Mums and High Functioning Anxiety


If it looks like anxiety, swims like anxiety and quacks like anxiety, then it’s probably a duck.

You may ask yourself why a Swim School has a blog post about women’s anxiety? This is for the Mums out there who are carrying loads that may feel too heavy.

You are not alone.

A handful of the best women I know have recently admitted to themselves that they are in fact not super women. Super, but not so super. They are giving themselves a break, and they are looking after themselves.


Looking after themselves in this case isn’t giving themselves time to read a book or booking a spa day. It’s admitting that they are fried and seeking help in the forms of medical intervention, peer support and a good dose of honesty.


These women, and I include myself, from the outside and even to themselves are getting it done. They’re working, parenting, partnering and getting life done, but they’re finally admitting that it’s costing them.

At my last count four of my favourite women have, in the last six months, admitted that they are in fact suffering clinical anxiety and depression. It just hasn’t been quacking like a duck.


This flavour of anxiety, instead of having them sit on the coach and Netflix, pushes them forward – to do – to be busy – sometimes to absolutely excel. Words that I think about when I think about these friends – compassionate, driven, highly intelligent, effective, connected, active, top of their game, passionate, and loyal.


But like my quacking duck analogy under the surface are the madly kicking legs of anxiety.

High functioning anxiety looks like winning at life. These women are functioning at such a high level, their anxiety and sometimes depression has been overlooked. By others who see them excelling, often by medical professionals who see their functioning and don’t equate it with ‘not coping’, and most often by themselves.


They see their own functioning and because their anxiety doesn’t quack like the usual duck, they don’t consider the cost to themselves, and keep pushing, pushing, pushing.


These women (myself, included) are finally admitting that their highly functioning anxiety is actually costing them and too often their bodies are keeping score.

2am nameless sweaty panics, weight gain, weight loss, skin irritations, gut issues, highly emotive responses, and overthinking. The most common thread for all of us has been a constant mental and physical fatigue.


The problem with highly functioning anxiety is that because you’ve been overachieving for so long, it’s so hard to see and admit that you’re not healthy.

One of my friends has literally printed out a message she keeps above her desk ‘NOTHING TO PROVE’. A reminder to herself not to go back down the path of mindless doing, doing, doing, doing.

I personally keep a reminder at hand courtesy of Glennon Doyle “This one PRECIOUS life” as a reminder I only get one turn on this life ride.

The thing we all had in common was a reluctance to admit to our anxiety and seek help because it felt a bit like a double-edged sword. Perhaps our work would suffer if we rested, perhaps the family would fall apart if we weren’t managing as well. Mostly we didn’t SEE that what we were suffering from was anxiety because it didn’t quack like a duck.

While it doesn’t look or swim or quack like a duck, it’s still anxiety.

Swimwear Women

Anxiety is at alarming levels. We’re building lives that we simply may not have the serotonin levels to manage, and this is how my GP explained it to me.


Our lives have changed quicker than our bodies have. It was only a generation or two ago that we had slow lives with far less juggling. A couple of generations isn’t fast enough for our bodies to keep pace with the speed we are living.


Her advice to me is to slow down for a while, see how I like the taste of it. Give my body and my brain a chance to catch up with myself. Quite rightly she suggested that I may in fact not have a taste for slow, that I may prefer busy. But when I DO go back to busy, go back with my eyes wide open. Choose what works for me, choose what’s important.


What I’m finding is that having slowed down, I’m more effective than I was before I admitted to anxiety. Having taken that step back, I noticed that that manic busy-ness cost me a lot of the finer details of my life. It cost me genuinely connecting with my projects. It cost me time with my friends, and it cost me some of my best creativity and at times it cost me rich, deep connections with my family.


So, at this point, I’m not minding the taste of slower. I think, like my friends in the same boat as me, I’ll find a happy place somewhere in between a life too busy for me to comfortably keep up with and slow. I’ll find myself a nice medium place.

The good news is I’ll not be alone because so many of my friends will be there with me.