Root Causes of High-Functioning Anxiety
Confident and successful on the outside, with constant fear and worry on the inside. In my last post, we defined and discussed the characteristics of people with high functioning anxiety. This is different from Generalized Anxiety Disorder which usually involves the “fight or flight” response. Those with High Functioning Anxiety fight against it and present themselves to the world as having all the confidence needed to be successful, organized, productive, and proactive.
On the inside, those with High Functioning Anxiety are self critical, overthinking, worried, restless, irritable, feeling stressed, and experience fatigue.
👉 That’s what high-functioning anxiety looks like.
If you missed my last post describing high-functioning anxiety, be sure to check it out here .
For anyone experiencing high-functioning anxiety, it can feel like a normal way to be—as if it’s necessary to be in a constant state of stress just to keep up with life’s demands. Imagine how exhausting that can be and how detrimental it would be to your health.
But what if it’s not actually normal?
What if it could be possible to stay organized, productive, and goal-oriented without compromising your inner peace?
The first step to breaking the cycle of high-functioning anxiety is to look at where it’s coming from. A Functional Medicine approach gets down to the cause of illness rather than simply managing symptoms. In every person with any type of illness (physical or mental) there is a story that identifies a trauma leading to health decline. Our job is to elicit the story and define how that trauma has affected a person’s overall health. It takes time, effort, skill, and a detailed history for someone in health care to figure it out. It can’t be done in a typical 15 minute office visit. And let’s be honest. Of that 15 minute office visit, you might get 2 or 3 minutes with the person providing your health care.
Here are 5 potential root causes of high-functioning anxiety:
High-functioning anxiety might just feel like who you are, based on your personality. It is more common in people who tend to be shy or nervous in new situations or those who have a tendency to worry.
2. Stressful Life Events
Any experience that your body perceives as traumatic can create a stress response in the body that cascades into anxiousness. Even if we compensate by overachieving, the stress builds up on the inside. Chronic stress leads to chronic disease.
3. Alcohol Use or Abuse
It’s common for those with high-functioning anxiety to have a cocktail or glass or wine to calm the nerves or relieve the anxiety. The problem is that it’s a short-term fix. Drinking alcohol can lead to sleep problems, fatigue, and worse anxiety the next day.
4. Thyroid Imbalance
Thyroid hormones regulate your metabolism but also influence mood. Both an overactive (hyper) and underactive (hypo) thyroid can lead to nervousness and anxiousness. Routine labs don’t usually evaluate a complete thyroid panel, so it’s possible to have thyroid imbalance even if you’ve been told your labs are normal. This is one of the more common “hidden” problems since most doctors don’t know how to look for it. If you’ve only been screened with a Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) level, your thyroid dysfunction may be missed. Even those who’ve been screened with a full thyroid panel may have thyroid dysfunction despite having normal labs. We have found four women this summer that have Hashimoto’s Disease with normal thyroid levels. Positive thyroid peroxidase antibodies identified the problem in one woman who had been taking thyroid replacement for ten years with no eradication of her symptoms.
5. Sympathetic Overdrive
Your sympathetic nervous system activates in response to stress, releasing a cascade of chemical messengers (like adrenaline) and hormones (like cortisol). With ongoing stress, your sympathetic (fight or flight) response can overpower the more calming parasympathetic (rest and digest) response. That creates agitation, anxiousness, muscle tension, sleep problems, and more.
Here are the effects anxiety has on your body:
😰 A sense of doom with difficulty concentrating
😰 Panic attacks bringing forth symptoms such as palpitations, chest pain, lightheadedness and feeling warmer than usual
😰 Headaches from constant worry and stress
😰 Difficulty breathing with rapid, shallow breathing and difficulty “catching your breath”
😰 Stomach upset with pain, nausea, and vomiting
😰 Depression with feelings of guilt, social withdrawal, feelings of hopelessness, and loss of interest in activities in which you normally engage
😰 Heart palpitations
😰 Loss of sex drive
😰 Increased blood pressure
😰 Muscle aches and pains
It can be tricky to unravel what’s really at the root of high-functioning anxiety on your own. If this is something you can relate to, we would love to help.
Our functional medicine approach means we look past the routine labs and screenings to find more subtle patterns (like thyroid imbalance or disrupted stress hormones) underneath the symptoms.
Then we create a personalized plan to help you feel as calm and confident on the INSIDE as you appear to everybody else on the OUTSIDE.
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