I have anxiety. And sometimes I have to be medicated for it.
There, I’ve said it.
It’s mental health awareness week and much as I hate that we have to have an awareness week (we all have mental health after all, just as we do physical health) I feel like it’s the right time to share how “High functioning anxiety” has showed up in my life and how it ultimately led to my burnout.
What is high functioning anxiety?
It’s a form of anxiety that, despite feeling crippling for the individual, on the outside can look like a high achievement, success and doing a fantastic job.
In fact, those with High Functioning anxiety are super employable as they’re the ones making sure everything is completed to exacting standards and they’re likely to overwork to get the job done.
People with high functioning anxiety are often high achievers and manage to function well in daily life. Until of course they can’t.
How can it lead to burnout?
Here’s my personal experience of how it led to my burnout over a decade ago and some of the signs you may want to watch out for:
1. Perfectionism – a drive to be perfect in everything meant that I was burning the candle and overworking in the office and at home. I wouldn’t listen when people told me I had done a good enough job, I would just keep going.
2. Overthinking – my brain rarely quietens down. This can mean brilliant new ideas all the time but it can also mean analysis paralysis and worrying what everyone thinks of me which isn’t quite so fun.
3. Inability to switch off – this was a big part of my burnout. My drive (slash anxiety) meant my body or mind never fully rested and I would wake at night with racing thoughts. It was exhausting.
4. Need for external validation – even when I was doing a brilliant job, I needed reassurance from others which could lead to people pleasing and doing ridiculous things like writing technical specs at midnight when I worked in sales, because I needed everything to run smoothly on my account.
5. Physical symptoms – constantly battling digestive issues, stress headaches and fatigue which I largely ignored. Until one day my body just shut down and I physically couldn’t get out of bed. The scariest time of my life that I never want to go back to.
So how do I avoid going back there?
I recovered from my burnout (but it took years) and I still suffer with high functioning anxiety today. I have learnt to manage it in a way which means I will never go back to those dark days of being bed bound by it.
- I do this by looking after both my mental and physical well-being on a daily basis.
- I ask for help when I need it.
- Including medication sometimes.
- And sometimes I have therapy.
- I let go of being perfect.
- I’m working on not caring what others think of me.
- And I talk about it openly to help others as well as myself (it keeps me accountable)
What about you?
If you’re struggling with anxiety or with your mental health in any way – start by talking to a trusted friend, family member or colleague about it. It really does help to admit this stuff out loud (you don’t need to do it on social media like me 😆)
- You can talk to your GP or use the right to choose service to self refer for mental health services.
- You can also access support through charities such as Mind.
Most of all, in reading this, I want you to know that you’re not alone and that there is help out there. And it’s worth fighting for. You’re worth it.
This years theme for Mental Health Awareness is Anxiety. You can read more here: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/our-work/public-engagement/mental-health-awareness-week