your anxiety, and you’re working with the shame and the secretiveness about how you’re feeling.

And so the more we can start getting in touch with ourselves, acknowledging our experiences, paying attention to what we’re feeling, noticing what is coming up for us and giving that some credit, the more we can start decreasing this anxiety and stop looking outside of ourselves for all the answers.

So practical tips on this are looking in the mirror when you go to the bathroom and engaging with yourself. But secondly, it’s paying attention to those coping skills. What are the coping skills you’re using? What are your preferences and coping skills? And when you notice that coping skill kicking in to recognize that it’s anxiety.

That’s your Monger talking. That’s anxiety talking. And then engaging in a practice that I prefer, which is A.S.K., or whatever practice you have that decreases your anxiety and helps you get in better touch with yourself. But it’s noticing that it’s not saying it’s not changing the coping skill necessarily. The coping skill is a sign that you have anxiety and that that’s what you need to be dealing with.

It’s not that you need to stop people pleasing. You do need to stop people pleasing, don’t get wrong, but it’s more so that the people pleasing is there, so you don’t feel anxiety. It’s not people pleasing in and of itself, it’s the people pleasing is helping you from dealing with your anxiety, and that’s what we want to be dealing with.

We want to be dealing with the anxiety. We want to be dealing with building loyalty to yourself so that when you start to feel anxious, your first reaction isn’t one of these coping skills. Instead, your first reaction is to deal with the anxiety. So I hope that’s helpful.

Please reach out if you have any questions or thoughts or concerns about High Functioning Anxiety and how it’s affecting you. You can email me You can direct message me on Instagram. I love hearing from you and being able to answer your questions and gather more information about this stuff because that helps me help other people. So I look forward to hearing from you guys.

So that’s the show, thanks for listening. The Happiness Hacks Podcast will come out at some point in the future, and I can’t wait to talk to you then. And until then, here’s to living happier.


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