Anxiety can manifest itself in different ways, from panic attacks to ruminating thoughts it can make our lives a struggle. Anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental health conditions.
High functioning anxiety is not a recognized mental health diagnosis. Rather, it’s evolved as a generic term that refers to people who live with anxiety, but who identify as functioning reasonably well in different aspects of their life.
Like the term suggests, people with high-functioning anxiety don’t find it difficult to function in their daily routines and will tire themselves to be perfect. People with high-functioning anxiety are driven by their anxiety to work hard and move on rather than letting it affect their daily functioning.
High-functioning people are often referred to as over-achievers. However, this perception is short-sighted because it fails to take into account the struggle (and perhaps, anxiety) required to achieve that level of success. Deep down, you know that your anxiety limits your life even if you don’t let on.
Perhaps you can achieve essential tasks (such as those relating to work and housekeeping), but feel your life is limited in other ways. for example, you never do anything outside your comfort zone, your actions are probably dictated by your anxiety, You likely choose activities that calm your racing thoughts rather than pursuing activities because you would enjoy them, or because they would expand your horizons.
While high-functioning anxiety isn’t exactly a real medical diagnosis, it is a chronic mental health condition that can leave a lasting impact on your health (mental, emotional, and physical), relationships, and self-confidence.
People with high functioning anxiety become adept at presenting a false persona to the world and never showing their true feelings to anyone. Instead, they keep their anxiety bottled up and compartmentalize their feelings. A person with high-functioning anxiety project a confident image while struggling with typical anxiety symptoms which could include stress in social situations, insomnia, a racing mind, and the inability to relax. If left untreated, the condition could progress to a more severe form of a general anxiety disorder (GAD) and an increase in symptom severity.
What are the symptoms of High Functioning Anxiety Disorder?
People with high-functioning anxiety can exhibit positive outward traits, despite the underlying adverse physical and mental impacts. Here are a few of the positive and negative characteristics of Individuals with High Functioning Anxiety Disorder:
- Being driven and goal-oriented: Constant stress may drive you to work harder and achieve more than the average person especially in your career.
- Always being prepared: You tend to arrive early for meetings, probably carry a first-aid kit, and never miss a deadline at school or work.
- Being popular and entertaining: Friends might be shocked to learn about your struggle with anxiety because you always seem so confident.
- Almost always appearing calm and often being a source of strength to others: People with high functioning anxiety disorder have perfected the art of keeping a peaceful demeanor, even when they’re reeling with stress on the inside.
- Having a mind that never stops: You might have a hard time falling asleep or wake up too early with your brain racing through a thousand upcoming tasks.
- Being unable to fully relax: When you take a day off from work, you fill it with chores and other tasks in hopes of lessening your anxiety.
- Being uncomfortable in social situations: You may freeze up while trying to get to know a new person at a party.
- Relying on routine: Spontaneous changes to established patterns spikes your anxiety, so they avoid them as much as possible.
- Anticipating the worst: Even when there’s no reason to expect a negative outcome, you always imagine the possibilities.
- Always being tired: Anxiety is mentally and physically exhausting. Even when you sleep well at night, you feel tired because your brain is always going at top speed.
- Being easily startled: Loud noises make you jump because your nerves are constantly on edge.
- Inability to “enjoy the moment”: being unable to relax and be in the present or always expecting the worst in any situation.
- Having the fear of not being enough: You always have a fear of coming short of expectations either from society or from your family.
What Causes High Functioning Anxiety?
Researchers believe that the causes of anxiety generally rely on genetic and environmental factors. Some of the causes may include:
- Family history of anxiety disorders
- Exposure to negative or stressful life events
- Certain physical health conditions like thyroid issues
- Substance or alcohol abuse
- Shyness or nervousness traits from childhood
People who might be especially susceptible to high-functioning anxiety, in particular, can include individuals who have achieved success in a small amount of time.
How To Treat High Functioning Anxiety
High-functioning anxiety can be treated the same way that other anxiety disorders are treated, including therapy. Prescription medications that treat anxiety disorders are also available and include antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), or tricyclic antidepressants.
The following can also be of help in the treatment of High Functioning Anxiety:
Do Some Physical Exercise
We often forget to take care of our physical health where our anxiety is concerned. People with high anxiety are often lost in their minds and to break that cycle, you need to focus on understanding your body. Deep breathing, desk yoga, walking out in nature, and yoga are exercises that can help you break the cycle of ruminating thoughts.
You need to prioritize yourself first and foremost. If you’re working all week then you deserve a weekend to yourself. If you’re overworked, then say “no” if someone asks you to do something for them even if it means facing their disappointment.
Tools to deal with anxiety can include learning to identify catastrophic thoughts and dialing them back, exposing yourself in small ways to face your fears, recognizing that you can handle more than you think you can, and practicing mindfulness and relaxation techniques.