A lot of people use the word anxiety today – sometimes they mean that they are feeling a lot of stress and pressure. Sometimes they mean that they have a lot of worries. At times, they are talking about feeling triggered by something that immediately took them back to a distressing moment in their life. Often, the words anxiety and stress are used synonymously, although their meanings are slightly different.
OK, here’s a quick dictionary moment –
Stress can come from something that happens to us or around us – something demanding or that didn’t go how we wanted. It comes from something we can identify and point to. For example, having something difficult we need to finish at work and feeling the pressure to get it done well and on time.
Anxiety could come from something real or perceived and is characterized by worry and uneasiness. We may or may not be able to identify what it’s coming from. For example, (continuing the example above) worrying that the work we turn in will not be what is wanted, or that it will be lacking, or that we might not be able to finish it on time. Sometimes anxiety kind of gets stacked up – one worry on top of another, and another.
Anxiety and stress often overlap, and are also impacted by incidents from our past, the way we were brought up, and how we’ve learned (or haven’t) to manage our emotions.
In our fast-moving, rapidly changing culture people who can get a lot done and continue to go-go-go are often the people who receive accolades or attention for all they’ve achieved. It can feel like we’re not “team players” then we are underachievers. We might fear that others could think we don’t work hard enough, and then we won’t get promoted, or we might even lose a job.
As a result of the pressure to achieve and to be successful we feel stress. We also could feel anxious about all the “what ifs” as we try to achieve that success. What happens for many people is that anxiety can become normalized. Over time, some people might realize what is happening and either make changes or find ways to manage their anxiety. For others, they can become oblivious to the fact that they live with so much anxiety even though it seeps out in a variety of ways.
Here are some clues that might indicate if someone has high functioning anxiety. They:
Can be perfectionistic – with everything. They must do something perfectly and if it’s not just right they will feel like a failure.
Feel like if they don’t keep going someone else might overtake them – like a competition to do the most or the best.
Find it very hard to take a break or stop and if they do they feel guilty. Plus, they worry that others might think they’re not working hard enough.
Have difficulty holding to boundaries – either saying yes automatically or struggling to say no, especially if someone in authority is asking.
Must appear confident to have it all together – but inside they don’t feel like this.
Worry about looking like they don’t know what they are doing.
Have trouble asking for help or letting others know they are struggling.
Worry about the worst-case scenario and feel like they need to be prepared just in case it happens.
Are constantly comparing themselves to others, and feeling like they don’t measure up.
Worry more about how others are feeling than how they are feeling.
These are not the only signs of high functioning anxiety, but they give you a good idea of what it can look like. This is not the kind of list that requires a certain number of symptoms in order to identify if this is an issue for a person. Even if you feel that only one or two of these fits you, that anxiety could be very difficult to manage.
I know I’m a therapist so I might seem biased (ok, I AM biased!), but I always encourage people to get help for anxiety. None of us need to figure out how to manage it all on our own. One of the best things about meeting with a counselor is getting a different perspective from someone who is knowledgeable about managing emotions and who is on our side.
When we normalize something like anxiety, we tell ourselves that “that’s just how it is.” We justify it and tell ourselves it’s OK, and we think that living with that much pressure is normal. The truth, however, is that we don’t have to function with a lot of anxiety all day, every day. We can learn to manage anxiety and we can find out the sources of if in our own lives. With the help of a therapist, you’re not on your own, and you will be both encouraged and challenged. A therapist can also sometimes point out things we haven’t noticed.
Please reach out to us at Remain Connected if any of this resonates with you. We would love to help you to learn more about anxiety and to find ways for you to reduce and manage it in better and more healthy ways.