Working with high-functioning anxiety: A managing director’s strategies for mental wellness

By Working with high-functioning anxiety: A managing director’s strategies for mental wellness

May 24, 2017

Looking at me, you’d never know that I have high-functioning anxiety — most people in my life have no idea.

For a while, I was embarrassed to speak up about it. I didn’t want a label hanging over my head. Being in a management role, I didn’t want my clients or team doubting my capabilities because of it. Most people don’t realize, though, that my high-functioning anxiety makes me who I am: a hyperfocused high performer with a keen eye for details.

I don’t exhibit many of the stereotypical markers of anxiety; you won’t see me shaking, hyperventilating or having visible panic attacks. My life looks under control and my anxiety is masked behind a successful, busy lifestyle. The struggle is internal. I overthink everything to the point of obsession. These thoughts keep me up at night, create unnecessary worry and always have me thinking about the worst-case scenario. It’s no surprise that I was attracted to a career in PR, where I manage crisis communications, events and media.

Over time, I’ve accepted that I have anxiety. It’s part of who I am. In my business, I’m open with my team about it and work hard to create an environment in which people feel safe to share if and when they’re struggling. We even have a client, Starling Minds, that works with companies to make sure employees are self-monitoring mental health just like one would for physical health. Their platform helps workers manage depression and anxiety, as well as everyday stress.

Rather than fighting my anxiety, I choose to work with it. I can identify triggers (like you might with any other health issue) and have strategies to ensure it doesn’t take over my life. Being a business owner makes having a work/life balance tricky, but these are some of the approaches that I find helpful:

  1. Showing gratitude. I have a gratitude journal where I write down things I’m grateful for. Maybe this sounds corny, but it reminds me of the little things that make me happy, even if it’s as simple as good weather or meeting a friendly person.
  2. Staying fit. I block off my Friday mornings to go to a yoga class. I work 10-hour days, and this is my way of making time to clear my head and have some “me” time before the weekend. By blocking off this time, I maintain a commitment to myself, my team and my family that ensures I make my own well-being a priority.
  3. Being transparent. I tell the people closest to me when I’m struggling with anxiety. The more I share with my partner, family and team, the better they understand when I need to work from home or why I’m retreating.

I’m sharing now because there needs to be more conversation around mental health in the workplace, especially by those in leadership roles. Being a business owner is stressful (we all know that), but we don’t talk about it nearly enough. The majority of us will experience anxiety in some form throughout our lives. In fact, one in five Canadians will struggle with mental illness at some point. The more we share about the mental health issues we face, the faster we can break the stigma around it and create healthier and more transparent work environments for ourselves and, most importantly, our teams.

That being said, no one who runs a business maintains a perfect work/life balance (or at least I haven’t met any who manage to). Different approaches will work for different people. What works for you? We’d love to hear. Share your strategies with us at @Switchboard_PR.