Anxiety hides in surprising places.
The story’s becoming sadly common today. Bright, hard-working people feeling unhappy and past their ability to cope. Far too many people are living lives of quiet desperation, not knowing what’s gone wrong. Even days off feel like torture without the distraction of work, so staying busy seems imperative. Run, run, run!
The world is full of people with high-functioning anxiety. I lived this way for many years, and now work with others experiencing high-functioning anxiety who feel helpless in knowing how to help themselves. After all, they want to get it right.
High-functioning anxiety may look like:
• High-achieving & detail oriented
• Punctual or early to arrive
• Orderly and tidy
• Proactive; ready for any possibility
• Organized; well-detailed lists and calendars
• Outgoing and jovial
• Active and helpful
• Outwardly collected and calm
• Passionate & loyal
All of these are lovely attributes are valued and encouraged by society. While everything appears wonderful on the outside, the picture of success, the internal experience feels anything but wonderful for many people and they’re suffering.
There’s a dark side and cost to high-functioning anxiety:
• Inability to say no
• Constantly busy
• Overthinking, racing mind, rumination on the negative
• Insomnia or poor sleep
• Nervous habits and chatter
• People pleasing; fear of letting others down
• Mental and physical fatigue
• Fear of the future
• Never-enough, the feeling they fall short of expectations
• Anxiety, not ambition, creating busyness
• Feeling internal struggle
• Stoic, cold, or hard to read
Stress, when situational and temporary, is a normal part of life that can lead us to strive to do our best. Yet, when we have to endure stress for long periods, anxiety and stress can take over our lives and lead to suffering.
How can we awaken from stress and anxiety when it creates suffering in our lives? Becoming aware of what was fuelling my perfectionist and workaholic behaviours was a key to my recovery. Learning to pause, to simply feel my feelings, instead of feed or react to them, was key.
Learning to feel my feelings and what they were telling me took practice. Initially, sitting still was torture. I had to change the wiring in my brain and body to overcome the demon of anxiety and learn what hid beneath. Mindfulness practice and self-care were life-savers for me.
You cannot give from an empty vessel. We’ve got to find ways to nurture and nourish ourselves. Self-care is not selfish, but allows us to fill our own vessel so we can be our best-selves in the world.
But what is self-care?
Self-care easily feels like two four-letter words in a row for the high-achiever or perfectionist; always wanting to do it right. For many, self-care’s become just one more thing to check-off from our ‘to do’ lists and feel guilty about, or they’re failing at; they feel stressed by their need to care for themselves and don’t know how.
While they may be doing all the right things, they report feeling guilty, lacking and somehow broken or beyond hope when they fail to reap the intended benefits. The problem is not so much what they’re doing, it’s how they’re doing it. The spirit or attitudinal foundation we hold as we engage in care practices is what matters most. Being gentle, patient, and kind with ourselves is essential.
Self-care is not just one more thing to add and check-off of your to-do list. You can easily search the internet for hundreds of suggestions about self-care.
What’s vital to know is self-care is not so much about what you do, but how you do it. Engaging in self-care with a sense of self-nurturance, spaciousness and patience is essential. Being as kind and nurturing towards ourselves as we would be to someone we care deeply for is required.
Self-care is not one-size-fits-all, and each of us needs a variety of different practices to use, depending on how we’re feeling. Sometimes a walk is the perfect thing, and other times a mindfulness sitting-practice or chat with a good friend is what’s required. Learning what’s nurturing for us, as individuals, in certain situations is important, but actually using these strategies is key.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.