Whether we give it a name, if we’re lost in our minds, we’re anxious.

High performers and perfectionists appear to be functioning well. “I can’t possibly be anxious!”, Sarah tells me, “I’m getting promoted at work, I’m leaving the house. . but my mind is absolute chaos and I cannot sleep”.

Here’s why. Anxiety looks different in high performers.

And as someone cerebral, you seek answers as to why things are the way they are.

Here’s four reasons you may not have considered.

1. Anxiety > Trauma

Let’s get real regarding trauma.

Trauma isn’t simply about having your life threatened, or watching someone’s threatened. People like Piers Morgan decrying others’ experiences doesn’t make it better. Here’s what you need to know, first and foremost.

Everyday stressors and sudden upheavals to our lives can cause small-t traumas. This does not denigrate the effect it has on you, nor is it a First World Problem.

What I’ve noticed in my clients who report trauma symptoms, is that, they have a love-hate relationship with worrying.

They know it makes everything worse. But they are also comforted by it; it’s an addiction.

Psychology Professor Thomas Borkovec proposed that worrying helps us avoid what’s painful.

Put simply, trauma symptoms can be physical and pictorial. In other words, vivid.

Because worrying is rooted in words– our thoughts are verbally-based– this somehow suppresses the physical and pictorial trauma symptoms.

When I explain this to my clients, it’s a Eureka! moment in which they understand why they worry so much. And with understanding comes forgiveness, which allows them to implement strategies that promote healing and thriving.

2. “Let’s prep for anxiety!”

Someone intimate with anxiety overprepares.

We think that if we account for every possible eventuality, things will be easier.

Except that these eventualities take place in Apocalypse.

One of these imagined outcomes is how awful we will feel when catastrophe strikes. And so we believe we have to prepare for it.

Learning how to relax is therefore not ideal.

Because if we get too used to feeling better, when disaster strikes, we will feel even worse.

The question here then is, why do you condemn yourself to the worst possible outcomes.

What’s the story you are telling yourself?

Chances are, this story was formed based on something someone told you or showed you growing up. Or, when something bad happened somewhere along your life; that’s when our world of assumptions gets shattered, and it’s replaced by something that trains us to guard against further danger and loss.

Either way, when we are younger or when we’ve undergone something difficult, our minds are pretty impressionable to believing bad stories based on incomplete information.

My next question is, if you throw out expired milk from your fridge, is it time to discard your expired stories, and replace them with ones that serve you?

3. Someone’s convinced you that you have to ‘let go’ and not care about control

I know. All those platitudes about letting go, that the journey is more important than outcomes, and that wanting control makes you a control freak.

You get that it’s okay to let go for some things. That yes, it’s important to learn and enjoy yourself along the way. And that you don’t need to control everything.

But you also know you love results. And you want to feel in-control.

This conflict between what you’ve been told and who you are makes you question if there’s something wrong with you.

And it’s sown the seeds of doubt– “Do I need become someone else?”.

Here’s the bad news. Getting a personality transplant is as realistic as alien possession.

Here’s the awesome news. You can rock how you’re wired.

So if you like outcomes, control and not letting go in some parts of your life, give yourself the permission to do so.

4. You tell yourself “I’ll work on this when (the stars are aligned).”

The problem with anxiety is, we oscillate between running away and obsessing about it.

Running away: Any form of self-medication. Telling ourselves it’ll get better on its own. Working too hard. Anything to avoid being in our own heads.

Obsessing: Worrying relentlessly, then beating ourselves up when X hours have passed. Then getting more anxious about tomorrow. Getting overwhelmed by how it takes over your body– palpitations, trembling legs, cold sweat, panic attacks.

If you’ve read till here, raise your hand and nod your head if during Obsession Phase, you’ve reached out for help. Booked some appointment.

And then, the moment you feel a little better, you tell yourself it’s no big deal, you’ll work on it when you’ve sorted (logistics) in your life out, . . or worse still, it’s a First World Problem you ought to be ashamed of.

You see, this mode of living is coping with problems. Managing problems only make them worse, because over time, we learn to become helpless and hopeless.

It becomes ingrained into our identity.

Instead of “I’m feeling anxious”, it’s “I’m a neurotic”.

And then, “Who am I if I am no longer anxious?”

Which means you pump metaphorical iron and steroids into your anxiety. It becomes your master.

If you’re done with managing anxiety, how about making your mind work for you instead? Contact DrP about mental mastery, to accelerate your performance, wellbeing and enhance your relationships, quickly and thoroughly.


  • Dr Perpetua Neo (DClinPsy, UCL; MPhil, Cambridge)

    Psychologist & Executive Coach For Type A Leaders

    Dr Perpetua Neo (DClinPsy, UCL; MPhil, Cambridge) coaches Type A leaders to master their time, head and relationships quickly and deeply, so they enjoy sustained performance, peace of mind and sleep like a cat. Instead of managing problems via fads or yielding to burnout, DrP tailors strategies to her clients’ personalities and lifestyles, building lasting systems and structures. DrP specialises in The Big 3 that we mistakenly tolerate— anxiety, toxic relationships and panic attacks-- so her clients achieve multiple personal and professional goals concurrently, feeling confident and in-control of the rest of their lives.

    DrP is consulted on Forbes, Business Insider and Vogue, and her work  is in 36 languages. She writes for The Huffington Post, MindBodyGreen and Thrive Global. DrP works in English and Mandarin-Chinese, blending cutting-edge neuroscience, psychology and ancient wisdom. She flies globally or works via Facetime/Skype, for 1-1 work, workshops and speaking gigs. She also consults for media agencies on campaigns.