I first became aware of anxiety disorders 6 or 7 years ago when I was wrongly diagnosed with a heart condition. My manager at the time, a former Pharma Sales Rep disagreed with the Cardiologist and made sure I sought a second opinion. It turned out that what I had was a severe case of anxiety which caused my chest to contract multiple times within an hour (the first hospital and the cardiologist blamed their false diagnosis on a faulty ECG machine). I was in and out of therapy for the next year.

In the late 2010s, as a salesperson, my life revolved around captivating pitches, making persuasive arguments, and closing deals. On the surface, I always appeared confident, but underneath this facade was a secret struggle that very few were aware of. This silent battle constantly challenged me, affecting both my personal and professional life in ways that many non-sales people could never comprehend. Now, as a Sales Leader, the pressure to perform is maybe 1000x more than as an individual contributor so you can imagine what balancing acts are required.

In the high-pressure world of sales and sales leadership, success often hinges on resilience, determination, and the ability to handle stressful situations. However, behind the confident facade of a sales professional lies a lesser-known reality — the silent battle with high-functioning anxiety

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are personal and should not be considered professional medical advice. If you or someone you know is struggling with anxiety, please seek help from a qualified mental health professional.

Anxiety is often described as a shadow that follows you wherever you go. But for some, it takes on a unique form known as high-functioning anxiety. It’s a silent struggle that masks itself behind a facade of apparent normalcy. On the surface, we seem to have it all together, but beneath the surface, an inner storm rages.

High-functioning anxiety is an often-misunderstood condition where individuals appear to function well on the surface but experience overwhelming anxiety internally. As a sales leader who has experienced this firsthand, I aim to shed light on the signs, impact, and effects of high-functioning anxiety, and share some effective ways to manage and overcome it.

Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms of High-functioning Anxiety

High-functioning anxiety can manifest differently in each individual, but there are common signs to watch for:

Fear of Failure, Overthinking and Perfectionism: Despite achieving considerable success, individuals with high-functioning anxiety may still fear failure and dread rejection, making it challenging to handle potential setbacks. This makes us overly competitive, treat even the smallest task like the world depends on it and strive for perfection 100% of the time.

Sales leaders with high-functioning anxiety may constantly second-guess themselves, overanalyzing every decision and interaction with clients and team members.

Physical Symptoms: Anxiety can trigger various physical symptoms such as headaches, muscle tension, rapid heartbeat, gastrointestinal issues, and deteriorating immune systems. I have seen salespeople go around with pain relievers as part of their toolkits because they never know when they might need them.

Restlessness and Pacing: One of the symptoms of anxiety at any level is the need to always be in motion, literally. Tapping feet, moving around in your seat or walking around. Anxious sales leaders may struggle to sit still, often pacing around during meetings or presentations due to the excess energy generated by their anxiety.

Difficulty Saying No: Sales leaders may have difficulty setting boundaries and saying no to additional responsibilities, as they fear disappointing others or being perceived as incapable.

credit: mindsjournal.com

Impact and Effects of High-functioning Anxiety

High-functioning anxiety can significantly impact salespeople’s personal and professional life:

Burnout and Poor Decision-Making: The constant pressure to perform at a high level while dealing with internal anxiety can lead to burnout, impacting productivity and overall well-being. Overthinking and second-guessing can hamper a sales leader’s ability to make quick and effective decisions, potentially hindering business growth

Strained Relationships: Anxiety due to fear of failure or rejection may lead to irritability and difficulty in maintaining healthy relationships with team members and loved ones.

Work-Life Imbalance: Anxious sales leaders may find it hard to disconnect from work, leading to a skewed work-life balance that exacerbates their anxiety.

Missed Opportunities: Fear of failure and rejection might prevent the pursuit of new opportunities and ventures, limiting potential growth.

Ways to Manage High-Functioning Anxiety

Seeking professional help is crucial for effectively managing anxiety. A therapist or counsellor can offer valuable tools and techniques tailored to individual needs, empowering individuals to navigate their anxieties more efficiently.

Setting realistic goals is essential when dealing with anxiety. Acknowledging that perfection is not always attainable allows for a healthier perspective. Celebrating small victories along the way reinforces a sense of progress and accomplishment.

Establishing boundaries is a vital aspect of anxiety management. Learning to say no when necessary and prioritizing self-care helps prevent burnout and ensures individuals have the energy and capacity to cope with stress effectively.

Opening up about anxiety to a trusted friend, family member, or mentor can provide relief and support. Expressing feelings allows individuals to share their burdens and receive understanding and encouragement from others.

Regular exercise plays a significant role in managing anxiety. Engaging in physical activity helps release pent-up energy and promotes overall well-being, contributing to a more balanced mental state.

Facing overwhelming tasks can trigger anxiety. Breaking these tasks down into smaller, manageable steps prevents feelings of being paralyzed by anxiety, making the overall process seem more achievable and less daunting.

Limiting caffeine and alcohol intake is crucial in managing anxiety. Both substances can exacerbate feelings of anxiety, so moderating their consumption can lead to a more stable emotional state.

Acknowledging and celebrating successes, no matter how small, is vital for boosting self-confidence. Recognizing achievements reinforces positive thinking patterns and encourages individuals to believe in their abilities to overcome challenges.

Incorporating these strategies into daily life can create a comprehensive approach to managing anxiety. It’s essential to remember that each person’s journey is unique, and seeking professional guidance is always beneficial in developing personalized coping strategies. By practising mindfulness, setting realistic goals, and prioritizing self-care, individuals can take proactive steps toward reducing anxiety’s impact on their lives.

How can teams, organisations and managers support members with high-functioning anxiety?

The first thing is to create an environment that allows for open and honest communication both from and to the colleagues in question. This is important because it is altogether possible that the colleagues going through this are yet to receive a professional diagnosis and do not realize what is happening to them and the impact on both their lives and their interpersonal relationships.

Flexibility and accommodation are essential to help individuals manage their anxiety. Offering flexible work arrangements, such as remote work or flexible hours, can alleviate stress. Setting realistic expectations and breaking down tasks into manageable steps can prevent individuals from feeling overwhelmed.

Promoting self-care practices and stress-management techniques is vital in supporting people with high-functioning anxiety. Encouraging regular breaks, exercise, and mindfulness activities can aid in managing anxiety levels. Providing access to mental health resources, like employee assistance programs or counselling services, is also crucial.

A supportive team environment that values collaboration and empathy can make a significant difference. Colleagues should be understanding and supportive of one another, fostering a sense of camaraderie. Being mindful of potential triggers and avoiding situations that may exacerbate anxiety is essential.

Regular check-ins with managers and colleagues can help assess the well-being of individuals with high-functioning anxiety and provide support when needed. It is crucial to approach each person with sensitivity and avoid making assumptions or judgments. By fostering an inclusive and supportive workplace, organizations and colleagues can contribute to the well-being and success of those with high-functioning anxiety.

High-functioning anxiety is a challenging condition that many people face behind their professional facade. By recognizing the signs and symptoms, understanding their impact, and adopting effective coping strategies, sales leaders can better manage their’s and their teams’ anxiety and continue to excel in their roles. Remember, seeking help and support is not a sign of weakness but a strength that will ultimately contribute to personal and professional growth. Embracing these strategies and overcoming anxiety will empower sales leaders to lead with resilience, empathy, and self-assurance.