Anxiety and The Impostor Syndrome: 3 Ways To Help Calm Your Thoughts

March 7, 2018

Forty-thousand people in the United States suffer from some kind of anxiety disorder. A professional would only be able to diagnose a person with anxiety when the symptoms interfere with daily functioning such as in school, work, or relationships. But what about people who face many of the same symptoms of anxiety but don't meet the criteria for diagnosis? They are usually said to have "functional anxiety". To the naked eye, a functionally anxious person seems to be doing well in all aspects of life: they look happy, go out with friends, they may work hard and have many accomplishments at work. They may seem focused, or overly detailed, they may seem highly energetic or cool, calm, and collected. However, internally there is a serious struggle to make it seem like everything is fine as they fight an internal battle of thoughts that are hard to turn off.


Functionally anxious people may find themselves thinking  “although my brain won’t stop worrying, no one will ever know."  As draining as this may seem, this is a way to cope without being asked questions. "If no one suspects something is wrong,  no one will ask and if I pretend everything is fine, it will be." In this sense, functional anxiety doesn’t prevent people from having a normal social life with family and friends, performing well at work, and living what seems to be—at least on the surface--a happy life. However, while hiding and pretending may fool others it's hard to fool oneself; the fear of being exposed can create additional anxiety of being "found out." Many functionally anxious people don't believe they deserve their accomplishments and think they are tricking the world into believing they are worthy. Therefore, they live in constant fear of being discovered to be a fraud. This is known as "impostor syndrome". As their insecurities take over, they work to keep people at arm’s length to avoid exposing themselves. This behavior can lead to loneliness that can sometimes be overwhelming and may increase their levels of anxiety, creating a vicious cycle that gets worse over time.


More people than you think live this reality every day. However, many functionally anxious people may not even know that what they are going through is anxiety. This is because many symptoms of  anxiety are common such as constant worry, overthinking, nervousness, nail biting,  trouble taking breaks, trouble sleeping, the need for validation, procrastination, feeling like a fraud, and freaking out when things don't go as planned. If you are reading this and thinking "that's me", I have good news: this is all treatable, you can be happy, you can be successful, and you can regain control of your thoughts and emotions. In fact, I was once a functionally anxious person myself. My ability to cope with this reality brought me tranquility and peace of mind and was one of the driving factors for my decision to become a mental health professional. 


OK, so how do we deal with this? 

There are variety of ways to relieve your anxiety such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), mindfulness practices, and in some cases medication. In my practice I utilize interventions such as CBT and combine them with mindfulness practices such as breathing, journaling, and guided mediation to help clients feel their best. There are many techniques you can try at home and below are my 3 personal favorites:


1) 4-7-8 breathing: Breathe in to the count of 4, hold your breath for the count of 7, and exhale to the count of 8. You can repeat these steps as many times as you need to start bringing your heart rate down. I find it extremely helpful to think of something positive while you inhale, and then visualize anxiety or any negative emotions leaving your body as you exhale. I have linked this technique to my Pinterest account so you can take a look as some of the pins I have saved about this technique. 


2) Progressive muscle relaxation: Tense and release the muscles in your body, starting with your feet and moving up to your head. This technique works best when you hold the tension in each muscle for about five seconds before releasing. The entire process takes about ten minutes. I have also linked this technique to Pinterest so you can see the script I use with my clients. It may be helpful to have someone read the script to you as you do it the first time, if not, that's fine, you can tense and release any muscles that feel tense for about 10 minutes and you will reach similar effects. 


3) Guided meditation: You will follow the guidance of a person who has recorded instruction to help guide your mind and body into relaxation. My favorite app to practice guided imagery is called Insight Timer. This app has many FREE guided meditations that focus on many areas including, physical health, anxiety, depression, sleep, motivation, etc. The best part is that this is perfect for people who don't have a lot of time. There are plenty of guided meditations for under 5 minutes.


The goal here is to slow down, to focus on the present, allow yourself to make mistakes, let others in to support you, and remember to breathe. 


As for now, I am here to tell you that you are not alone. I am here to discuss openly and honestly the mental health challenges that many people face and are too embarrassed or afraid to admit. I am here to help answer your questions and, most importantly, I am here because I truly care.  I am here to discuss current issues, to discuss questions you may have about therapy, to discuss everyday challenges and relationship issues, among other things. I am also here to help clarify what it's like to see one of us. You ask and I will tell. 



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