3 Signs Your Mom Has High-Functioning Anxiety and How to Help

Available for Interviews:  Dr. Colleen Cira

Dr. Colleen Cira, Psy.D., is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist who specializes in Women and Trauma and has worked with hundreds of people struggling with mental health issues.


Talking Points on What Dr. Cira Can Say in an Interview
On High-Functioning Anxiety:

High Functioning anxiety is a term that commonly is used to describe someone who suffers from symptoms of anxiety (chronic worry, fatigue, irritability, difficulty concentrating, etc.), but is able to function through the anxiety as opposed to someone with a diagnosable anxiety disorder which makes it very difficult to function.

Specific signs that indicate Your Mom
may have high-functioning anxiety

    1. Worry that is chronic and excessive and the person has a hard time controlling it is the hallmark symptom of anxiety, high functioning, or otherwise. This might include health-related concerns (worry about having a major illness, now or in the future), safety-related concerns (worry about their own safety or others), or more general benign concerns about day-to-day things (overwhelm about everything they have to do, about saying or doing the wrong thing, etc).
    2. We all experience worry and anxiety from time to time, but for people who it is more of a chronic state as opposed to a temporary, human feeling, they may talk about their worries frequently. Conversations may be dominated by their concerns about future problems that have yet to even materialize. They may frequently seek reassurance in order to quell some of their worries, but the reassurance doesn’t seem to last very long before they are seeking reassurance again.
    3. Anxiety, fear about something in the future, typically leads to some kind of avoidance. If someone believes that elevators are unsafe and riding in them may lead to serious injury or death, it’s easy to see how one might try to avoid elevators at all costs.  So if you see a loved one avoiding things that you know cause them worry, this is also a hallmark sign that the person is struggling with anxiety.

How WE CAN TALK about anxiety/help OUR PARENT manage their symptoms

    1. The first thing one can do is actually listen. Typically when we hear someone we love in pain, our first instinct is to minimize their experience. We tell them lots of things including calm down, it’ll be ok, it’s nothing to worry about, etc. All of these things are said with the best of intentions, but they are also not helpful and often make the person feel worse. Before you can help, you have to understand and the only way to do that is to truly listen. Ask questions, reflect back on what you heard, stay curious—even if you think it’s nonsense.
    2. Once you have a complete understanding of the problem, you can gently challenge some of their thoughts that seem to be inaccurate or unhelpful. For instance, “Mom, I know you love Dad so you’re going to worry about him from time to time, but he just had his physical and was given a clean bill of health. Am I missing something? Did you get some concerning information from the doctor? Because if not, why don’t we leave the diagnosis up to the doctor? And if you have questions about what she said, give her a call to get some clarification. Would you like me to make the call with you?” By communicating that you understand her concern and your willing to help, you put yourself in a better position to gently challenge some of her unhelpful and inaccurate beliefs.
    3. Encourage her to do things she’s avoiding. When we’re anxious, avoiding our trigger makes perfect sense—reference the elevator example. But the problem is, it doesn’t work. Avoidance only increases our anxiety about whatever we’re worried about. The only way to actually conquer a fear is to face it head-on. So if your parent has been procrastinating going to the doctor, driving on highways, or any other number of possibly triggering places/scenarios, encourage her to feel her fear and do it anyway. Offering to go with her is very kind and also increases the likelihood of her actually following through.

While it’s kind and human to want to help someone you love who is suffering, it’s also important to recognize when we need a professional’s help. There is no shame in encouraging your parent to join a support group to seek the help of a therapist.


Available for Interviews: Dr. Colleen Cira

Colleen Cira, Psy.D., received both her Master’s and Doctorate from The Illinois School of Professional Psychology and is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in the State of Illinois. She’s the Founder and Executive Director of Cira Center for Behavioral Health, PC, a boutique group practice specializing in Women and Trauma with locations in Chicago and Oak Park.

She was named one of the “Top 100 Women in Chicago Making a Difference” by Today’s Chicago Woman.  Dr. Cira is a trauma and anxiety expert, clinical supervisor, writer, speaker, consultant, activist, wife, and Mommy to two little ones.

Jo Allison
Managing Editor
Director of Public Relations
Success In Media, Inc.

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