People expect everything you touch to turn to gold.
You’re an achiever who’s always prepared. The go-to girl. The person everyone wants on their team. You’re so good at hiding your anxiety that you may not even know it exists.
You appear to have it all together on the OUTSIDE.
But you are one mistake or unkind word away from falling apart on the INSIDE.
I know this woman well. She was me.
For more than 3 decades, I thought I was slaying life. I was a model student. The first born of four girls. After college, I was a corporate jet setter traveling the world. I married an amazing man and eventually left the corporate job to stay home with my beautiful girls. Then at age 37, I had an emotional and physical breakdown and discovered that while my external life was thriving, my internal life was slowly being eaten away by anxiety.
Looking back, all the signs were there from the time I was 7 years old.
I completely missed it. My family missed it. I was so capable. So smart. So headstrong. Sure, I was a perfectionist, but that earned me straight As and accolades. Sure, I worried all the time, but that meant I was prepared for any outcome. I was a problem solver. A dependable fixer. I stuffed my feelings, which meant I was pleasant and nice to be around. I was diplomatic, never making waves or causing pain.
My anxiety masqueraded in qualities that the world rewarded.
But make no mistake. I was suffering quietly even as I relished in the praise. All those years, the struggles remained hidden and dismissed where they grew and grew and grew, until my human mind and body could no longer contain them.
Please hear this. Anxiety is treatable. It is manageable. And there is great hope for those of us who struggle.
But FIRST we have to recognize anxiety for what it is.
7 Signs of Anxiety You Might Be Missing
It’s great to do your best, but NOBODY is perfect. Fretting over anything less than ideal, cringing about the smallest mistake or imperfection, thinking about what could have been over and over and over again are just a few ways perfectionism revealed itself in my life. These tendencies often mask an intense fear of failure, a hallmark sign of anxiety.
#2 DISLIKE OF ASKING FOR HELP
When life gets overwhelming, it makes sense to ask for help. But people who have anxiety can view it as weakness or failure. I took extreme measures like regularly sacrificing sleep, self care, and joy in order to get things done. I refused to ask for help. For someone with anxiety, asking for help feels a bit like crushing the soul.
#3 HIGH ACHIEVER
For some people, it’s difficult to be still. For most of my life, as soon as I completed one project or achieved one goal, I was immediately on to the next. This makes for an impressive resume and stellar accomplishments, but it’s exhausting and unsustainable. Individuals with anxiety often have a difficult time relaxing, so they fill their time with one achievement after another. It feels easier to chase self-worth through accomplishments rather than digging deep to see where the need to achieve is originating.
#4 REHASHING CONVERSATIONS
Overanalyzing conversations and outcomes can be a sign of anxiety. For some people, this presents as being off-the-chart diplomatic or a people-pleaser. An off-hand, flippant comment may mean absolutely nothing to one person, but someone with anxiety may obsess about that same comment for days.
It’s healthy to have boundaries for your time and schedule, but people with hidden anxiety have difficulty saying, “No.” They don’t want to risk disappointing someone or lose out on an opportunity. As a result, they are often frazzled and stressed by their busy schedules without recognizing that they have the power to make better choices about their commitments.
#6 IRRITABILITY (PARTICULARLY AT HOME) WITH UNEXPECTED OUTBURSTS
People with high-functioning anxiety tend to be on their best behavior around others. They do not want to cause waves or upset the status quo, but those pent up emotions eventually burst. Often family is the misdirected target of such feelings. (Ask my parents about the time I threw roller skates into a wall or my girls about how I used to go ballistic when they left tiny footprints on still-wet hardwood floors). Anxious people may blow up at their loved ones over something small, because they have suppressed frustrations with others.
#7 EXTREME PREPAREDNESS
Planning is good and valuable, but planning for worst-case scenarios over and over again is not healthy. There things we cannot control, which is difficult (but not impossible) for a person with anxiety to accept. Individuals who struggle with anxiety desperately want to control their life. Part of that control is doing everything possible to keep their true feelings a secret. They becom adept at hiding their anxiety and are often the ones you LEAST expect to struggle.
But here’s some good news … Whether you are seven or thirty seven, all of these habits can be addressed.
You can live free from anxiety. But contrary to what you might believe, it won’t happen by trying harder or doing more.
As I continue to share my story of burnout, breakdown and transformation, many find it difficult to believe that a “wonder woman” (their words, not mine) was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder at age 37. Sadly, I’ve learned that is more common than you’d think. If you (or someone you love) has a life that appears worthy of superpowers, try viewing their success and accomplishments in a new light. TRUE superpower is the bravery it takes to recognize underlying anxiety and reach out for help. Hopefully it doesn’t take a breakdown like mine to force you to do it.
You CAN have a successful life. You CAN accomplish great things. You CAN take pride in your efforts. And you CAN learn to do it without the enormous internal pressure constantly threatening to take you down.
I’m living proof that it is possible. That anxiety does not get the final word. Freedom is awaits. Claim it, my friend.
Did this resonate with you?
Perhaps today is the day you take a step toward freedom, Messy Miracle.
Here are a few steps to guide your way.
About The Author
Laura Fleetwood is a Freedom Guide for women and girls who look like they have it all together on the outside, but are falling apart on the inside. She is the creator of SeekingTheStill.com where you can read about her own journey through clinical anxiety, find inspirational stories, helpful videos and practical wisdom about trading anxiety, burnout & breakdown for freedom. There is hope and you are NOT alone.