When everyone is benefiting from your life – except you!

By Ruth Fordyce
Psychologist, The Resilience Centre

Are you a driven person? Do you hold yourself to high standards? Are you rushing around trying to keep everyone happy, but with that gnawing feeling inside that you’re going to drop a ball soon and it will all come crashing down?

It may be that anxiety is actually driving these thoughts and patterns of behaviour in your life.

‘High functioning anxiety’ is not an official category of anxiety when it comes to mental health diagnosis, but it’s a descriptive term that has been showing up on websites and social media for a while now (see here for an example). Most simply put, it means that a person is functioning quite well on the outside, but is struggling with anxious thoughts and feelings on the inside.

The term ‘high functioning anxiety’ is clearly resonating for many people who may not have previously considered that they have a form of anxiety. I think it’s a descriptor that is also helping us all recognise that many successful, high achieving people have underlying anxious traits.

Some features of ‘high functioning anxiety’

  • From the outsider’s perspective you are functioning well – for example, you may be doing quite well in your job, you are well organised, seen as a good friend/parent and so on
  • You may be described or thought of as driven, a high achiever, a perfectionist
  • Your anxiety propels you to work hard to stay on top of things, but internally you are often criticizing yourself, and worried your efforts aren’t good enough or that it’s all going to fall apart soon
  • Quite often, no one else is aware that you are anxious – or perhaps only a partner or your closest family member is aware
  • You are often thoughtful of others and eager to help, so frequently people think highly of you. You however, find it hard to believe their positive appraisals of you and struggle to enjoy the fruits of your efforts.

I often comment to my clients who have this sort of ‘high functioning’ anxiety that in fact, “everyone is benefiting from your life – except you!”

What I mean by this is that everyone else around you is benefiting from the fact that you are always thinking ahead, planning, preventing problems, helping and organising. However, you are the one missing out on enjoying life and actually feeling good about your efforts. Being somewhat anxious can actually lead to many helpful and productive behaviours, but it’s a matter of keeping it in check so that it does not end up costing you your peace of mind and satisfaction with life.

So what can you do?

  1. Engage in activities to slow you down – yoga, swimming, learning some relaxation skills, and practicing mindfulness meditation are some good examples. Each of these activities will encourage a slowing of your breathing which in turn lowers your heart rate and decreases the stress responses in the body. These activities can also help to slow down racing thoughts and help your brain to take a short ‘holiday’ from anxious thinking.If you’ve never tried meditation, Smiling Mind is a free mindfulness website and app worth trying.
  2. Lower your standards – it’s likely that your standards for yourself are a lot higher than anyone else would expect of you. For example, being excessively worried about making any mistakes at work when you are actually quite new to the role, or thinking that letting a friend down once might lead to your friend rejecting you. Everyone makes mistakes, and lets a friend down from time to time. It’s part of being human. If you have high functioning anxiety, it’s likely that you could lower you standards a little, and not a single person around you would even notice! You are still going to be thoughtful and hard working, just with a little more room to breathe.
  3. Give yourself the same compassion that you would give to a friend – this is another good way to challenge self-criticism and perfectionism. Why are you holding yourself to much harsher standards than you would expect of anyone else? Why are you beating yourself up for a mistake, when you would offer kindness and understanding to a friend in the same situation? Accept and embrace that you are ahuman, just like the rest of us – imperfect, but still worthy of love and value.
  4. Tell someone – granted, it pays to be wise about who you are going to tell. You need someone trustworthy and non-judgmental. Obviously a psychologist can be of great benefit but I find it also makes a huge difference if just one or two people in your ‘real life’ can also be a support to you. For many people with high functioning anxiety, half the battle is learning that people can love you, not just for your outside ‘success’, but for your whole, messy, vulnerable, self. But they can only do that if you let them in.

Options for getting more help

  • See your GP and get a referral to a psychologist
  • Do a course online that helps treat anxiety – This Way Up and MindSpot are two great examples
  • Start small and check out our Resilience Centre seminar on decreasing stress – it’s just over an hour in length and will introduce you to some practical ideas
  • If you are feeling unsure about seeking help or wary about trying some of the steps above, why not do a little reading first.
    For example, if you are a fast-paced driven person, the idea of doing mindfulness meditation might seem ridiculous to you. I’d highly recommend you have a look at Dan Harris, author of “Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics” (I love this title!)
    If you are looking for more general information about anxiety, Beyond Blue is a great place to start.

If you have high functioning anxiety, I can guarantee that you will be trying your hardest to do things this week that will make life better for the people around you.

But what are you choosing that will make life better for YOU?

 

Ruth Fordyce is a Registered Psychologist at The Resilience Centre in Sydney. Find out more about Ruth by clicking here.

“Till Death Do Us Part” – the marriage journey

Written by Ivette Moutzouris

 

Marriages and partnerships are hard work and many people enter it without exploring some of the necessary ingredients to make it work and thrive. Sometimes however it is life’s challenges such as having children, financial hardships or health issues that disrupt our once happy and connected partnership to the point where we are left wondering – “who is this person and do I want to spend the rest of my life with them”. Have you ever had these thoughts or doubts about your relationship?. It is not uncommon but I would like to suggest that you persevere and start to reflect on the aspects of the relationship that you would like to change as well as focusing on the parts that are functioning well or at least used to be.

The following is by no means comprehensive but it is a taste of the ingredients that you may need to invest into this sacred partnership.

  1. Your attitude = I encourage you to explore what it means to be working in a partnership. Does it mean that you always get what you want? Does it mean that you compartmentalise your life into different segments? Do you continue to behave the same way with your partner even if it is yielding negative results? In your opinion it is almost always the other persons fault?

I would like you to really understand what the word partnership means because your marriage is an important partnership like no other. I looked up the meaning of the word partnership and these are the synonyms for this word= collaboration, alliance, union, compact, fellowship and connection to name a few. You need to consider the fact that a marriage is not just about you and your needs, there is a significant other involved and their needs also need to be considered. You should not withdraw when it gets tough and hope things will sort themselves out…you need to get more involved in creating positive change. Now at this point you may think that yes you are willing to do this but your partner isn’t. May I suggest that even change from one partner can have a positive ripple effect so don’t feel discouraged if you are taking the first step. It is an indication to yourself and your partner that you value this partnership enough to reflect on its condition and move forward. You want to get it to a place where it was functioning better and hopefully beyond. Individuals in the marriage need to truly give, just like in work relationships it is healthy to consider and take on board the other persons views, desires, skills, strengths and so on. Your partner is not you and you are not your partner but together you can become a loving team that functions well.

 

  1. Communication = Connection. Again using the example of a work relationship what do you think would help the team members to feel included and valued? Maybe if they felt heard and believed that what they said and contributed mattered. This of course doesn’t mean that you always get what you want when you share but it does help create connection when you know the other person is willing to try and sees things from your perpective. Arguing is a negative form of communicating so I would suggest instead to try talking things through when emotions are not running so strong and when you can see that you other person is ready to listen. This is healthy communication. Also avoid playing the blame game, this is never helpful and is just puts your partner in a defensive position. It is much better to communicate what your needs are and how you would like things to be and how you are feeling instead of attacking. I know this is often difficult to do but nothing will change if you don’t share what is going on for you. Your partner cannot read your mind!!!

In regards to communication I also want to point out that there are various forms of communicating. Some people are better with words, others with touch and affection, and others communicate through their actions. This brings me to my next point which is to look out for what your partner is trying to communicate.

 

  1. Listen– You need to work on your listening skills in order to get to know your partner better. Listen to their words, observe their actions. Mindfully consider the other person. Are they trying to communicate something about how they feel, their day, their concerns? It is helpful to make time to pay attention even though you are dealing with another adult. We often make more time to listen to our kids or our colleagues and friends and encourage them to talk but we may not make time for our partners. Be humble. What I mean by this is listen even if you are struggling to understand or agree. If you take a humble approach you will learn more about your partner. You will learn about what motivates and excites them, what brings them down, what their values are, what their strengths are, what their hopes and dreams and expectations are, what their fears are. This then leads to better understanding which helps you to be a better partner as you respond to their needs.

 

  1. Patience/Perserverence – You are not perfect and neither is your partner which means that you will both need to be patient with each other as you explore healthier ways of partnering through the challenges of life. Helen Fischer, a renowned anthropologist, who has done extensive research into human behaviour and specifically human love, describes the various stages of relationship and the chemical changes that occur in our brains as a result of love feelings. Basically these initial chemical reactions stabilise but this does not mean that our relationship should be less meaningful as a result. We need to create meaning as partners and work to together through the various stages of life and use the years as an opportunity to explore and learn more about each other.

 

  1. Strengths– We also have strengths and weaknesses and too often in our relationships we focus mainly on what is not working. I am not suggesting to ignore this I am only saying that a lot more attention needs to be directed at what is good and functioning or what has been good. Try to reflect on this as you consider your partnership and share how you would like this to continue, that is, what you would like to see more of or like to continue. Remember we are talking about your individual strengths that you bring to the relationship (probably what helped to create initial attraction and attachment) as well as your strengths as a union. You are in partnership but you are also individuals and you need to acknowledge and celebrate both of these aspects of the union.

 

  1. Forgiveness – Forgiveness isn’t easy and can take a very long time but the truth is that we live in an imperfect world with imperfect people. We are not always going to get it right, in fact we are destined to make some mistakes along the way. Forgiveness is one way of working through those times and even if doesn’t result is a repaired relationship it will result in a freer, wiser self. I encourage you to work on presenting the best version of yourself to the relationship as well as helping your partner to be the best version of themselves. If we have this attitude in our relationship then surely positive and lasting growth and change will occur.

 

 

If you have issues working through some of the above I suggest that you seek help from a professional.

Alternatively below is a list of reading material that you may also find helpful.

 

Johnson, Sue.  Hold Me Tight – Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love. Little, Brown and Company. 2008.

 

Fisher, Helen.  Why We Love. The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love. St. Martin’s Griffin. 2004.

 

Weiner-Davis, Michelle. Divorce Busting. Simon & Schuster Paperbacks. 1992.