How I Treat High Achieving, High Anxiety Women

Every so often, I notice a common theme in my sessions with clients. Some people in the field may call it “projection”, if you’re looking for it you’ll find it. I love working with this population because it’s like holding up a mirror. I have always been high achieving (or high-striving, if you like that term better). I strived for the best grades in school, was admitted to “the best” grad school for counseling in the area, worked hard for a 4.0, sought out “the best” internships to make me into the best counselor woman I could be. Then I became a mom. “Alrightttt”, I thought, “I got this! All of my training up until this point has prepared me for this!”. Long story short, the same mentality that got me through college, internship, and the beginning of my career, landed me with postpartum depression, undiagnosed clinical anxiety, and a very small support network after I had my first kid.

I see extensions of this in my clients; women and mothers who work so hard. They contribute so much to their families, to society, but they are still feeling lacking, depressed and anxious. They have a hard time relaxing, they don’t know what to do when their hands are cleaning, working, typing, gesturing, or pointing. Whether they realize it or not, their meaningful relationships get sidelined for “the next big accomplishment”. My colleague and friend, Stephanie Kemme, writes about this phenomenon a lot on her website Her and I talk about it a lot as well, some days I think those conversations are the only things that got me through. Through these conversations, support from my husband and family, and my own personal journey, I have outlined a “rough” example of how I go about treating high achieving high anxiety women and moms who sit opposite of me in my office.

  1. Get back to nature. Walk, hike, jog, whatever you like. Find a forest and go explore. Make this a very mindful experience. I truly believe there may be a few things that nature “doesn’t cure, but I don’t know any of them” (-Sylvia Plath regarding hot baths, also true).
  2. Get comfortable “doing nothing”. Doing nothing doesn’t really have to mean doing nothing. That phrase still scares me. But doing nothing could mean meditation, journaling, reading a book for pleasure, etc. High anxiety, high achieving women tend to think unproductive things aren’t worthwhile, I do my best to sell how important they actually are.
  3. Find like-minded people. Find a friend or a support system that encourages who you want to be in one year, five years, etc. Most of the time, my HA-HA clients work A LOT. So if their goal is to slow down, take time off work, take a more relaxed position, spend more time at home, learn how to cook meals, etc. then hanging out with your super driven attorney girl boss friend, may not be the kind of company you seek. You don’t want to end up feeling even worse by comparing yourself to someone you don’t even want to be.
  4. Change your definition of success. Whoa. Huge right? I know. And this is why this is such a popular therapy topic. It takes a lot of dedication to pick this apart. My work ethic got me a 4.0 in graduate school, but those study skills didn’t translate to mothering. I know, I’m pissed. My idea of success has changed since then. Which leads me to an even bigger topic…
  5. Don’t devalue your “slow” work. It is so easy to get caught up in the fast pace of work, promotions, climbing ladders, workplace politics, adding some zeros to your bank account or adding some letters to your name, that work served you at one time in your life. Now you are in therapy, sick, unhappy, depressed, and uncontrollably anxious. What you did before is no longer working. The work has to change. The work you do with your kids, cleaning your house, planning for the future, making healthy meals at home, budgeting, organizing, reading, is all VERY IMPORTANT. Think about it, most people don’t want to do it, have time to do it and pay someone else to do it, so it in inherently valuable.

Like I said, I resonate well with this population, and in session I think we have a little fun picking it apart, that could just be me though.

Be Well,

Annie Kendig

Published by annkendig

I am a mental health and addiction therapist in Cincinnati Ohio. Happy exploring and may all beings be well.

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