A Very Personal Story about High-Functioning Anxiety

To close out 2017, I decided to tell a deeply personal story. Even if only one person reads this blog (hey, thanks!), I am writing it in the hopes that you benefit, if you also struggle with high-functioning anxiety.

I had never heard the term high-functioning anxiety before this year. However, when reading the description, I thought...wow, that's it!

Constantly busy. Perfectionistic. Juggling a hundred different projects and responsibilities. Constantly scanning the future and laying the plans and groundwork for what you want or don’t want to happen. Being described as super Type A. Covering up your daily anxiety with overthinking, overdoing, over-performing, over-preparing, over-everything…
— The Mighty

As a mother, wife, daughter, friend, marketer and especially photographer, high-functioning anxiety is something that I find to be at times paralyzing. Photography has been a trigger for many years for me, and I think it's because I really do want to be perfect.

Busy, busy, busy...

Busy, busy, busy...

  • I want the client to be thrilled.
  • I want the photos to be creative, unique and awe inspiring (really? I need to get over the fact that when I photographed catheters, that those wouldn't be awe inspiring).
  • I want the photos to be technically superior.
  • I want the file sizes to be correct (see, minutiae details can really make you crazy...).
  • I want the client to feel that their money was worth every penny from the results.
  • I crave feedback.
  • I am over-prepared.
  • I buy tons of equipment.
  • I feel bad because my new camera is not full-frame. Maybe if I could afford the $2,000 lens it would make me legit.
  • I take classes, I over-communicate, I over-think every scenario that could go wrong.

Are you exhausted yet? Yeah, I am.

AND, I almost cancel or say "I can't do it. I'm not good enough. Someone else would be better. I think I can't handle the responsibility of something brand new. I don't want to screw up the chance to capture your family Christmas card." EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

Recently I had a client shoot that involved hiring 3 professional models, securing a location, coordinating products and styling with the client while pulling this off with brand new studio equipment and ZERO experience with this sort of thing. ZERO. I remember sitting in a meeting saying, "Yes! I can do that. It will be great to have live models wearing your apparel for your trade show booth, website and catalog." Then, I went to my car to drive home and practically hyperventilated. I mean, what was I thinking? I didn't have the experience. I didn't have a location. I didn't even have lighting, a backdrop or equipment. Where the heck do I get models? How much do models cost? Why did I say yes? Because I decided a few things:

  1. Ultimately, I wanted the absolutely BEST for my client. I knew their story and what they wanted to tell. I knew what they needed for this project. I wanted to deliver it, because it was all contained in my mind as a marketer. Who to translate this to photos better than me?
  2. I HAD to step out of my comfort zone. This was a relatively small project compared to what 'big time' professionals do every day. If I ever wanted to grow, I had to be challenged.
  3. What was the WORST thing that could happen? Well, I reshoot. I lose money. I disappoint a client temporarily, but will make it right no matter what. I was NOT performing brain surgery. No one was going to die if I didn't shoot a model in a shirt perfectly.

3 Days Before Shoot:

Backdrop and lights were supposed to arrive. Amazon sends message that there are delays. It's possible they will arrive the next day. Already delays and it's not even close to Christmas yet. Big fun.

2 Days Before Shoot:

Lighting, soft boxes and backdrop arrives. Phew! Now, how do I set this stuff up? Front room becomes photo studio while cat pounces on backdrop. I have to iron out wrinkles on 10x12 foot muslin.

1 Day Before Shoot: 

I had left my Nikon battery charger (about $50) at a friend's house in Florida over Thanksgiving. Fortunately, she found it immediately, and mailed the next day. It was to arrive on Thursday for my Friday shoot. Ok, good. I can charge overnight and be good to go. Mail comes. No battery charger. Breathing labored...Send husband to camera store by 8pm to buy a new charger. Charger mailed from Florida arrives at 8:02pm. Sigh. Ok, I can do this.

Day of Shoot:

Finish touching up backdrop and head to location (which ended up being my neighborhood clubhouse - absolutely PERFECT for the shoot). Client arrives, models arrive, have a hard time adjusting flash and lighting, but finally get it to a point where I'm not sweating and I think this is going to work.

Models are fabulous. Client is relaxed and happy. I realize that I actually DO know how to pose them. I ask models (because they are all actors as well, to step back while they are on deck and help me with wrinkles, weird hand poses, etc. and...they do). The client tells us how the garments should look and what I should focus on. Lighting and backdrop do not fall over.

My big shoot...

My big shoot...

Happy to have everything set up!

Happy to have everything set up!

In the End:

The shoot does go over time and budget. I try not to stress too much over that, at the end of the day - it was a learning experience; one that I will use for future shoots - when I hopefully have enough confidence to take it on with a smile, and even quote a bit more to cover things like overages, model fees, etc.

How I Handle High-Functioning Anxiety Day to Day

I have found a few things to be exceptionally helpful:

David Byrd Consulting Daily Affirmation Card Set

David Byrd Consulting Daily Affirmation Card Set

  1. Yoga. Yoga. Yoga. The benefits are so much more than I could ever list here. The breathing, calming factor, connection with body and mind. It always brings me back to a place where I know it is safe (on my mat). At the YMCA, the yoga instructors typically read meditations or intentions for your practice, which I just absolutely love.
  2. Daily Affirmations. I really like the weekly Affirmation Card set from David Byrd Consulting. It's about getting positive thoughts in your mind, daily, hourly if you need it.
  3. Drink Water and Sleep. Staying hydrated (and not with all coffee!) and going to bed early will help with what your body naturally depletes when stressed. I tend to stay up late working, stressing, falling asleep on couch. All NOT good.
  4. Heating Pad. I feel stress immediately between my shoulder blades. Sharp, painful, constant. Heating pads and doing something mindless like a Netflix show or reading helps me to unwind.
  5. Put the Phone and Computer Away. Shut off. Stop checking social media. Stop comparing myself to all the photographers that are way better than me.
  6. Sometimes I just say NO. If I am not truly passionate about something, it is going to give me so much more anxiety than experience or something I can use in the future to better myself, my career or my hobby, I have to say NO. Just because I CAN do it, doesn't mean I have to.

In 2018, I hope to take on challenges with more confidence and that will propel me forward in my career and personal life! I wish you the very best in your journey if you find you are in the same boat as me. I'd love to know how you handle anxiety and stress - we can all learn together.

Stay social,

Terri