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How To Shift High-Functioning Anxiety Into Your Leadership Power

Updated: Jun 3, 2023

Are you aspiring to effectively lead your team, organisation, or business without being bombarded by crippling anxiety?

When you’re in a constant internal battle, this can seem impossible, I know. But if you desire to win that battle, then you’ve arrived at your training camp.

If you value the importance of having the inner strength to be able to perform to the best of your ability, then there’s nothing more vital than sorting through the clutter within yourself to conquer high functioning anxiety to operate at your optimal level.

Leadership - High Functioning Anxiety

According to Bridges to Recovery, “40 million people aged 18 and over will suffer from an anxiety disorder in any 12 month period.” They go on to state that this statistic represents more than 18 percent of the adult population, and that those with high-functioning anxiety suffer from lower levels of self-esteem and self-confidence. Because of this, they tend to compensate for their insecurities by pushing themselves in order to please others.

Clearly, high-functioning anxiety is a prevalent issue facing many ambitious professionals today. So if any of this sounds like you, read on to learn how you can manage and control your high-functioning anxiety so that you can reach your full leadership potential.

What is High-Functioning Anxiety?

According to Forbes Health, high-functioning anxiety typically refers to someone who experiences anxiety while still managing daily life. These people tend to excel at their job and thus tend to be in more senior, leadership-type positions.

On the surface of it, these people appear to be tough-skinned, impervious to criticism, and capable of handling the weight and responsibility of the world on their shoulders. Typically, we expect these people to embody this character and be on-demand 24/7.

But leaders are still human after all.

Meaning they too can feel anxious. They too are vulnerable to feelings to fatigue, uncertainty, pressure, weakness, indecision, and doubt.

Undoubtedly, this mental anguish can often go unreported or untreated. What do they have to worry about you might think? They have it good, sitting at the top of the food chain. Although it may be difficult to quantify the real effects of poor mental health and related anxiety, researchers surmise high-functioning anxiety to be the most pervasive.

What Does High-Functioning Anxiety Look Like In Leaders?

Leadership - High Functioning Anxiety - Mental Health

On The Surface Of It

Leaders with high-functioning anxiety may appear to be the epitome of success. They tend to arrive at work earlier than everyone else. They are usually well-dressed and diligently prepared.

Colleagues may describe them as high achievers, detail-oriented and reliable. Not only that, but they're always willing to assist others where they’re needed. Furthermore, their calendars are jam-packed as they thrive off being busy. Their composure is rock solid and they never reveal that underneath their picture-perfect exterior, they’re fighting a continual churn of anxiety.

Underneath it all, it can be a very different story.

Beneath The Surface

High-functioning anxiety can unfold in a variety of ways. Whilst high-functioning anxiety can affect any professional, from entry-level assistants to top management and CEOs, the weight and gravity of such in senior leaders can certainly be more pronounced. It can manifest as something as minor as mundane daily tasks (such as making that last-minute meeting or struggling to meet deadlines), to something as major as a critical project that could change the entire direction of the business. Low-level forms of this anxiety can manifest as mere hesitation. Higher forms are often associated with more specific actions, such as being nervous about being asked to give an important presentation or a high-stakes interview process that requires the execution of more complex tasks.

The Signs of High-Functioning Anxiety

Leadership - High Functioning Anxiety - Mental Health - Work Anxiety

Wondering if you have high-functioning anxiety? Below are some telltale signs that high-functioning anxiety is robbing you of your precious time and energy:

  1. Overthinking and overanalyzing all the time.

  2. Lack of confidence.

  3. Insomnia and exhaustion.

  4. The desire to please everyone.

  5. Difficulty in saying no.

  6. A strong preference to focus on mistakes made in the past.

  7. Nail-biting or leg tapping.

  8. Excessive anxiety and difficulty expressing sentiments

It's Time to Shift Gears: Turn Anxiety Into Power

Leadership - High Functioning Anxiety - Mental Health - Mindset - Transformation

What anxiety comes down to, is a feeling of loss of control over your life, feelings, or any situation in between. So if you're struggling with silent but deadly high-functioning anxiety episodes at the office, and you’ve struggled tirelessly to overcome it, I have 3 simple shifts for you to take back control over yourself and your life.

1. Structure Your Time

There’s substantial research indicating that more optimism toward how you organize and spend your time has a significant impact on mental health - which makes it especially important when you're feeling anxious. Spring out of bed before your thoughts take hold and begin to plan out your day ahead. Or better yet, plan the night before, or the Sunday before to plan ahead your entire week. Don’t forget to incorporate breaks and small tasks that you enjoy. This sense of control over your schedule will ensure you’re well prepared and will help to dispel any panic.

2. Utilize Mindful Techniques that Reduce Anxiety

There are numerous approaches to mindfulness to alleviate anxiety symptoms. One simple yet effective technique is breathing. Slowing your breath deliberately sends a signal to the brain to increase serotonin which helps dispel cortisol (the stress hormone). This will ensure the reduction of physiological symptoms of anxiety, such as enhanced heart rate and high blood pressure. Try the following 4-2-6 breathing method to help change anxiety into power and insight.

Leadership - High Functioning Anxiety - Mental Health - Mindset - Breathing Exercise

Meditation or visualization are other effective techniques as they bring you to the present and focus more on the positives. The next time you feel anxiety, try to gradually shift your perception to something else like; looking at your surroundings or listening to the hustle and bustle of your workplace. By focusing on an element in the current moment, you can feel present in the moment, where you know without a doubt that you are in control.

3. Take Things One Step At A Time

The pressure of an overwhelmingly large task before you can easily trigger high-functioning anxiety. The key is to break this task down into smaller, more manageable chunks, and to take each step as it comes. Take frequent breaks doing things you enjoy such as going for a lunchtime run, or a walk in the park, to ensure that you are taking a balanced approach to your work and life.

Taking very small, meaningful actions are key to gaining back a sense of control and breaking the mental spiral. This way, you are also using your energy to spark change instead of igniting panic.

These simple techniques can be applied anywhere, anytime. Give them a go before you dismiss them, they really work!

Complete the Shift: The Anxiety-Power Challenge

Leadership - High Functioning Anxiety - Mental Health - Mindset - Transformation

Living with high-functioning anxiety can be exhausting, even if it is not outwardly debilitating. Learning new defense strategies from a professional coach or simply talking about how you're feeling with a trusted advisor can make a significant difference to your ongoing anxiety levels.

I challenge you to remain diligent when it comes to shifting your anxiety into your power. When you make the most of your challenges and take control over your life and your emotions, you will have all the tools you need to move forward into a resounding success.

Here’s to your power!

Nicole Schmitz is a certified leadership coach, trained psychologist, and lawyer. She is the Founder of The Leadership X-Factor, which enables senior corporate executives and entrepreneurs to speak up, be seen, and get ahead in their careers and lives.

To better understand how to apply these invaluable tools to your personal situation and overcome high-functioning anxiety once and for all, book in for a free confidential chat today.

Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn for more info!

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