Picture of rainbow arching over trees with sun breaking through storm. On the right are multi-colored bars that say "Energy for High Achievers," "Anxiety for High Achievers," "Depression for High Achievers," and "Sleep for High Achievers" Overarching title is Peak Performance.

Energy For High Achievers

High Achievers Personality Characteristics that Impact Energy

  High Achievers are goal-oriented.

High Achievers are in positions of multi-faceted responsibility.

High Achievers tend to underestimate energy drains.

Together, these characteristics cause a High Achiever to focus on goals and responsibility without awareness of the energy flowing in and out. Without that awareness, it is easy to overestimate capacity at any given moment. Think about when you’ve been sick, started feeling better, and then “overdid it.” There was a mismatch between your ambition and your physical capacity.

When there are ongoing mismatches between energy usage and capacity, High Achievers become more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, and sleep disruption. They typically describe it as feeling off, in a funk, stressed out or burnt out.

High Achievers can increase their awareness of energy demands by creating a chart of responsibilities with weighted values for the amount of energy gained or lost.

Sample Fuel and Drain Energy Chart with Client Energy values

Anxiety For High Achievers

High Achievers Personality Characteristics that Impact Anxiety

♦  High Achievers carry high expectations of themselves.

♦  High Achievers tend to subvert the emotional experience and can become more upset than they realize.

♦  High Achievers have difficulty setting boundaries with people and situations that increase anxiety.

♦  High Achievers often think that anxiety is “in one’s head” and thus, managed through “willpower.”

♦  High Achievers have difficulty asking for help. Thus, they lose time by problem-solving alone.

♦  High Achievers believe they should be able to control their anxiety. 

Situational Anxiety versus Anxiety Disorders

Situational Anxiety occurs because of a specific stressor. One can trace the onset of anxiety to a professional or relational change. When unresolved, situational anxiety can transition into long-term anxiety because, at a neurological level, one’s brain is “trained” to be anxious. Both the thought patterns and physiological responses become automatic. When this happens, one can reverse responses, but it takes longer.

A salient example of situational anxiety is when one is involved in a toxic professional situation. Regardless of one’s personal history of anxiety, some of these situations become toxic and last over several years. Even though individuals may not be genetically predisposed to anxiety, the situation elicits responses that remain even after they transition to a healthier situation. People often expect anxiety to lift as soon as the triggering situation ends, and this is generally not the case. It usually takes at least six months to begin feeling normal. Intentional self-care can assist the healing process.

Other anxiety disorders, such as Generalized Anxiety, are often present from a young age. While situations can exacerbate symptoms, they are not fully attenuated if stressors resolve. Sometimes, children as young as nine can verbalize that their life is good but that they get anxious quickly for no specific reason. Just as in adults, the symptoms may be physical (stomach aches, headaches) rather than the conscious experience of a particular emotion.

Strong People Have Anxiety

Attributing anxiety to mental strength characteristics is like assuming that one can control cholesterol with mindfulness. Yes, there are many factors under one’s control that can mitigate or exacerbate anxiety, but it is a neurological phenomenon, not a characterological one.

Depression For High Achievers

High Achievers Personality Characteristics that Impact Depression

♦  High Achievers often feel trapped by their level of responsibility.

♦  High Achievers often assume that depression has overt symptoms such as crying a lot.

♦  High Achievers may minimize the importance of social support in mitigating depression.

♦  High Achievers often feel that they shouldn’t need anti-depressants.

The first signal of potential depression is the sense that life is Ground Hog’s Day. Each day seems to be on repeat. While this is normal (not fun, but normal), for everyone, an ongoing sense of meaninglessness can signal depression. The clinical term is “anhedonia.” It means that one isn’t able to enjoy or find pleasure in things that are usually fun. Examples might include social activities, sex or work accomplishments that would normally be viewed as energizing.

While anxiety carries with it an overabundance of psychological and physiological arousal, depression is the opposite. For people struggling with depression, there is a sense of everything being hard.

Chicken-Egg Conundrum for Depression and Activation Energy

One of the best non-pharmaceutical ways to alleviate depression is with exercise. The problem is that when people are in a funk, getting off the couch feels like winning. Many people use all of their energy to get through their primary responsibilities with work and family, leaving no extra energy for exercise or other self-care.

If one is unable to engage in activities that would generally be energizing, it may be necessary to use an antidepressant first. Then, when lifestyle factors are more firmly in place, they can coordinate with their provider to reduce the dosage or titrate off and see if they are able to maintain mood stability without medication.

The first signal of potential depression is the sense that life is Ground Hog’s Day. Each day seems to be on repeat. While this is normal (not fun, but normal), for everyone, an ongoing sense of meaninglessness can signal depression. The clinical term is “anhedonia.” It means that one isn’t able to enjoy or find pleasure in things that are usually fun. Examples might include social activities, sex or work accomplishments that would normally be viewed as energizing.

While anxiety carries with it an overabundance of psychological and physiological arousal, depression is the opposite. For people struggling with depression, there is a sense of everything being hard.

"Yeah well, my brain better shape itself up."

From Dr. Tricia:

In the middle of writing about anxiety and depression, my friend texted me. She expressed frustration that she can’t remember happy memories, saying she only remembers the negative.

I responded that she’s dealing with a mix of trauma, depression, and anxiety, so of course, her brain won’t remember the happy things right now.

She responded, “Yeah, well, my brain better shape itself up.”

I laughed, but this response is typical for High Achievers. There is a sense of frustration and impatience because anxiety and depression feel outside of one’s control. Pick up all the tools and resources to obtain optimal emotional wellness as best you can. BUT, try your best to give yourself the space to heal rather than adding more stress on top of your expectations of what you and your brain should or shouldn’t feel.

Sleep For High Achievers

High Achievers Personality Characteristics that Impact Sleep

♦  High Achievers often have commitments that physically interfere with getting enough sleep.

♦  High Achievers are problem-solvers and may have difficulty slowing their mental process enough to go to sleep.

♦  High Achievers who struggle with delayed sleep onset may get so frustrated at being unable to sleep that they keep themselves awake.

High Achievers may use substances such as alcohol or marijuana that help them to relax but later interfere with sleep.

Sleep interference can result from internal or external stimuli. Ultimately, sleep links to our arousal system. If you are busy late into the end of the day, it takes awhile for your arousal system to “relax’ enough for sleep to take over. If you are thinking, worrying, or problem-solving, the cognitive arousal will keep you wide awake–even if you are contemplating positive or energizing problems.

Each person has differing physiology, sleep needs, and lifestyle factors that impact sleep. Further, if one has operated on little sleep for a long time, their brains perceive this as “normal.” It can take a long time to re-establish a new pattern (months, not weeks).

Sleep - Operating Outside of the Dichotomy

Some people hate that they need to sleep, seeing it as a waste of time or a “should,” like exercise.

Others resent sleep because the lack of it signifies that they are the last person on the priority list.

People may crave sleep and cannot get the amount and quality of sleep they want due to insomnia.

The problem with adding high emotional values to sleep is that doing so can makes it into a burden. Like nutrition, sleep can fuel our brains and bodies. It can assist in emotional stabilization. Like nutrition, it can become a burden to maintain if we see it as the primary goal rather than part of the big picture.

Tactics to Increase Sleep

1. Realize that your brain can develop patterns of sleeping and waking quickly. If you get out of rhythm because of a scheduling or family anomaly, try to return to your normal rhythm as soon as possible.

2. Reduce sleep cycle creep. When people sleep later in the morning, they tend to stay awake later at night. Then, they sleep later in the morning to compensate for the late bedtime. Get up at the same time to keep your body in the same rhythm, even when you are tired.

3. Have a plan for what you will think about when you can’t sleep. If you experience sleep disruption due to work concerns or anxiety, you WILL wake up and think. Instead of trying not to, choose a topic or mental exercise that is boring or relaxing. Then, consciously keep pulling yourself back to thinking about that instead of the source of anxiety.

4. Do the cognitive work of assessing whether staying up late will change the game. If you consistently think that you MUST finish work before you can go to sleep, it may be time to evaluate the bigger picture and whether sleep loss is helping you be more productive.

5. For both the faith-based believers and the non-believers–pray…or not. If you have a faith system, pray for a reminder that you are safe and that the burden of life is not all on you. If the faith perspective does not resonate, go with your perspective on life. If you view it as a video game or a temporary manifestation of consciousness, does the concern have lasting impact or is it simply another level of challenge in the game?

We often act and think that the problems of the moment are lasting, weighty, and all on us to solve. Sometimes they are; sometimes they aren’t. If you can ask for help or consciously lighten your problem-solving focus, the resulting decrease in autonomic arousal will help you sleep.

6. If you use alcohol, assess your sleep patterns on weeks with varying amounts of alcohol. With marijuana, consider the types you are using or if you are mixing too many types. This awareness is not a moral exercise about the use of drugs and alcohol. Take notes, watch your sleep patterns, then adjust accordingly.