High-Functioning Anxiety

In today’s episode we are chatting about high-functioning anxiety. Many of us experience challenges with fear, worries, and anxiety. I’m sharing more about my experience and some of my favorite tips and resources.

Mental Health Resources:

5 Tips for Managing High-Functioning Anxiety

  1. Do a reality check
  2. Monitor caffeine intake
  3. Lean towards an anti-inflammatory diet
  4. Research adaptogens (I like Ashwaganda, Rhodiola, and Tulsi). Care/Of code is SIMPLE25 (affiliate)
  5. Slow your schedule

Potty Training Book Recommendation: Oh Crap

Hi there and welcome to episode 217. Today. We're talking about high functioning anxiety. Hi, this is Denaye. I'm the founder of Simple Families. Simple families is an online community for parents who are seeking a simpler more intentional life. In this show, we focus on minimalism with kids, positive parenting, family wellness, and decreasing the mental load. My perspectives are based in my firsthand experience, raising kids, but also rooted in my PhD in child development. So you're going to hear conversations that are based in research, but more importantly, real life. Thanks for joining us.

Hi there. Thanks so much for tuning in today. We're talking about high functioning anxiety and this topic is on the top of my mind because my anxiety has been high lately. Sometimes it's hard to tell when it's creeping up, but I've noticed in the past couple of weeks, I've spent a lot of time studying the trees in my backyard.

Now, maybe this is because I've just been home for too long, or maybe it's because I tend to look at my trees looking for dead branches because I have this perhaps strange and unusual fear that a dead branch is going to fall on my kids and kill them. I know that probably sounds completely crazy to you, but you might have some of your own preoccupations about safety and security and some of your own anxieties, although it might not be tree branches in your backyard, it might be car accidents. It might be cancer. So I'll start by talking a little bit about high functioning anxiety, and then I'll share some of the things that really work for me. Now, what exactly do I mean by high functioning anxiety, high functioning anxiety is not a diagnosis. It's not something that appears in the DSM. The DSM is the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders.

And that's where the criteria lives for diagnosis for different types of mental health challenges in this book called the DSM. So when I say high functioning anxiety, it's not anything official. It's just kind of this catch all term for people who are functioning pretty well in all other aspects of their life, but are faced with anxiety on a day-to-day basis. This type of anxiety might not be noticeable to other people. It might be something that you have under a reasonable amount of control, and you might even keep it to yourself. I have had high functioning anxiety. Most of my life. I've never been diagnosed with any kind of anxiety disorder or never had to take medication. But I do notice, even though my anxiety doesn't prevent me from functioning, it doesn't prevent me from holding down a job. It doesn't prevent me from being a parent.

It still has implications in my life. It still can have a profound impact on my wellbeing and the wellbeing of my family. It's I've been spending so much time looking at my trees, spreading dead branches that I haven't been doing as good of a job checking my kids for ticks. And here in New York ticks are a huge problem. There's a very large presence of Lyme disease and sure enough, I took off my son's shirt to get him ready for the bath last night. And he had a huge tick on his chest. It had definitely been there less than 24 hours. So there is very, very low risk of Lyme disease if they're attached for less than a day. But nonetheless, I still thought to myself, well, gosh, I've barely had time to worry about Lyme disease lately, and that's not because my anxiety is low right now.

It's just because my anxiety has been directed towards other things like coronavirus, quarantine, home isolation, that kind, nothing, tree branches, crazy behavior. And my kids, all the things I use, I think once upon a time that I was just a planner, a box checker, a productive person, but the truth is those are actually all just ways that I cope with anxiety. People who suffer from high functioning anxiety or any level of anxiety, tend to overthink things have nervous habits, have the difficult time enjoying the moment and staying present could suffer from addiction, problem insomnia. But on the flip side, sometimes anxiety drives us towards things that are more positive, like being punctual. Someone who tends to be anxious might actually arrive early for all their appointments. They may be the type of person that runs around staying busy, doing it, all the things.

When I think about stress overwhelm, I like to think about them as a teeter-totter or a Seesaw, depending on what part of the world you're in. And I remember back to when I was a kid, I think I've talked about this on the podcast before, when I was a kid, I used to love going on the teeter-totter. That's what we called them in Ohio, where I grew up. And if I ever got paired up with a friend who was distractible, sometimes that friend would jump off mid Teeter and leave me smashing down onto the ground, which really hurt. And for this reason, Teeter totters, aren't very common on playgrounds and at least here in America anymore, because it can be, I guess, in theory, a bit risky. If one person jumps off one side and sends the other side crashing down, I have not heard of any serious teeter-totter injuries.

However, surely after I say this publicly, I'll probably have someone emailing me telling me that they knew a friend of a friend, of a friend who had a severe teeter-totter injury as a child and is still suffering the repercussions of it because in the very interconnected world that we live in, that is the reality. We, the business and the life details of friends, of friends, of friends, of friends, which makes the world feel a lot smaller. All right, now that I've completely gone off on a tangent here, back to the teeter-totter analogy. So if you think about stress and overwhelm, like a teeter-totter very rarely are you balanced right in the middle more often than not, you're tipping towards one side or the other, one side tips towards anxiety, one side tips towards depression. Now there is a massive stigma around being diagnosed with anxiety or depression, but the truth is many of us, all of us, I venture to say tip towards one side of the teeter-totter or the other.

When we're faced with stress and overwhelm. If we tip towards anxiety, we probably tend to run around and do all of the things, check all the boxes, plan everything out. And that's our way of coping with stress and overwhelm. Now, if we tend towards depression, we might face stress and overwhelm by withdrawing. We might get really quiet. We might watch extra Netflix. We might withdraw most of us tip one direction or the other, some of us flip-flop back and forth. And the other interesting thing is that whichever way you tip your partner probably tips the other way. So if you tip towards anxiety and you know, the COVID crisis, has you running around trying to plan out every minute of your day, every meal for the next four weeks, trying to get all the things done and your partner on the other hand is sitting on the sofa, watching excessive amounts of TV.

What you're looking at there is probably two different people who cope with stress and overwhelm in two different ways. One who copes with it by tipping, towards anxiety, one who cooks with it by tipping towards depression. So the next time you find yourself, shaming your partner for coping the opposite direction of you, just remind yourself that we all cope differently. Now, I think the year 2020 has a lot of us with high functioning anxiety, tipping, or rather crushing down on our side of the teeter-totter other big life events, like the birth of a child called divorce death of a loved one, a big move. Any big life stressors, can send you crashing down on your teeter-totter little life stressors, things like running late for a doctor's appointment or forgetting to pay a bill. Those kinds of things are going to tip you slightly towards your tendency, but they probably aren't going to bring you crashing down the way that the big life transitions will.

Now, I do want to note that anyone who is suffering from anxiety or depression, and it's having a profound impact on your ability to function, I encourage you to get help, even if you can't get out right now, there are resources betterhelp.com is a former podcast sponsor that I love and I've used personally. And it's an amazing way to connect with licensed mental health counselors. And I'll put a couple of links in the show notes for anyone else who needs resources that's simplefamilies.com/episode217. But remember, for the purposes of today, we're talking about a milder level of anxiety. If you feel like your anxiety has reached past that point, courage you to reach out for a helping hand and reach out and get access to the resources that you need to support you and your wellbeing. So pre COVID 19 crisis, I was feeling pretty good.

My anxiety was pretty well regulated. Life is feeling pretty stable. My baseline levels of anxiety were pretty low. Now enter crisis tons of uncertainty, tons of things. I can't plan because remember a lot of us planners try to plan our way out of anxiety. You can't do that when you don't know what next week or what next month holds. So well, I had started out with my teeter-totter relatively balanced, fairly quickly. It was thrown off and it's been kind of a battle to get back towards balance. And as long as our safety and security and wellbeing is threatened, I think we're all going to feel a little out of balanced. And our first reaction I think is to run from it. As I was standing out, pondering the trees in my front yard earlier this week, I thought to myself, well, maybe we should just move to a new housing development where they don't have any trees.

And then I just wouldn't even have to worry about this. And then I slowly reminded myself, well, we actually moved to this house because it had really nice big trees. And now I'm thinking about giving it all up just because of my anxiety. I'm not sure how much sense that makes, especially because if we did sell this house and move to a development that didn't have any trees, just so I could avoid dealing with my fear of dead tree branches, that fear would be replaced with something else. The anxiety wouldn't go away. That risk factor would be reduced that's for sure. But the anxiety would just displace itself onto something else. I'd have plenty of time to worry about ticks at that point. So ask yourself if you are facing anxiety by trying to run from it and avoid it because it's definitely not a cure.

You'll find that your anxiety will resurface. In other ways, if you try to do that, if that's your method of handling it. Now let's talk for a minute about where this tree branch anxiety came from. I read an article on Facebook, a friend of a friend posted that a tree branch did in fact fall on her child and kill her child. So I do know that this has in fact happened. I have read evidence of it and I know better. I know that the reason the news is news is because it's rare. If children were getting hit and killed by tree branches every week, then probably wouldn't be interesting news, but because we are inundated with the news 24/7, our anxiety also takes a huge hit. We're hearing about news stories that we would have never heard of otherwise, our networks are so much larger than they ever have been before.

I remember growing up, I knew one child that had cancer and I actually didn't even really know him. He was in my town probably about 10 years younger than me. I knew of him, but now due to social media and my more intimate in some ways, connection to so many more people, I know probably I've seen dozens of childhood cancer cases. So many GoFundme's. So is childhood cancer becoming more common or is my awareness of childhood cancer becoming more common? And they always remind myself that articles make the news because they're rare. They wouldn't be interesting if they happened all the time. So if you do see an article about a child getting killed by a tree branch, no, that the only reason it's news is because this occurrence is relatively rare. I'd even venture to say extremely rare, give some consideration to your baseline levels of anxiety before the crisis and where you're at right now, if your anxiety was already elevated before the crisis started, and then this pushed you even further, you might've come crashing down in your teeter-totter and you might need extra support right now.

Remember we're not all starting off at the same point. It depends on the day. It depends on the year. It depends on the situation. So that brings me to the first idea that I want to talk about, which is something called cognitive distortions. Sometimes we twist things in our minds. Sometimes we over-exaggerate things in our minds. I have twisted and over-exaggerated the risk and danger of tree branches, people all over the world, live underneath trees, hike underneath trees spend all sorts of time. Underneath trees. Trees are generally considered to be really safe. So for trees to be sort of is the leading fear for me right now, it feels kind of silly. And part of it is saying it out loud and telling you all that. I have this weird fear of trees. It helps me to do a reality check and realize that my brain has twisted this information and has somehow sent me the message that my kids are in danger when they're playing in my backyard.

So it forces me to do a reality check. What is the real risk? And is there any way for me to avoid the risk aside from cutting down every tree in my yard and for that matter, pretty much every tree that ever comes in my children's way. I mentioned ticks as well and ticks are a huge fear here in New York of parents. And I know many, many parents who don't let their kids play outside, who don't let them jump in piles of leaves who really try to protect them from the possibility of getting exposed to ticks. And I'm really afraid of ticks too. It's a really scary the thought of Lyme disease and the fact that this little bug could be on your kid and you don't even notice it. And then they could get incredibly sick, but I've decided that I cannot let fear drive my parenting decisions in this way.

I have to let my kids play outside. I cannot let these fears rule my life and rule the lives of my kids. I can't spend so much time worrying about my kids dying that I don't let them live. So there's a lot of self-talk that goes into that process. A lot of self-talk a lot of reality checks and I find that that really helps me. It helps to bring me back to earth. So the second idea that I wanted to introduce is caffeine. Caffeine just doesn't serve us well. If we have anxiety now, I find that I can tolerate different amounts of caffeine based on my baseline anxiety levels. So when I'm feeling pretty balanced, as it is a little caffeine, doesn't really set me off too much. But when I wake up already feeling anxious and then I drink two cups of coffee, I'm a mess.

So, I don't think that we always have to give it up completely, but I do think we have to be aware that there might be different times in our life when we can handle different amounts. And we have to understand the implications that it has for our wellbeing and for our mental health. The third thing is an anti-inflammatory diet. I went gluten free back in 2012, and that's made a huge difference on my overall health in particular, as it relates to anxiety, but it's not just giving up gluten, it's reducing things like alcohol and sugar and dairy over the years, I've noticed that what I eat has an impact on the way that I feel. And that brings me to the fourth thing, which is adaptogens. Now I want to remind you that I am not a medical doctor. I have a Ph.D., Not an M.D.

Don't take medical advice from me, but for the past 18 months or so, I've been using some adaptogens, which are supplements, different types of herbs. AndI was first introduced to them through a company called Careof which is a former podcast sponsor. And when you go on their website, they have a little quiz where you answer some questions about how you're feeling and your health, and it makes recommendations for different supplements. And then they send you these daily supplement packets, which are compostable. And I've been doing this for 18 plus months, and I have a couple of different adaptogens in my packet. And I will tell you, they make a huge, huge difference on the way that I feel I've even gotten my husband on board. He takes them to, if you're interested in checking them out, you can go to takecareof.com and you can take the online quiz and the code "simple 25" will get you 25% off your first order.

A couple adaptogens that I really like are ashwagandha tool C and Rhodiola. I'll put those in the show notes too, for anyone that's interested. So last but not least the fifth thing I want to tell you about is the importance of a slower schedule. Now have a schedule, have some predictability, but planning less. Yes, because if you have to too many places to be too many times a day, that you need to put the kids in the car seat and go somewhere, life can start to feel really heavy, really fast, and you don't have to stay home and live a quiet socially isolated life for the rest of your life. But once things are up and moving, just keep in mind that doing less and having fewer obligations can be really good for our wellbeing, especially when we have kids, especially if those kids are complicated to get out the door.

I'll never forget when I was in the stage with my daughter where she wouldn't get into the car seat. And she just like went stiff as a rod and I never wanted to go anywhere. Cause I just literally the energy that it took to get her into the car, our seat actually made me want to stay home. So, thankfully we're past that, which by the way, that kind of came and went like a roller coaster for at least 18 months. My kids are much easier to get out the door now, but it still takes energy to get everybody, to get their shoes on, make sure everyone's gone to the bathroom, make sure that they brush their teeth, make sure everyone's buckled into their car seats. So, if you have a family that takes a lot of effort to get in and out of the car and in and out of the front door, just know that it's okay.

Not just okay, but it's actually good for your family to cut back on the number of obligations and the places that you need to be. All right, I hope you all found this helpful. I know there's a lot of you out there who suffer from high-functioning anxiety. I'd love to hear tips that work for you. You can send me those on Instagram. You can send me an email and to recap the five things that I talked about today, number one, giving yourself some reality checks. What is the real true present danger of whatever it is that you're worrying about. Number two, check your caffeine intake. Could that be having an impact on how you're feeling and what your anxiety levels are? Number three, can you move towards an anti-inflammatory diet? Would that be good for you? Could you investigate that more? And number four, have you tried adaptogens, are they something that you could talk to your doctor about?

Would those be a good fit for you? And lastly, number five, moving towards a slower schedule, having fewer times that you've got to get your family in and out of the door and in and out of the car, can absolutely lower some of your stress and anxiety. You don't have to do all the things. And the truth is your family's better off if you don't. All right, before we move into the question and answer segment for today, here is a one minute word from our sponsor. If you're looking for a fun and unique gift for mother's day, this year, try out StoryWorth, which is this week's sponsor. Social distancing has made it really hard for us to find meaningful and thoughtful gifts for our mothers this year. StoryWorth makes it fun and easy for your mom or really for anyone to share their personal stories each week, they get an emailed story, prompt questions that you've never thought to ask, like, what have been some of your life's greatest surprises or what's one of the riskiest things you've ever done.

And then at the end of the year, you'll get those stories in a beautiful hardcover book. My family and I have loved giving StoryWorth to the important people in our lives and have found that family bonds grow closer with every story. So give your mom the most meaningful gift this year with StoryWorth get started right away without the need for shipping, by going to storyworth.com/families, and you'll get $10 off your first purchase. That's storyworth.com/families for $10 off, all right, onto our Q and A segment. The question this week is coming from Theresa in Albany New York. And to wrote, please help me find gentle ways to assist in my son's potty training. My son is three and we've tried letting him take the lead on this. However, I feel like he's never going to get there. He does seek privacy when pooping and he tells us, so I feel like some of the signs of readiness are there.

I ask him when he feels like he will want to use the potty. And he says, Oh, when I'm older, I fear putting pressure on him here and causing GI or emotional issues around this. And I generally take a child that approach with my son, but I'm second guessing it now, your insight has served my family so well over the last three years. And I'm grateful for any words of wisdom. All right, Theresa, thank you for your question. You are not alone in this. I will tell you that I have potty-trained both of my own kids, my son and my daughter, and I've also done some professional potty training before I was a parent when I worked with kids with developmental disabilities. So I've seen a variety of different methods. First of all, I want to say Theresa, you're an amazing mom. You're so invested in learning how to do well by your children.

You're present, you're available. You're intentional. I can tell all these things by just all this thought that you've put into this question. So please stop worrying about traumatizing your children. I do not worry about traumatizing my children or causing emotional issues. I've got bigger things to worry about, you know, like tree branches, I'm doing a pretty good job. I'm doing the best that I can with the resources that I have available. I'm going to mess up. I'm going to be imperfect and my kids are going to be okay. Your son is going to be okay. Try not to overanalyze this idea that you're going to cause GI or emotional issues with potty training. I think we could really overanalyze every single exchange and every single task that we have with our children, whether it's feeding or toileting or bedtime, but the truth is we can't live and breathe by the research.

We also have to use common sense. We have to follow our gut instincts and sometimes we just got to get the job done. So I know that there are professionals out there that will tell you that, you know, pushing your kid into potty training, that sort of thing is going to traumatize them. Sure, maybe there is research that point towards that. I'm never going to tell you that because I think overall you're doing pretty good. And also this feels a little bit like fear-mongering and you know that we especially mothers have plenty of fears. Do we really need to add this one to our plate? I saw someone in the simple family group last week on Facebook was asking about water bottles to keep their water cold for their kid. They lived in Texas and it's really hot. And someone commented, be careful not to give your kids too cold of water because it can shock the body.

And I know that people are really well-intentioned, but the truth is what now we have to fear cold water? We have to be really careful about how much weight we give to stuff like this, because it can and will quite literally make us crazy our relationship with your child and their wellbeing. As a sum of all the parts. If you totally mess up potty training, you're going to be okay. He's going to be okay. Now all that being said, you haven't totally messed up potty training. It sounds like your hesitancy towards it might actually, in some ways, be leading towards his hesitancy. I am a strong believer in having confidence in our kids, breeds confidence within themselves. So when we believe in them and we believe that they can do it, they start to believe in themselves and they start to believe that they can do it.

So this idea that you've been kind of waiting until he's older until he's ready. It's interesting that he actually used those same words too. And when you asked him when he's going to be ready, he said, when I'm older, I would guess that he's probably be picking up on some of the reservations that you have. My understanding is that we here in the U S do some of the latest potty training of anywhere in the world. There are a lot of parts of the world that start potty training on the regular around 18 months. I'm not saying that we should do that, but I am saying that kids can be ready a lot earlier than we're introducing it. A lot of times, I'm a big fan of the potty training book. Oh crap. I really like her method. All the methods that we used when I was potty training professionally with developmental disabilities or nothing that I wanted to use with my own kids.

I knew that my instincts, my gut told me that I did want to use a more child led approach. My son was in Montessori school, my first child, when we started potty training and I kind of did this wait and see approach. They started in the classroom with toilet learning, which is what they do in Montessori. He started at 20 months. He was in that classroom for nine months and they have them in training pants there. He didn't pee on the potty a single time in nine months. So when he left that class, he was just about two and a half and he had never peed in the potty. And while I respected the method, I also realized, Hey, we're going to do this and we're going to do it on our own terms. We're not going to do it specifically by the Montessori guidelines.

Although I do respect that tradition. So I found, Oh, crap to be kind of this good in between point. And I'll put that link in the show notes, simplefamilies.com/episode217. So, Oh crap is relatively child led, but it's parent timed. So you pick the window. And the author Janie says to pick between 20 and 30 months. Ideally I started my son right around 30 months and I did day and night training all at the same time. So I first recommend reading, Oh crap. I really appreciate her approach. I think it's grounded in reality. And it serves both parents and children really well. So I trained both of my kids for day and night at the same time. And with my son, my first child, we went on a vacation when he was about three or four months into potty training.

And we were traveling for two weeks and we stayed at a friend's house for a week. And I was really worried since he was newly night trained, even though he was about 80% of the time waking up and going, I was worried that he was going to have an accident in their beds. So I put them into pull-ups for that trip. And at the time I also had a five month old baby and I was tired. So once we put the pull-ups on him, I was like, Oh, this is easy. So I left them on and I left them on until he was four or so somewhere around four, four or a little older than four. And pulling, the pull-ups was really tricky. Night training was not easy at that point. He was not in the practice of waking up to use the potty. So in retrospect, I wish I would have just kept going.

He was doing pretty well in the beginning, doing it all at once. And the truth is if you look back a generation when we were kids, that's how our parents potty trained all at once. This whole split between day and night training is something that our generation has kind of decided as the norm for us. And it makes me wonder if it's even really serving us well and serving our kids well. So after that experience, I decided I'm just going for it. We're doing it all together. At the same time, I actually did my son's night training when he was four. And my daughter is day and night training at the same time. So she was two and he was four and she was easier to train than him. And she was night trained before him. Now I know you could say kid to kid, this is different, but I do.

There's something to be said about getting used to getting up in the night, to go to the bathroom when your body becomes adjusted to just going in a pull up at night, I think there's the risk that you might tune in less to those cues from your body. Now I know there's a whole bunch of people out there who are disagreeing with me right now, and that is okay. I want you to disagree with me. I never want you to follow everything I say, verbatim disagreement is healthy. I want you to have your own opinions. If this is not how you're doing it with your own kids, that's quite all right too. But I'm definitely in the camp of potty training. When you have the time to do it, to be focused on your child and doing it somewhere in the range between 20 and 30 months, ideally in day and night training all at the same time.

So Theresa, I think your kid is ready. I think you've got to believe in him. He will start to believe in himself. I think he need to start conveying confidence. And if you haven't already definitely check out, Oh crap, her method in a nutshell is you let them go naked on the bottom half for a couple of days. And then you put shorts on them going without underwear for a couple of days. And then you slowly bring the underwear back in after that. And I know there are outliers to this, but I will say the vast, vast, vast majority of children do not potty train in three days, they still continue to won't even call it, have accidents. They still continue to use the toilet in their pants for some period of time, weeks, months after that and that's normal. It is a learning process. So be patient. All right, thanks. I hope you all have enjoyed this episode. If you have leave a rating or review on iTunes, I appreciate hearing from you and I'll chat with you next week. Have a good one.

Denaye Barahona

Denaye Barahona is a loving wife and mama of two. She's a therapist for moms, an author, and the host of the top-ranked Simple Families Podcast. Denaye holds a Ph.D. in Child Development and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She has been featured on the likes of The Today Show, Netflix, The Wall Street Journal, Real Simple, Forbes, and numerous other media outlets.