Coping with High Functioning Anxiety

How I Cope With High-Functioning Anxiety

{Guest Post} Today’s post comes from Courtney Hollenbeck, who runs the inspirational Invisible Crown blog. I hope her tips for anxiety management will help you peacefully navigate the often-stressful holiday season!

People pleaser. Over thinker. Procrastinator. Insomniac. Dwells on past mistakes. Nervous. Flaky. Loyal to a fault. These are all attributes of a person who struggles with high functioning anxiety. I am that person.

To the outside observer, I’m a high-achieving, ambitious, and positive person who loves people. All of those things can be true, but take a peek inside my head and you’ll see the perpetual, gnawing anxiety beneath them.

Stage Fright

In my youth, I was involved in every possible performing arts hobby. I tried my hand at gymnastics, piano, dance, choir, show choir, pageants, and musical theatre. I loved the excitement and camaraderie of performing, but I struggled with intense stage fright. The more I performed, the worse my anxiety got. I became wrapped up in perfection and fear of failure. Backstage, I would often frantically practice a dance I had known for months, panicking over the thought of forgetting everything onstage.

On one occasion, immediately before performing onstage in a pageant, I had what I believe to be a full-blown panic attack. I had to go into a room by myself, curl into a ball on the ground, and breathe through it—or else I was going to make a run for it. I was even trying to remember where the nearest fast food place was located so I could run straight there.

Nerves are normal for performers. They add that extra excitement before you go on stage. However, if those nerves are hijacking the joy of performing and spiraling into panic, it’s a sign that something is wrong.

Cancelled Plans

As an adult, the scenarios surrounding my anxiety have changed. I no longer perform on stages, but when meeting new people or working with new students, I agonize over what I will say before it happens, and rehash what I said after it happens. On the surface I may appear calm, cool, and collected—like a duck gliding on a smooth lake. But all the while my anxiety is busy paddling away underneath the surface.

One of the biggest manifestations of my anxiety is in new or large social gatherings. Instead of taking a chance and risk appearing less than perfect, I often cancel plans. More times than not, I do indeed have a reasonable excuse to cancel (my daughter did not sleep well, I have a busy day ahead, we are traveling this weekend, etc.) but it’s a disguise for why I am truly cancelling. Perhaps, in the wake of a poor night of sleep, I lashed out at my daughter or husband (or both) in exhausted frustration. Perhaps, due to my impending piano lessons, I’m afraid to deplete my social and emotional energy by going out. Perhaps I’m packing days in advance for an upcoming trip, because feeling in control of something, no matter how small, makes me feel like I have my life together.

It’s easy to appear flaky when you’re struggling with anxiety. In all actuality, you’re just trying to keep your head above water.

How I Cope

Despite all these challenges, I’m currently in a relatively healthy place in managing my anxiety. I  still have occasional flare ups, just like a physical illness, but I’ve discovered some practices that help me identify sources of anxiety and keep myself grounded and calm. Here are my top four:


I’ve found that one of the biggest things that impacts my anxiety, positively or negatively, is how I treat my body. What you put in and on your body matters. I strive to move my body daily in some capacity, whether that’s as simple as going for a walk or as complex as an hour-long strength training session. Exercising releases natural endorphins, and it allows me to feel accomplished by checking something off of my to-do list. It’s a win for the day, no matter what else may go wrong.

Diet / Hydration 

I strive to eat a balanced diet, rich in carbohydrates, protein, and fat, and derived primarily from whole foods. Of course, I indulge in my bag of popcorn or dark chocolate bar each week, but for most meals, we cook and eat REAL food. I also add a pinch of sea salt to my water and sip on it throughout my day. It not only hydrates me, but it feeds my body loads of wonderful minerals that it craves.

Stepping Out / Rest

Stepping out of my comfort zone and trying to push myself into situations that make me feel uncomfortable actually helps me overcome my anxiety quite a bit! I recently moved to a new state, and I was terrified of going through the process of meeting new people again. However, I faced those fears, and I found two different Mom’s clubs to join. The first meeting was a big leap of faith, and I toyed with the idea of cancelling and not going countless times, but I am glad I went!

Rest has to go in tandem with the “stepping out” portion. I have noticed that if I do not write ample rest time into my day, I am much more prone to anxiety. Rest can mean going to bed early, sitting down and reading a book during my daughter’s nap time, or keeping one day of the week without any official plans. This rest time allows my emotions to recharge after stepping out of my comfort zone throughout the rest of the day or week, and it also allows me to reflect on what I have accomplished.

Thinking Outward

The last facet of my anxiety treatment is to think outward. Often times, you can get so lost in your own anxiety and emotions that you forget there are other people around you going through similar or even bigger problems than your own! I have always heard that everyone’s 10 is a 10. Everyone’s problems are valid, but don’t get so caught up in your own that you forget to check in on your friends and family. Checking in on them and serving them in some way may actually bring you up out of the pit you’re in.

Courtney Hollenbeck was born and raised in a small Ohio town before making her first of many moves to Indiana, where she studied Music Education at Anderson University. She has since lived in Indianapolis; Johnson City, Tennessee; and now currently resides in a Chicago suburb with her husband and toddler daughter. Courtney is an online English teacher, private music instructor, and budding Instagram blogger, where she strives to inspire and motivate people to discover and lead their best lives! Follower her on Instagram @theinvisiblecrownblog.

This post may contain affiliate links, which help support this blog. I only link to products I use or would personally recommend.

Feature photo: Imani Clovis, Unsplash

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