Running a Business with High-Functioning Anxiety


I have high-functioning anxiety, and it took me a pandemic to realize that.

I didn’t think that I would ever find myself saying that I have high-functioning anxiety, but here we are. Not exactly the best combination, or a situation I ever would have found myself in, but if there’s one thing that entrepreneurship has taught me, it’s to roll with the punches.

And roll with the punches we shall.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had perfectionist, overthinking, and self-doubting tendencies that I thought just came with my personality.

If I was in a group project for school, I always assumed dominance over the project because I feared not getting the grade that I wanted or deserved due to other people being a part of it. If I was asked to do a favor, I always said yes, even if I didn’t have the capacity to do it, out of fear of saying no and disappointing people. If I had a spare moment of time, I would spend it studying for upcoming tests because having time to myself made me feel antsy and made me feel as if I was wasting precious time doing nothing when I could be doing something productive.

And that list really could keep going.

It was no surprise to me when I faced these same feelings once I jumped into entrepreneurship. Like I said, I just thought it was who I am! I’ve always been an ambitious, goals-oriented, driven person–and I assumed that my tendencies were the same as other people like me.

I thought my feelings just came from the focus, motivation, and vision I had to reach multiple 6 figure years since the time I was 21, take my business full-time, deliver a TEDx talk, pay off my student loans, and more.

Sure, these things might come up when one strives for success, but it wasn’t until I started talking with others and doing research where I realized that my feelings weren’t “normal”–they were signs of high-functioning anxiety.

Once I finally realized that, it’s almost as if a weight was lifted off my shoulders. I spent so much time wondering why I couldn’t relax, shut my brain off, and stop doubting myself. What had really bothered me was thinking about how other people could do these things, but I can’t.

Other people can go on vacation and not be tempted to check their email, so why can’t I? Other people end their work day at 5 pm and don’t give one more second of their brain thinking about work, so why can’t I? Other people can watch TV, read for fun, and make plans with friends without feeling guilty, so why can’t I?

After understanding that all of these tendencies were signs of high-functioning anxiety, it all made sense.

However, although feeling a sense of relief knowing that I finally have an “answer” to what I’ve been feeling, I wouldn’t be honest if I said that it has gotten easier. Someone recently asked me what my biggest challenge about starting a business was. I said that starting, building, and scaling a business is easy (because to me, it is)… the challenge was–or rather, still is–myself.

I get so in my own head about things that I genuinely feel as though there have been situations that I’ve held myself back because of how I feel. My high-functioning anxiety doesn’t come in the form of panic attacks or inability to do something like one might think. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, where my mind goes into overdrive. These are just some of the feelings I face when it comes to business specifically…

I often say yes to clients if they want me to do something additional that they really should be paying for because I don’t want to disappoint them.

I fear that my work isn’t good enough if people don’t specifically say that they liked it or if they take a while to get back to me.

I struggle with shutting my brain off during non-working hours. At night and on the weekends, my brain doesn’t stop thinking about every little thing I have to do, and it consumes my ability to relax and enjoy myself.

I twirl my hair if I’m thinking or stressing about something (which is what I’ve been doing while writing this entire blog post).

I take forever to fall asleep at night, and I wake up early in the morning with a knot in my stomach, because my mind is focused on what I need to do and when.

I have a hard time delegating work because I worry that it won’t be done to my standards (which is irrational because I hire really wonderful people!).

I work way past 5 pm during the week because I feel like in order to be successful, I have to be busy.

I accept any project that comes my way because I have a fear that one day all of my clients will dump me, and I don’t ever want to be without work (another totally irrational fear).

I feel discombobulated if I miss something in my routine, like if I don’t start my day off with going to the gym. It genuinely bothers me and I feel down on myself for not following through.

I instantly assume that a client feels dissatisfied with my work if they ask to schedule a phone call, rather than perhaps needing to ask me a question or wanting to run an idea by me.

The list could seriously go on forever.

I’m an extremely goals-oriented person, which truthfully probably adds to my anxiety. I have so many things that I want to accomplish and deadlines for when I want to accomplish them, so I often put myself under immense stress to do better and be better.

I had an epiphany the other week when I realized that the way that I live my life is not normal. It’s not normal to feel like you need to work all the time, it’s not normal to worry that something is always going to go wrong, and it’s not normal to not be able to shut off from work mode.

And because of that, I realized that I wanted things to change, and I was going to do what I could to make that happen.

I want to sleep better at night, I want to be able to watch TV or read a book at night without thinking about work, and I want to trust that all of my clients appreciate me and the work that I do.

Moving forward, I have made a vow to myself to shut my laptop earlier and read or watch TV instead, delegate more work so that everything doesn’t fall on me, and journal my feelings of insecurity or doubt. And that’s just the beginning.

I’m writing this blog post not only as a way to hold myself accountable but also to let you know that if you are facing the same thing, I hear you, I see you, and I support you. Being a high-performing individual who deals with anxiety is hard, but I’m ready to start choosing ME… and you should, too.

Ashley Mason is a marketing consultant, speaker, and founder of both Dash of Social and Student to CEO.

Starting her business at the age of 19, Ashley successfully grew it to reach six figures by the time she was 21 and now works for it full-time. Since then, she has been featured in prominent publications such as TEDx, The Huffington Post, Thrive Global, SWAAY Magazine, and more.

Passionate about pursuing entrepreneurship at a young age, Ashley hopes to inspires others to take that leap, just like she did.

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