What Is High Functioning Anxiety?
High functioning anxiety is a type of anxiety when a person suffers from anxiety but can still function pretty well in their day-to-day life as if nothing is bothering them. They don’t let their fears and anxious thoughts get the best of them. (1)
High functioning anxiety is not recognized as a different anxiety condition yet and there isn’t enough research data for it. However, there are people who say that even though their anxiety levels are severe, i.e. they suffer from high functioning anxiety, they still manage to go on with their lives and do their responsibilities the best they can.
Doctors know and they can tell you that anxiety exists on a spectrum from high to moderate to low, and by that scale, people having high functioning anxiety could experience mild or severe symptoms. Most often than not, people who think they experience high functioning anxiety have a moderate impairment or are in a condition known as ‘subclinical anxiety’ whose symptoms are hidden, mild, atypical, brief, and recurrent. (2)
Many people with high functioning anxiety hide their anxiety very well from other people thus appearing calm, confident, peaceful, and motivated. Their anxiety may even serve them well because they seem more focused on their goals and are highly motivated to achieve rather than hold back from doing something.
On the other hand, even though they look composed on the outside, on the inside they may feel worried, afraid, or they may even panic, overthink, and have obsessive thoughts. These symptoms can affect their well-being, interfere with their sleep, and make them lose their appetite (or make them overeat).
All anxiety levels have damaging effects on a person’s health and their relationships. And because there is not enough research regarding high functioning anxiety, doctors can’t know exactly what causes it. However, the most likely causes of high functioning anxiety are genetics (those people with anxiety have someone in their closest family suffering from anxiety as well), personality (nervousness and shyness during childhood increase the danger of having anxiety), past traumas and exposure to stress, alcohol or drug use, etc.
How To Know If You Have Anxiety?
Feeling anxious from time to time is normal and a part of life. However, those people diagnosed with anxiety experience severe and intense fears and worries about almost everything in their life. They experience repeated episodes of excessive terror and worries that can break them in a second. (3)
If you experience extreme feelings of panic and anxiety and those feelings disturb your daily activities because you can’t control them, then you suffer from anxiety. Feeling tense, restless, and nervous are also signs of anxiety.
The person with anxiety may feel overwhelmed with feelings of panic because they are afraid that something bad and inevitable will happen to them. That makes them anxious and thus they start breathing rapidly, their heart rate increases, they start to sweat, tremble, and have an urge to run from the situation.
High function anxiety can be very harmful and it’s not something to be overlooked. The worst problem is that a lot of people can’t understand the effects it can have on a person and find anxious people as being lazy, irresponsible, and passive.
If you are not an anxious person, knowing this can help you understand high function anxiety a bit better.
If you are, we are sure you are going to agree with these things.
1.Decline invites although you may want to go
There are certain days that you may have planned all along and when they come, anxiety takes up the whole space. It can become so debilitating that you feel as if you lack the energy to go out.
You are aware of what is happening to you and you don’t want to become a burden where you are supposed to go – so you just cancel everything.
2. Obsess over trivial things other people may not even notice
A simple word or an unintended glance from someone is enough for your head to start processing and rewinding the situation even for days! The truth is you obsess over everything that has happened recently or a week ago, or any time ago, really.
You may obsess over a conversation you had, or the fact that someone hasn’t texted you yet (after a whole 12 hour period) or really just over the fact that some stranger looked at you as if they knew you.
Whatever the case may be, many would get confused by the notion that you even notice such things.
3. Go to bed late, wake up early in the morning
One of the biggest issues for you is certainly sleeping. Of all the processing in your head after the day, you find it hard to go to bed on time.
When early morning comes, your anxiety clock starts ticking again and ringing several alarms to get things going – even though you are tired. When your anxiety has switched on (by waking up), you can’t do anything to switch it off, so you don’t go back to bed.
4. In every situation, the worst scenario is your biggest thought
Instead of enjoying the moment as it is, you can’t help picturing and convincing yourself that the worst scenario is inevitable. If it’s a first date, you are convinced that something will go terribly wrong.
If you get sick, you always manage to connect the symptoms to the worst diseases you can imagine. It’s as if your mind tricks you into believing that nothing can go right.
5. You rewind conversations in your head – over and over again
No matter how well a conversation went with somebody, you always replay that conversation in your head fearing that you may have said something wrong. That’s why you try to avoid confrontation at all cost.
This constant rewinding seems to be able to haunt you until it starts chipping a hole from the inside. You always have to remind yourself that it’s your anxiety talking and that there is most certainly nothing wrong with what you have said in the first place.
6. When someone shows concern about you, you become even more worried about the same thing
If someone notices that you are not OK and shows concern, your anxiety grows even more. The thing is, when you hear someone asking if you are alright, it makes you fear even more for yourself and your state.
You think – if it has become noticeable, then there has to be more to it than I thought. This makes you feel worse than you did.
7. You believe that you are to blame if someone doesn’t reply right away
When communicating with people, be it your significant other, a friend or a relative, if they don’t respond immediately, you start thinking that you may have said or done something wrong.
However, you should stop and consider that they may be in the middle of something that takes up their attention, or that they are just bad at communicating.
8. You are experiencing a breakdown when the future comes as a topic
While most people look forward to the future and make plans for the future, your view on the future is making you feel intimidated and frustrated.
Experiencing the present so hard makes you think how hard and daunting the future may be. This makes you retreat and hide from the thought of it.
9. You always compare your success to others who are your age
Although you may not want to compare yourself to others, your anxiety makes you scour through Facebook and stay up to date with all the successful things your peers have done.
Your worries are not that they have managed to succeed, but if you are ever going to succeed in your life like they have.
10. You obsess too much over every mistake you make by beating yourself up over it
The worst scenario is making a mistake at work. The thoughts that will consume you afterwards are tremendously difficult to handle.
11. Sometimes, you feel too mentally and physically exhausted to get out of bed
High Functioning Anxiety burns up most of your energy, both mentally and physically. That’s why it can happen that you cannot function properly and you just want to remain in bed and leave yourself drown in the sheets.This paralysis comes as a result of the overwhelming experiences due to your anxiety.
High Functioning Anxiety Symptoms
The signs of high functioning anxiety are not easy to recognize because it is not a real condition. However, the person who has high functioning anxiety can be seen as someone who is successful, organized, calm, and collected even though there is a storm brewing inside them.
This person may be extremely productive and punctual at work, while also having a busy schedule and rich social life outside of work. On the surface, they may look like they have everything in control. However, what many people don’t see is that their obsession with success is driven by a paralyzing fear that they will fail and a lot of self-doubts.
A person with high functioning anxiety is constantly at a battle with their thoughts and fears. They can be highly productive and successful with a tremendous fear of failure, a perfectionist fearing criticism, calm with an overthinking mind, organized and still fearful of letting other people down, meeting deadlines and be chronically exhausted at the same time, hardworking, and still procrastinate when they are stressed, and agreeable because they cannot say no out of fear of disappointing others.
Moreover, someone with high functioning anxiety is constantly perplexed with a never-ending list of things to do and feels obligated to do them all even though inside they are feeling exhausted. This person has a hard time relaxing because they can’t stop what they are doing until they do it perfectly. They are high achievers and strive to always be the best they can.
What Does Anxiety Feel Like?
Anxiety is an emotion that everyone experiences from time to time. It is a very natural feeling and oftentimes it is also healthy for the person experiencing it. Anxiety makes us alert of potential dangers and protects us by making us pay attention to the smallest details.
However, when it is a disorder, the emotion is exaggerated i.e. the fear shows up even on occasions when there is no need for it. Common symptoms of anxiety include rapid heartbeat, inability to concentrate and focus, feeling faint, sweating, nausea, sleep disruptions, trouble breathing, and unbearable fear.
The term ‘high functioning’ anxiety refers to anxiety that is considered to be of a ‘higher’ level, a level that makes them able to function better than those people who have regular anxiety or even the people without anxiety. High functioning anxiety means that the person is operating at their best, using their abilities fully and accomplishing many things at once.
However, those people experiencing this type of anxiety disorder are often unaware of it because they appear to function really well in their day-to-day lives even though their heart beats faster and they may have an internal fear of failure. Other people also may not realize that something is wrong with the person with high functioning anxiety.
Finally, a person with high functioning anxiety is rarely asking for help because they don’t see their anxiety as a problem. Therefore, they don’t get treatment and their symptoms worsen with time.
High Functioning Anxiety And Depression
There is a link between depression and high functioning anxiety. According to NAMI (The National Alliance for Mental Illness), 60% of the people struggling with anxiety also experience symptoms of depression.
Moreover, if a person suffering from stress and chronic anxiety doesn’t seek treatment, they have a higher risk of depression. Sadly, according to NAMI, only 36% with anxiety seek treatment and people with high functioning anxiety are even less likely to seek treatment. Why? Because usually, people seek treatment when they cannot cope with their symptoms, and people with high functioning anxiety can live with the symptoms and manage them well.
Plus, people having high functioning anxiety can have ‘perfectionism’ as being a symptom of anxiety but they can view it as a positive characteristic since it helps them achieve more. However, anxiety can seriously damage the mental health of a person by diminishing their self-esteem which also contributes to depression.
Causes Of High Functioning Anxiety
No one can tell you for sure what causes anxiety. However, sometimes only one traumatic event is all that is needed to trigger an anxiety disorder in a person who is prone to anxiety.
Medical causes: diabetes, heart disease, drug withdrawal or misuse, thyroid problems, respiratory disorders such as asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, or in some cases tumors that produce fight-or-flight hormones.
It is probable that your anxiety disorder is because of an underlying medical condition if you didn’t have anxiety as a child, you don’t have any relatives with an anxiety disorder, or you don’t avoid situations because of your anxiety.
Furthermore, there are some risk factors that increase a person’s chance of developing an anxiety disorder. The risk factors are:
- Stress buildup – A buildup of small stressful incidents that can trigger vast amount of anxiety or one big stressful event, such as ongoing worries about work and financer or a death of a close person.
- Trauma – Children who are witnesses of traumatic events have a tendency to develop anxiety later in life. Adults can also develop anxiety if they go through a traumatic event.
- Personality – People with certain personality characteristics can develop anxiety more often than others.
- Alcohol or drugs – Alcohol or drug use can worsen or even cause anxiety.
- Having blood relatives with anxiety – These types of disorders can run in the family.
- Other mental health disorders such as depression.
Diagnosis Of High Functioning Anxiety
Hard-functioning anxiety is a disorder that is hard to diagnose because it is not a recognized disorder among medical professionals. However, it is a disorder that is a level on the anxiety spectrum and it is only a way that anxiety can present in some people.
If the doctor is to diagnose an anxiety disorder, such as general anxiety or social anxiety disorder, for example, they may do it by physically examining the patient in order to eliminate any other medical condition that may be the cause for the anxiety. And if they cannot find an underlying reason, then the patient must see a mental health professional to get a diagnosis and treatment for their condition.
And even though doctors find it difficult to diagnose a person with high functioning anxiety with an anxiety disorder, according to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), impairment or distress in important parts of life is one criterion for diagnosing a person with an anxiety disorder.
However, in people struggling with high functioning anxiety, this distress or impairment of the functioning of their life’s important areas can’t always be seen. Their anxiety can affect the quality of their life subtly, and therefore, it may not be obvious to other people. That’s why it is crucial for the patient to be honest with the doctor and provide them with a full and complete picture of their feelings and their life.
Treatment Of High Functioning Anxiety
The main treatment for an anxiety disorder is psychotherapy combined with medications.
Psychotherapy is a form of therapy where the patient can get help reducing the symptoms of their anxiety by talking to a psychotherapist. For example, Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a very effective way of treating anxiety disorders because it helps the patients remove their anxious thoughts and confront their triggers of anxiety step by step.
A good therapist can also teach the person struggling with anxiety how to manage the symptoms by using techniques such as meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, or deep breathing.
And when it comes to medications, there are several medications that are known to help reduce anxiety such as benzodiazepines (for short-term relief from anxiety), buspirone (an anti-anxiety drug), and some antidepressants. Learn more about anxiety medications here.
A person should contact a doctor if they cannot control their anxiety, they regularly feel distressed due to their anxiety, their anxiety is affecting their self-esteem and their relationships, their health is in danger, or if they start developing symptoms of depression.
Anxiety is treatable, but the earlier the person asks for help, the better the results will be.
Living With High Functioning Anxiety
When the person you love is suffering from high functioning anxiety, it’s not so obvious. They may be very successful at work, and very charming and positive people overall, but that doesn’t mean that they are not struggling inside.
And even though people with high functioning anxiety deal with various side effects that are affecting their self-esteem, they still manage to hide their disorder pretty well, even from the people closest to them.
Therefore, education is vital when it comes to this type of disorder. The more people are aware of it, there will be fewer stigmas around it, so more and more people will find the courage to ask for help and get treatment.
SHARING IS CARING!
A professional writer with over a decade of incessant writing skills. Her topics of interest and expertise range from health, nutrition and psychology.