Always feel like you’re performing or like your mind is spinning? You may struggle with high-functioning anxiety. Here’s how I approach it from a Christian perspective.
For my whole life, I’ve been what you might describe as a high achiever. But it was only recently that I discovered that underlying much of my behavior has been high-functioning anxiety.
I got straight A’s through high school. I did sports and music, won awards, and received scholarships. Yet it always felt like the ball was going to drop. I had meltdowns as a young adult when I didn’t reach a desired achievement or felt that I had failed in some way.
Years later, after becoming a Christian and experiencing the freedom and peace that come from knowing Jesus, that part of me still lingers. I’m not striving for good grades anymore, but I’ll pursue “excellence” in other areas: running my home, parenting, homeschooling, serving the church.
Through it all, there’s been a low hum inside—that familiar, constant fear that the ball is going to drop. Every now and then it does drop—and I’ve shut down, broken down, or suffered in my health because of it.
If you think you might suffer from high-functioning anxiety too, read on. I can assure you that it is real, but it is also very manageable.
Related post: How to Pray About Anxiety and Actually Find Peace
Disclaimer: While I am a certified stress management coach, I am not a medical professional. Please seek help from a licensed clinician for diagnosis and treatment of anxiety disorders and other mental health issues.
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What Is High-Functioning Anxiety? (And How Do You Know If You Have It?)
High-functioning anxiety isn’t a diagnosable condition. There’s no test that you can take to confirm that you have it.
Yet just because it’s not a recognized anxiety disorder doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist or that it doesn’t need to be identified and managed.
People who suffer from high-functioning anxiety generally look like they have it all together. They are high-functioning, after all. But that doesn’t mean they’re functioning well. On the inside, they can be a mess. The absence of peace spills over into their health, their work, and their relationships.
It isn’t the same for everyone, but you might have high-functioning anxiety if you relate to some of the following:
- Your mind is constantly busy or worried
- You’re a perfectionist
- You’re very concerned about what other people think of you
- You have a hard time relaxing
- Your racing thoughts often keep you up at night
- You often feel overwhelmed or exhausted by your own expectations
- You’re afraid of being vulnerable and may stuff emotions
- You procrastinate for fear of making a mistake
- You get fixated with being timely
- You identify as a “type A” personality
- You have a hard time making decisions for fear of making a mistake
- Or, sometimes you make rash decisions because it’s too exhausting to think through the consequences or do the research
- You have a hard time saying no
- You have nervous habits
- You have a constant fear of failure or “ball dropping”
If you know, you know.
Most of the time, these symptoms don’t prevent you from living a “normal” life. In fact, they may help you perform well in a variety of circumstances. But I can tell you first-hand that a slow-moving train wreck is still a train wreck.
What Does the Bible Say About Anxiety?
Anxiety is a fear-based emotion. It’s normal and healthy; without it, you would have no sense of danger or your own limits. It triggers your body’s stress response so that you can be safe. I believe God gave us this emotion to protect us.
The problem is when we let anxiety run the show rather than choosing to trust God. People with high-functioning anxiety tend to cling to control, rather than surrender in faith.
My understanding of what the Bible says about anxiety includes:
- It’s not a sin.
- It’s an opportunity to lean on God.
- There are many examples of people in the Bible who wrestle with anxiety that we can learn from.
You can read more on this topic in my guest post at Equipping Godly Women: What Does the Bible Say About Anxiety?
How to Manage High-Functioning Anxiety: 3 Essential Tools
You don’t have to be ashamed of high-functioning anxiety. Anxiety is an emotion that can serve you, protect you, and provide signals through your body when you need to take action.
But anxiety shouldn’t be running your life either. With God’s help and with the right tools, you can work on mastering it, rather than letting it master you.
Bible verses about anxiety like Philippians 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:7 instruct us to take this powerful emotion to God when it threatens to dominate us. He is our advocate (John 14:17), our friend (John 15:15), our shepherd (Psalm 23:1), and more. Here are some strategies that have helped me and that I also recommend to my students.
1. Healthy Mindset & Self-Talk
So many of the things that trigger high-functioning anxiety start in the mind. For a variety of reasons, our brains can act like broken records that repeat lies over and over like:
- You’re a bad person
- You’re unlovable
- You’re a failure
- You’re worthless
- You’re stupid
- It’s your fault if something goes wrong
- You’re weak
- You’re incompetent
- And so on…
Rather than identifying and confronting these lies head-on, those of us with high-functioning anxiety are constantly working to prove them wrong, to ourselves and those around us. But no matter how hard we try, it just never feels like enough.
The only way to defeat a lie is to replace it with truth. Your brain is plastic, meaning that it can be changed; instead of always going down the same negative thought path, you can create a new one and it will gradually become your default.
For me, identifying my toxic thoughts and replacing them with the truths I find in Scripture are the most effective ways to change the way I think. I do this through prayer, God-centered meditation and mindfulness, journaling, writing out my favorite Bible passages and memorizing them.
Over years, I’ve chipped away at my negative thought patterns and replaced them with new ones, which prevents my high-functioning anxiety from kicking into gear.
Related post: How I Manage Anxiety with 5 Calming Steps
2. Creating Space for Rest & Self-Care
Learning how to stop, slow down, and say no can be really difficult for someone with high-functioning anxiety. But it’s necessary if you want to grow out of your anxious patterns.
Biblically, Sabbath is a practice as well as a posture. God’s people in the Hebrew Scriptures were instructed to follow a pattern of work and Sabbath rest weekly, seasonally, and periodically. While the New Covenant in Christ doesn’t specify such a structured way to practice rest, there is nonetheless wisdom in adapting the principles of Sabbath so as to experience the peace of God (Philippians 4:7).
When you choose to rest, you’re in effect saying “no” to your need to produce and control, and you’re trusting that God will take care of things. What’s more, by creating that space, you let God in and your mind, body, and soul have an opportunity to heal and grow.
I like to view self-care through a lens of Sabbath rest. When you have high-functioning anxiety, your needs often come last. When I allow myself to turn off my productivity, I can say yes to the things I might not give myself permission to enjoy otherwise.
3. Safe Relationships
Having high-functioning anxiety can be very lonely because you may tend to shut people out. It’s scary to be vulnerable because your charade of having it all together might unravel quickly.
Yet being authentic and real with people you love and trust is an essential step for an anxious heart to find peace. In Daring Greatly, Brene Brown sums up her research on how people deal with shame:
Vulnerability is the birthplace of belonging, joy, courage, empaty, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticiy. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.
I’ve had the privilege of several people on whom I can safely be vulnerable with, without fear of judgment. Sometimes I receive guidance or we pray together, but much of the time I just get a compassionate listening ear.
Safe relationships are important when you have high-functioning anxiety because you don’t have to put on a performance for them. They can give you courage and confidence to live wholeheartedly as yourself, without the charade that you have it all together.
High-Functioning Anxiety Isn’t the Boss of You
If high-functioning anxiety is your norm, I hope you feel encouraged and empowered. Since anxiety is a normal emotion, I can’t promise that it will completely go away when you use these tools, but I can tell you that it is not your boss.
If you want to get started with managing your anxiety, incorporating some simple self-care practices is a great place to start. Be sure to check out my Take a Deep Breath Self-Care Toolkit to help you with just that.
Leave a comment: Do you have high-functioning anxiety? What does it look like for you? Based on these suggestions, what do you think might help?