Updated: Jul 7
If you’ve not already read my 7 Signs of High-Functioning Anxiety then start there as it helps to know what it is you’re actually trying to cope with.
The two key points to come back to are:
1) a lot of this anxiety is underpinned by a fear of being criticised or rejected, so many of your anxious behaviours will be an attempt to avoid this happening (people-pleasing; over-preparing; reviewing conversations; setting high standards for yourself).
2) you’ve likely been doing many of these anxious behaviours and buying into anxious thoughts for quite some time so changing these patterns is going to take gentle persistence. You wouldn’t expect to develop a six-pack in a week would you? It’s the same for your emotional health: you have to practice the anxiety-management tools regularly to notice a change.
So what are these anxiety-management tools?
1) Start to notice when your anxiety has been set off:
If you have my 7 Signs of High-functioning anxiety then use these to guide you. Have you picked up your phone again to re-read the same text message? Are you lying in bed planning tomorrow’s meeting for the umpteenth time? Call it out by saying “Ah, here is my high-functioning anxiety again”
2) Regulate your nervous system with breathing
As the following steps are all about managing the worry thoughts it’s far easier to do this once you’ve regulated your nervous system and breathing is the quickest way of doing so. Hold your left hand in front of you and trace your right index finger slowly up and down each finger: breath in on the way up and out on the way down. Then swap to the other hand. This means you will have done 10 slow breaths and this usually take about 90 seconds. This is a good start in calming your nervous system from red mode back towards green.
3) Check in with the worry thoughts underlying the anxiety
When you’ve noticed the usual anxious behaviours kicking in and have called it out this creates a space to pause and figure out what’s going on in your head. Ask yourself: “what am I really worried about here?”. And then pause again to really listen! Jotting them down can help to start to separate them out from yourself and leads into step four.
4) Now create some distance from this worry
These worry thoughts are so familiar aren’t they? We are so easily hooked by thoughts that fit a dominant storyline, perhaps for you it’s something like ‘How others don’t realise how inferior I really am’ or maybe it’s ‘I’ll never be as good as anyone else’. The more we replay these thoughts the more ingrained and true these storylines feel so try creating some distance from them by telling yourself: “I notice I’m having the thought that….” E.g. “I notice I’m having the thought that I messed up” or “I notice I’m having the thought that they all think I’m a terrible mum”.
5) Redirect your attention and behaviours onto something else
In the long-term you will start to break your anxiety patterns by changing your behaviour at the time the anxiety is triggered. So if you usually spend 30-minutes in bed re-reading texts every evening try to reduce this gradually and replace it with a healthier habit that doesn’t pander to the worry e.g. reading or journaling. Over time the urges to check your texts or replay conversations will reduce as you will become more confident that this is just the anxiety and that nothing bad happens if you do as it bids.
Remember that it takes time and practice before you will start to notice a change, setting yourself a goal around this will help or finding someone to help you stay accountable. If you want help with this then just contact me to arrange a chat about options to work with me on freeing yourself of this anxiety and overthinking.
Learn more ways of coping with worrying with
1) this blog (I'm a worrier, what can I do?!) and / or:
2) 4 Simple Steps to Manage Overthinking which is a free download.
Or get more targeted help to reduce your anxiety with my Rewire your Anxious Brain Kit, released in June 2022 and currently at the introductory price.