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Do you have high-functioning anxiety

Feel like you're clinging on for dear life sometimes? Sky-high stress levels but papering over the cracks like a pro? Meet The Happiness Coach - a go-to guru for successful women (yup, that's you!). She shares 10 ways to tell if you have HFA and what the heck to do about it.

Say the word ‘anxiety’ chances are you’ll summon up images of someone visibly not coping; head firmly clasped in hands or mid-panic attack. So far so obvious. But there is a very 21st century anxiety syndrome that looks very different and one that many of us could be masking, unbeknown to us.

Welcome to the world of high-functioning anxiety. Have you ever had that feeling where everyone on the outside thinks you’re doing a grand ol’ job, whilst inside you’re actually crippled with doubt, stress and overload, barely holding on to the precipice of life by your nails? A fear of failure, saying no and letting people down keeping you spinning in a nightmare-ish cycle of appearing to manage daily life quite well but the reality couldn’t be more different.

If you can relate then you may have high-functioning anxiety syndrome.

Clare Heneghan Happiness Coach

Step forward Clare Heneghan, The Happiness Coach – with her 10-step strategy for how to tell if you are suffering with HFA, and more importantly, how to deal with it.

Clare says: “Everyone experiences anxiety in their lifetime, it’s the feeling we have before an interview, exams or a wedding day. It crops up when we worry about things that are about to happen, or which we think could happen in the future. Anxiety is a natural human response that we feel when we are under threat, and we can experience it through our thoughts, feelings and physical sensations.

“But it can become a mental health problem if it impacts your ability to live your life as fully as you want to. So you might find you start to struggle to manage your feelings, physical symptoms may worsen, or you start experiencing panic attacks.

“The difference between anxiety and high-functioning anxiety is that the people experiencing this may feel the desire to achieve more as a way to manage their fears and feelings. You may cram more into your diary, or take on extra projects at work in the hope that the intense feelings disappear. Sound like you? You’re not alone, many of us do this, consciously or not.

“High-functioning anxiety isn’t a recognised medical condition, but most of my clients have it. From the outside they will be very successful, extremely busy and seem to have their shit together! When in reality their health is being negatively impacted or they are starting to find anxiety is taking control.”

10 tips on how to prevent high-functioning anxiety becoming a mental health problem

1/ Identify your core values

A lot of people are not aware of their core values and how significant they are to how happy and fulfilled we are. When we honour our values our mental, emotional and physical states flourish. They guide our behaviour, and form the foundation for the way we go about everyday life. When we honour our personal core values consistently, we get fulfilment. When we don’t honour them we are more likely to become unhappy and resentful. This then leads to bad habits and we can easily slip into behaviour to make us feel better (binge watching Netflix, scrolling a phone, staying up late constantly).

2/ Learn to say no

Once you know your core values, saying no will become easier. If it goes against your principles, you will just say ‘no, that’s not for me’. You don’t need to give a reason. ‘No’ on its own is enough. Saying no closes one door, and opens many other doors of alternative opportunities and therefore reduces anxiety.

3/ Work on gratitude

I call gratitude the happiness magnet. Not only has research found gratitude increases happiness, by recognising all you have to be thankful for – even during the worst times of your life – you will also foster mental resilience. Gratitude helps counteract your brain’s natural tendency to focus on the negatives by focusing on the rewards in your life. You will find you start to notice more pleasant things and the opportunities you are presented with. Try labelling five new things you are grateful for each day, starting today.

4/ Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness involves noticing what’s happening in the present moment, without judgement. It improves wellbeing, resilience to stress and it has been found to be effective with business leaders, entrepreneurs, working professionals and university students. I personally found mindfulness a game changer when it came to helping alleviate anxiety. I now run an 8-week mindfulness course that is a highly accessible, engaging and practical introduction to mindfulness. Click here to read more.

5/ Find some balance

Is your life all work and no play? We are not a computer that you can just reboot into action. Our nervous system require us to rest to decrease our stress levels and restore vitality. Click here for a free tool to gauge how balanced your life is!

6/ Get a coach or counsellor

Having someone who you can trust is so important, even more so post-pandemic. Yes, trustworthy friends are fabulous, but are they listening to you properly? Are they medically trained? I wouldn’t be here today without my counsellor, and I wouldn’t be as happy and successful without my coach. Find someone that has your back, that can help propel you into the person you have always wanted to be.

7/ How tight are your jeans?

No seriously. Anxiety and IBS are linked. Close your eyes and take 4 deep breaths. Concentrate on your belly – are you in pain when you breath in and expand your belly? If so, get a new pair of jeans, wear flowy dresses and in general ignore the size label! Do the breathing test whilst sitting down with new garments. Your anxiety levels will thank you for it.

8/ Listen to your gut

In both senses of the phrase! If your gut is saying no to attending a party, then don’t go, allow yourself to rest. Giving yourself relaxation time is so important to reduce anxiety. On the flip side, if you are getting the signs that your gut is unhealthy (upset stomach, skin irritation, and unintentional weight changes) seek advice from your GP or dietitian. I am a huge advocate of probiotics and vitamin supplements too in supporting with both physical and mental health.

9/ Scrap your ‘should-dos’

This is one of the must-do activities I always get my clients to do. I challenge you to write down everything you should do. Email me how many A4 pages you end up writing! I would love to hear from you. Recently mine was three pages long… yes, even the coach can sometimes get lost in this frantic world (which is why I have my own coach)!

10/ Start meditating

Meditation has incredible benefits. Neuroscientists and psychological studies have found that it not only lowers stress and anxiety it also helps you focus and increases happiness levels. Try apps such as Headspace and Calm, or join OCCO’s 8-week mindfulness course.

Tell us a bit about you and how you became The Happiness Coach?

I created The Happiness Coach after experiencing anxiety and depression whilst working for a Top 20 UK design agency in London. I was putting everything into the job to the point where I was getting really ill with the pressure. I ended up being signed off work for two weeks by my GP for stress. I realise now that I had high-functioning anxiety.

I was taking on more responsibilities, purchasing a home, fretting over not being a size 8 etc. My anxiety went from high-functioning to a mental health problem when I it started to gain too much of my attention and I couldn’t control it anymore – I started throwing up before work, getting panic attacks, IBS, excessive worrying and randomly crying for no reason. Being forced to relax for the first time in years, I realised I couldn’t continue living like this. So I quit my job and received help from a life coach and counsellor, taking two years to get back to my ‘normal’.

Inspired by how much my coach helped me, I trained with experts in the industry Rich Litvin and Hayley Yatros to be a life coach in 2020 – just as the pandemic hit! Recently I have also launched my own wellbeing brand called OCCO London, which helps high-performers maintain their happiness through mindset products like journals and desk pads.

Explain what you do and who you can help?

I help intelligent, ambitious and successful women achieve high-performance happiness in both their personal and business lives. Through powerful coaching conversations, I help clients navigate the anxiety, stress, exhaustion and loneliness that accompanies high performers. I am based in Warwickshire on the Cotswold borders but I work with women from all around the world. Past clients have lived in Bermuda, USA, London and Italy to name a few!

Want to find out more? Contact Clare at

Shop luxury mindset journals and wellbeing products from The Happiness Coach at ***** PLUS ***** Throughout January Muddy readers get an exclusive 25% off products at with the code MUDDY25. Just enter it at checkout (and get free standard delivery too).

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