High-functioning anxiety is a type of anxiety that is characterized by a person who appears to function well on the surface, but who experiences significant anxiety and stress underneath. This is a particular problem for businessmen and women from corporate backgrounds based in Hong Kong and Singapore currently facing uncertainty in their lives.
The Hong Kong Exodus – How High-Functioning Anxiety is Taking Hold in Singapore
This population of workers who are vital to the SE Asian and global economies are people often highly successful in their careers, social lives, and relationships, but who are also experiencing high levels of anxiety and worry that are not visible to others. Following the exodus of executives and professional classes out of Hong Kong, cases of high-functioning anxiety are currently rising faster than Singapore property prices.
Corporate workers and executives who experience high-functioning anxiety exhibit many of the following symptoms:
- Elevated levels of perfectionism: Executives with high-functioning anxiety begin striving for perfection in their work and personal lives, and begin to set unrealistic expectations for themselves.
- Overthinking: They may spend a lot of time overthinking and worrying about their work and personal life, often dwelling on worst-case scenarios and potential negative outcomes.
- Procrastination: Despite setting high standards for themselves, corporate workers and executives with high-functioning anxiety begin to struggle with procrastination and avoiding tasks due to fear of failure or not meeting their own high standards.
- Physical symptoms: They can experience physical symptoms such as headaches, muscle tension, digestive issues, and difficulty sleeping due to their anxiety.
- Need for control: corporate workers and executives with high-functioning anxiety often have a strong need for control in their work lives but this can become elevated resulting in their struggling with delegation, and leading to excessive or increased workloads and stress.
- Social anxiety: They may begin to experience anxiety in social situations, such as networking events, public speaking, or meeting new people.
- Impostor Syndrome: individuals with high-functioning anxiety often report that they begin to feel like they are not as competent or skilled as others perceive them to be. This onset of self-doubt and the underlying feeling of not coping can lead to a constant fear of being found out as a fraud or imposter.
- Substance or alcohol abuse: individuals with high-functioning anxiety often report that they begin to drink more when stressed and that this can lead to increased use of other drugs of abuse such as sedatives or stimulants such as cocaine. An increase in alcohol consumption is a common tell-tale sign.
At this point, we should also look at how high-functioning anxiety can also inform a more serious problem – addiction. The relationship between high-functioning anxiety and addiction is complex and multifaceted. While anxiety per se can be a contributing factor to the development of addiction, paradoxically addiction can also worsen symptoms of anxiety, leading to a cycle of co-occurring disorders.
Anxiety Disorders and Addiction
Anxiety disorders themselves are usually characterized by excessive and persistent worry, fear, or dread that interferes with daily life. These disorders can range in severity and include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Research has shown that corporate workers and executives with anxiety disorders are more likely to develop an addiction than those without these disorders.
One reason for this correlation is that the businessmen and women of Hong Kong and Singapore with anxiety disorders may use drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism to alleviate symptoms of anxiety. Substances such as alcohol, cocaine and benzodiazepines can initially provide a sense of relaxation and relief from anxiety symptoms. However, over time, the body may develop tolerance to the substance, leading to the need for higher doses to achieve the same effect. This can ultimately lead to dependency at best and a full-blown addiction at worst.
Moreover, substance use can worsen anxiety symptoms over the longer term. Continued drug or alcohol use can interfere with the body’s natural ability to manage stress, leading to increased anxiety symptoms. Chronic use of alcohol and other substances can also lead to changes in brain chemistry, further worsening anxiety symptoms and leading to addiction. As alcohol or drug consumption increases, so do negative consequences which further burden the already stressed individual. The increase in worry and stress then leads to further drinking which increases negative consequences further.
DO YOU CAN'T STOP WORRYING?
Genetics and Environmental Factors
Another factor that contributes to the relationship between anxiety and addiction is genetics. Studies have shown that there is a genetic component to both anxiety and addiction, with certain genes being associated with increased risk for both disorders. This may partially explain why some executives are more susceptible to developing addiction and anxiety disorders than others. This is particularly evident during periods of extreme stress and uncertainty; as experienced by those currently facing relocation or additional financial pressures due to relocation out of Hong Kong.
Additionally, environmental factors such as childhood trauma, abuse, neglect, or chronic stress can also contribute to the development of both anxiety and addiction. These adverse experiences can lead to changes in brain structure and function, making individuals more vulnerable to addiction and anxiety disorders in later life.
Furthermore, the presence of co-occurring disorders can complicate treatment for both addiction and anxiety. It is common for individuals with addiction to have co-occurring anxiety disorders and vice versa. The presence of both disorders can make treatment more challenging, as each disorder may require different types of treatment approaches.
Comprehensive and Integrated Treatment Approach
Treating co-occurring addiction and anxiety disorders requires a comprehensive and integrated approach that addresses both disorders simultaneously. Treatment may involve a combination of medication, therapy, support groups, and lifestyle changes.
At The Cabin executive burnout and anxiety programmes use therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and mindfulness-based therapies. These therapies have been shown to be effective in treating both anxiety and addiction when used in combination. CBT focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviours, while mindfulness-based therapies aim to improve awareness and acceptance of the present moment. The Cabin have a long history of working with businessmen and women affected by burnout and anxiety.
Medications such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications may also be prescribed to alleviate symptoms of both disorders. It is important to note, however, that medication alone is not a cure for addiction or anxiety disorders and should be used in conjunction with therapy and other treatment approaches.
Treatment of Co-Occurring Disorders at The Cabin
At The Cabin, we understand that the relationship between anxiety and addiction is complex and multifaceted. While anxiety can contribute to the development of addiction, addiction can also worsen symptoms of anxiety, leading to a cycle of co-occurring disorders. The Cabins treatment for co-occurring addiction and high-functioning anxiety delivers a comprehensive and integrated approach that addresses both disorders simultaneously.
As Asia’s most respected rehab, we see smaller groups of individuals and we carefully select those we admit for treatment in order to maintain a sense of calm. It is this sense of order and calm that means that businessmen and women from Singapore, Hong Kong and further afield who are affected by high-functioning anxiety or addiction, can achieve lasting recovery and improve their quality of life.
If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of high-functioning anxiety, it is important to seek professional help from a mental health provider.
Lee Daniel Hawker-Lecesne
LEAD THERAPIST AT THE CABIN