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Overfunctioning at Work: High Functioning Anxiety and the Workplace

As high achievers our work seems to be all gas and no breaks. Go, go, go, all the time with little to no time to breathe. If you feel like you’re stuck in a constant state of “yes” at work and feeling like you’re drowning and can’t stop, you’re also probably feeling the weight of anxiety at work or about work during your off hours. 

Hustle culture seems to be more prevalent than ever and it’s hard to avoid. We often believe the misconception that hustling is the only option for success and  that we’re not allowed to stop—or risk being a failure. If you find yourself obsessing about work well after you’ve clocked out or overworking, you may be using hustle culture as an excuse for feelings of anxiousness without actually addressing the real problem—you may have high functioning anxiety

People who can still function with a high level of anxiety use the busyness of our lives to avoid feelings of sadness, anger, racing thoughts, or our own mental health, unlike the shut-down style reactions of someone with traditional anxiety. A lot of my coaching clients find that the workplace is a huge source of anxiety that destroys their happiness.  

It’s important to understand the signs of high functioning anxiety in the workplace and how we can address overfunctioning, especially if you find yourself lying awake at night with anxiety about your work.

Overfunctioning as a Sign of High Functioning Anxiety at Work

People with high functioning anxiety may feel like they are stuck in a vicious cycle of self doubt and uncertainty. They are constantly trying to cope by keeping their minds preoccupied and busy. 

In reality, we may find that these coping skills we have developed leave us feeling exhausted and depleted by overworking. In fact, some of us are so good at trying to cope that we may not even recognize the signs of HFA in the workplace or make HFA worse by how we address it. 

You Go Above and Beyond—And Often Too Far

People suffering from high functioning anxiety often feel like they’re not doing enough or that there is more they could be doing. This may result in you doing more than what is expected of you, taking on more projects than you can handle, never saying no, staying late and coming in early. This constant pressure can show up as overworking or, to use a clinical term, overfunctioning.  

If you find that you’re the first person to get in the office and the last to leave, feel guilty for taking a vacation time, and often take on more than you can chew, you may be facing HFA in the workplace. Meanwhile, all your coworkers think you’re amazing and have everything together because you never let yourself drop the ball. No matter the cost to you, your family, or your health.

As overachievers, people hold misconceptions about you that you have it all together and don’t need help. But on the inside you may be losing sleep at night or constantly worrying about disappointing your boss if you tell them you can’t take on another project. You may have constant stress and anxiety around the fear that you’re not living up to others expectations and sometimes that can cause you to procrastinate if it gets too overwhelming. 

You Feel Proud to Be Busy

Another way those with high functioning anxiety disorder tend to cope is by telling themselves that it’s great to be busy. Busy is a marker of success in the minds of those with HFA. In some ways, the long sleepless nights and workaholic personality makes you proud, even though it could be taking a toll on your mental health. Some of us even see high functioning anxiety as an advantage, much to our own detriment. 

Bragging about how busy you are is a common theme in your conversations with others. You take pride in the expression “If you want something done, give it to a busy person.” 

If you feel like you can never say no, you may try to create some type of healthy boundaries to reduce your anxiety by starting to limit what you can handle. However, this may result in even more anxiety because you feel as though you’ve let others around you down. And so the vicious cycle continues.

Relaxing Makes You Anxious 

Sometimes when we try to cope with HFA by taking time to relax, it can lead to more anxiety. You might worry about how taking a break could negatively impact your work life or how saying no to a coworker makes you seem less dependable. Because everyone thinks that you have it all together and you’ve set up others to consistently rely on you by overfunctioning, you feel guilty when you take breaks or say no. It might even take a trip to the hospital to finally get you to slow down.

If you find that taking a day off or using your hard earned vacation time to relax is difficult for you, you may be living with high functioning anxiety at work. Even I find myself tempted to respond to work emails while I’m enjoying vacation time. The idea of hustle culture has created the idea that we aren’t allowed to stop and if we stop, something is bound to go wrong. 

How to Help High Functioning Anxiety in the Workplace

One of the biggest questions I get from clients is usually what the cure for HFA is. In reality, there is no cure but rather the ability to make it more manageable so we can start living happier and working happier. 

Over years of helping clients deal with HFA in their personal lives and the workplace, I’ve identified a number of tactics that work really well for dealing with HFA.

Acknowledge When Workplace Anxiety Happens

One of the best things that you can do is acknowledge and accept when something is happening that is making you anxious. Part of dealing with HFA is acknowledging how you’re feeling, what is making you feel that way, and telling yourself that it’s okay. 

Rather than trying to distract yourself with more work, stop and breathe. If you find yourself overthinking a conversation you had with your boss or feeling guilty for turning down an invitation from a coworker, just stop and acknowledge how you feel. 

I always encourage my clients to use the A.S.K method

  • Acknowledge what you are feeling
  • Slow down and get into your body
  • Kindly pull back to see the big picture

It seems simple, but if we try to stop overcomplicating our solutions for HFA, we may find that we have better control over it. 

Have Self Check-ins

When you find yourself in an anxious state, it’s helpful to check in with yourself from time to time. Even if it feels awkward, ask yourself “how are you REALLY doing?” The more in tune you are with yourself and the more willing you are to listen to yourself, the more likely you are to have better control over your HFA. 

Additionally, you don’t have to justify how you are feeling. Sometimes we try to convince ourselves of why we are feeling a certain way. Just remind yourself that it’s okay to feel the way that you’re feeling without justifying your feelings. I always encourage clients to look inside themselves for the answer, rather than turning to outward solutions. 

Stop Negative Coping Behaviors

If you haven’t figured it out already, sometimes what we use to “cope” actually causes even more anxiety to rise in our bodies. If you have a problem with taking on too much at a time, you may try to cope by telling your peers or boss that you have enough on your plate and decline a project opportunity. However, you may then feel stressed about letting someone down, so you’re right back to taking on more responsibilities. 

The truth is, coping is often a distraction tool we use to not have to face our anxiety head on. It may seem to work in the short term but in reality, we’re not actually dealing with the problem. That is why it is important to ask yourself if you’re really dealing with your HFA.

Get Help From a Coach

As a high functioning anxiety coach, I always encourage my clients to seek professional help if they can. If you’re looking for more help with your HFA, I offer coaching programs! Sometimes doing it alone can be challenging.

Working with an anxiety coach can help you walk through situations that bring on anxiety, have someone to talk through feelings about guilt, and put your anxiety into perspective.  

When you’re feeling anxiety or feel like you’re running into a situation that may give you a heightened sense of guilt, having an anxiety coach who can help you work through the situation can be a very productive way to deal with the pressure of HFA. 

If you’re tired of toughing it out and are ready to take steps to deal with HFA in the workplace, learn more about my coaching programs that might be the right fit for you.