The Secret Shame of High Functioning Anxiety

Last week I shared about my week of spinning and anxiety. I heard from several people (as always, I love hearing from you!).

I was struck by the number of people I interact with in my day-to-day life who were shocked to hear how anxious I had been, and they had no idea.

Because the anxiety was so real to me, I was surprised I hadn’t shared it with them. It was a nice reminder of the kindness and love I have available in my friends and family. Most importantly, it was a reminder to me as to why I am so passionate about talking about and helping people with High Functioning Anxiety because we struggle with our anxiety alone.

High Functioning Anxiety is a 3-fold problem:

  1. there is the anxiety
  2. there are all the coping mechanisms we do to keep the anxiety at bay (hustling, pushing, over-achieving)
  3. there is the secret shame that we live with because we don’t want anyone to know we have anxiety.

This secret shame keeps us stuck in #1 and #2, and it is why I am committed to sharing my own story of High Functioning Anxiety. Early on, I would have loved to have had more real-life stories of people struggling, coping, and living with their anxiety.

I didn’t admit I had anxiety until I was in my mid-30s. Looking back, I can see how much a role anxiety played in my life:

  • The constant self-doubt
  • Overthinking and overanalyzing EVERYTHING
  • Perfectionism
  • All or nothing thinking

I believed I was a mess and everyone around me had it figured out but me. And so, I hustled and hustled—believing that I could out-perform my anxiety. There was so much shame and self-doubt. It was easy to keep it a secret; if I didn’t share it with anyone, I could keep it from myself too, and so I hustled and pushed myself to exhaustion.

Even how I ran my business was all about hustling and overachieving.

As I have been copying and pasting blogs from my old website to my new website, I can see this pattern playing out. In my early blogs, I say all the right things: acknowledge your feelings, get into your body, incremental change, etc. I was writing about what I had read and studied. What other experts who said they had healed their anxiety were doing. When I practiced acknowledging my feelings, it did help at the moment, but it never healed me permanently like people said it would. The shame I felt around my anxiety was compounded by the idea that I must be doing it wrong because I still had my anxiety.

The messages of the outside world fed this even more—marketing experts and fellow coaches would say people want to see a solution, they don’t want to hear about the struggle, they want to know it is fixable. So I kept preaching that it was possible to be fixed; meanwhile, this inauthenticity drove my anxiety even more. Now I WAS a fraud because I was teaching something I wasn’t living and didn’t honestly believe.

And then, I found the concept of self-loyalty. The idea that to start to heal my anxiety, I needed to be loyal to myself.

  • Honor my own experience,
  • Stop looking outside for what I THOUGHT I should be doing,
  • Stop pursuing happiness at all costs,
  • Have my own back.

It was revolutionary because it helped me realize, my anxiety will never be permanently healed. Now when I feel anxious I have my own back, I don’t pile on with shame and ridicule and I implement the tools I wrote about years ago, feel your feelings, get into your body, incremental change, etc. The practice of self-loyalty also is why I am committed, to being honest about my own journey with High Functioning Anxiety.

The hidden part of High Functioning Anxiety, the secret shame, is one of its most challenging factors. Last week after receiving all those emails from friends/family, I realized that I need to re-up my commitment to sharing my anxiety with those closest to me (which I admit is harder). But that is my challenge to you and me. One of the steps to healing our High Functioning Anxiety is removing the shame of it, taking off the “I can do it all” armor, and letting others in.

Questions for you to ponder in a journal or while taking a walk.

  • Do you struggle with sharing your anxiety with other people?
  • How had this helped or hurt your anxiety?
  • Who are the people you feel safe opening up about your anxiety?
  • What would you be willing to share about your experience with these people?