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5 Secrets to Manage High Functioning Anxiety at Work- And Why It's Important

"40 million Americans aged 18 and over will suffer from an anxiety disorder in any 12-month period. This represents more than 18 percent of the adult population." - Bridges to Recovery, Leaders is Residential Mental Health Care

Can you believe that? Because I can.

Many adults, especially adult women, are successful human beings who've learned how to manage their high-functioning anxiety at work, at home and in their relationships. They've learned how to navigate the nuances of the day-to-day and don't think their feelings of anxiety are real or worth mentioning. In fact, many women who suffer from high-functioning anxiety (people who don't meet the criteria for a anxiety disorder) experience the symptoms all of the time and never get proper treatment or help.

According to Bridges of Recovery, high-functioning anxiety can look like:

  • Perfectionism

  • Workaholic

  • Overthinking and analyzing everything

  • Periodic insomnia

  • Difficulty saying no

Read the full list here.

If any of these things do apply to you, I encourage you to reach out to a therapist and get some guidance on how to manage your specific anxiety. I have worked with a therapist on and off for years and it's incredibly beneficial.

However, I do have some general tips I've learned in therapy about how to manage my anxiety specifically in the workplace. Here's 5 secrets I think would be helpful for you because they've worked for me (#TriedAndTrue).

1. Be the Superhero of Self-Awareness

My therapist, aka the best therapist in the entire world (I'm convinced), helped me regulate my anxiety and other unhealthy patterns with one simple step: awareness.

Although this seems like a small step, it's actually a gigantic step towards managing anxiety. I'll never forget the moment where she told me (in her gentle and loving way), "I don't want you to change anything about what you're doing right now. I simply want you to notice yourself in these moments... because if you can't notice yourself, you're not going to be able to intentionally change your behavior." (#ShesGotBARS).

Here's what I do at work now: I start to feel anxiety in my body first; I have somatic responses to anxiety. When I feel like a 100 pound dog is sitting on my chest, I know I need to stop for a moment and notice what's happening. After becoming aware of my body, I'm able to make a decision about what I can do next.

2. Limit the Time You Allow Yourself to Work on Projects

People with high-functioning anxiety are really good at working on projects because it gives them something to do with their time, brain and gifts. The problem is that anxiety can cause them perseverate, or repeat something consistently or redundantly in their minds OR in real life.

You can tell if people around you are experiencing anxiety if they remind you of a task 100 times, if they are hyper-focused on one specific project or task and/or if they talk about the same problems or task over and over.

In order to mitigate the perseveration at work, give yourself a time limit -- I have to do this all of the time. I set up a time schedule where I only allow myself to work on a task for a reasonable amount of time (and sometimes I have to ask what is reasonable) so I can limit my obsessiveness with it. This way, I don't elevate my anxiety around its' completion.

3. Slow Down by 25% (at least)

Sometimes I walk really fast - for example, I can be walking into work and my Apple watch asks me if I want to start an indoor cycling workout. HA. (The answer to that is always no).

Sometimes I can feel really anxious about getting the day started so I'm virtually running because I've made a giant mental list of all the tasks I need to complete before noon (most of which are unrealistic). I literally have to notice myself feeling this way and make myself slow down by at least 25%.

For me, slowing down means giving myself a chance to breathe (breathing is important for survival, people) and it also gives me a moment to validate myself -- "I'm capable of accomplishing the tasks that absolutely need to get completed; I'm organized and smart. It's okay if everything doesn't get done today." I can only tell myself that line if I slow myself down.

4. Disconnect Yourself with Outcomes (It's NOT Personal)

I'm convinced (from my own experiences) that women (not all, but some) have a difficult time not taking things personally. I'm a textbook example of tying outcomes with my personal development or character, especially at work. This is a solid combo of struggling with anxiety, perfectionism, codependency... the list could continue on.