I didn’t realize I had anxiety for a long time until I got to graduate school. When I was working toward getting my degree in clinical counseling, it dawned on me how anxiety was inexplicably interwoven into my everyday life. Anxiety was just hiding under its alias– perfectionism.
I had always been a high performer, doing well in mostly anything I tried. In high school I attended a performing arts academy where we would practice dancing, singing, and acting three to four days a week. Even though I had a very busy schedule and a boyfriend, I was able to keep my grades up. But this didn’t stop me from being very insecure. I always found myself sitting in a place of comparison and if I wasn’t the best or perfect (which was very rarely the case) I would beat myself up, convinced that somehow I just had to try harder. This was especially true when it came to my body image. I remember thinking “if I just looked like her…”, my life would somehow magically transform.
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This sounds ridiculous now that I am older and wiser, but I still have the occasional delusion that the grass is greener elsewhere or I am not doing enough. I am convinced that another mom is more patient, more caring, and more dedicated than me, which in turn makes me question my decision to be a working mom. I see the put-together woman at the networking meeting and think to myself that she must have it together in every area of her life, so why don’t I? I see the woman who looks like a supermodel in my workout class and try to convince myself if I just somehow found 50 more hours a week to workout maybe I would look like that. You get the point. When we set the bar at perfection we set ourselves up for failure because we will never be good enough. This often causes us to minimize or overlook our achievements rather than really celebrate what we are doing well.
It also disconnects us from the reality that everyone struggles. Just because it looks like someone has their life put together doesn’t mean we see the full picture.
Working on this anxiety and the negative beliefs that have fueled it have been key in my healing process. It has been too much to undertake on my own and I have spent many hours with my own therapist rewiring the neural pathways that are no longer serving me (or maybe never were).
Here are three things you can start doing today if you think you may have high-functioning anxiety:
1) Start a mindfulness or meditation practice. Even five to ten minutes a day of slowing down, disconnecting from the mind and becoming more conscious of our thoughts can make a significant difference. Plus, there are so many other great benefits of meditating–check out the research for yourself.
2) Pay attention to your body. The body can provide a wealth of knowledge when it comes to our emotional states. Notice where you hold your stress and how anxiety presents itself in your body. This will also help you identify any specific triggers that spike anxiety for you.
3) Listen to your internal dialogue and how you are speaking to yourself. What do you say if things aren’t perfect or if you mess something up? If you are late dropping your kid off or forget to put the bill in the mail? Negative beliefs and statements are often a huge contributing factor to anxiety and many of us are not even aware that we speaking to ourselves that way. Cultivating self-compassion and becoming our own friend can greatly reduce our emotional stress level.
There are many different types of anxiety, so this blog may not resonate with what you are experiencing. Some of these will be addressed in future blog posts, so stay tuned. The above suggestions may never be enough and I strongly suggest finding a therapist who can be your ally in becoming your best self.