7 signs of high-functioning anxiety

7 Signs of High-Functioning Anxiety

Do you consider yourself a high performer? Perhaps you are highly organized in your work, consistently meet deadlines, and pay attention to details.

The people in your life may consider you a reliable ally because you are always there when they need you.

All of these are great qualities, no doubt.

But you might be dealing with high-functioning anxiety if you have trouble relaxing, can’t say no to people, or think your world will come crashing unless you’re constantly on your toes!

Besides, high-functioning anxiety can take a toll on your relationships, making it difficult to talk honestly about your feelings of dissatisfaction.

If any of the above situations ring a bell, you definitely should pay close attention to the 7 signs of high-functioning anxiety in this article.

High-Functioning Anxiety: What Is It, Really?

frustrated woman holding her head

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) ― the authoritative guide for diagnosing mental disorders ― does not recognize high-functioning anxiety as a diagnosis.

Although the problem is not officially recognized as an anxiety disorder, it is very real.

Put simply, high-functioning anxiety means experiencing anxiety but working harder not to show it.

How is this type of anxiety different from a generalized anxiety disorder?

Here’s the main difference: with a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), the sufferer does their best to avoid anxiety-triggering situations.

On the other hand, people with high-functioning anxiety do their best to take on anxiety-causing situations head-on.

The difference is in how the sufferers respond to the fight or flight response.

Generally, people with GAD will often yield to the flight response when faced with anxiety triggers, while individuals with high-functioning anxiety will go with the fight response.

On the surface, facing your fears seems like a good thing, right?

True, but that isn’t the case with high-functioning anxiety.

Coping or managing a mental health problem completely differs from suppressing it, which is essentially what high-functioning anxiety is.

What Are the Symptoms of High-Functioning Anxiety?

It can be tricky to tell if someone has high-functioning anxiety because they may look “put together,” regardless of their inner battles.

To make things more complicated, there is limited research on how high-functioning anxiety affects people.

However, most experts agree that the problem shares similar anxiety symptoms to generalized anxiety disorder, including:

  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Sleep problems
  • Muscle tension
  • Excessive worry (persisting for at least 6 months)
  • Easily fatigued
  • Difficulty concentrating

Is High-Functioning Anxiety Dangerous

depressed man holding eyeglass

Like other forms of anxiety, high-functioning anxiety won’t kill you ― not by itself.

In fact, many people who experience the problem still carry on their daily life fairly well and may even appear to have their lives all figured out.

But high-functioning anxiety can grow worse over time if you don’t do anything to address it. Ignoring anxiety just because you don’t come across as a nervous wreck can be a grave mistake.

Apart from negatively impacting your daily functioning, untreated long-term anxiety can increase the risk of physical health problems, such as a weak immune system and short-term high blood pressure.

If you don’t seek help on time, high-functioning anxiety can lead to severe psychiatric problems later in life, in addition to displaying the physical symptoms we have described.  

I’ve said all of that to say this: you don’t want to ignore any of the 7 signs of high-functioning anxiety disorder discussed below.

See a doctor or therapist as quickly as possible if your mental health condition gives you cause for concern.

It doesn’t matter if loved ones, coworkers, or bosses praise your work ethic and dependability; if something doesn’t feel right and you are an anxious person, take action immediately!

7 Signs of High-Functioning Anxiety

sad woman hugging herself

You might be dealing with high-functioning anxiety if you struggle with obsessive thoughts, stress, or worry on the inside, even though you function well on the outside.

In addition to common GAD symptoms, you might have high-functioning anxiety if you consistently notice one or more of the following.

1. You Are an Overachiever

Setting goals, smashing them, and setting new ones is the way to go if you don’t want to settle for less.

While chasing goals, working hard, and going above and beyond are all great, high-functioning anxiety sufferers hardly know when to slow down.

Here’s how to know you’re having difficulty slowing down:

  • You set too many high goals within short periods
  • You are a workaholic (staying late at work or regularly taking work home)
  • You feel guilty for taking a work break (especially when something is left undone)
  • You hardly rest on weekends and find ways to work during vacations

It’s easy to see how this form of anxiety can lead to burnout at work and affect your relationship with family and friends.

2. You Overthink Things

It is normal to analyze situations before taking action. But you might have high-functioning anxiety if you spend the same amount of time thinking about every task or situation.

People with this type of anxiety often find themselves ruminating, excessively worried about things going wrong, or feeling inadequate in some way, regardless of their achievements.

Here’s the thing.

Allocating the same resources, time, and effort to every project is not a sign of commitment. Instead, it slows down your work process and decreases your productivity.

In relationships, overthinking can also lead to reading meaning into situations or blowing things out of proportion. This can easily lead to misunderstandings and strained relationships.

3. You Want Things to Be Perfect

Seeking perfection often results in disappointment and frustration. But that’s exactly what many people with high-functioning anxiety do: they set extremely high standards for themselves, making it difficult for them to take a breather.

Don’t take this the wrong way, though.

Doing things right differs from perfectionism, and people with high-functioning anxiety often gravitate toward the latter.

But what’s wrong with perfectionism?

First, it can slow your progress and decrease productivity by causing mental blocks. Secondly, it leads to procrastination because you’ll spend more time worrying about how things are not perfect instead of making do with what’s available.

In relationships, perfectionism can lead to indecisiveness and missing out on golden opportunities.

For example, looking for the perfect partner can prevent you from taking your current relationship to the next level.

Also, research shows that seeking perfection can trigger a feeling of hopelessness and depression and may even worsen anxiety issues.

4. You Repress Your Thoughts and Feelings

Compartmentalizing your thoughts is commendable, especially if it helps you temporarily avoid unhelpful and distracting emotions.

However, suppressing your thoughts and feelings for too long might signify high-functioning anxiety.

As you probably already guessed, constantly avoiding your thoughts and feelings may set you up for future resentment and frustration.

Here’s one way to know if you are habitually avoiding your emotions: people generally think of you as stoic.

You don’t show your emotions because you bottle them up. Putting your feelings on hold is not healthy and may increase your anxiety.

5. You Find It Difficult to Say “No” to Others

You just can’t please everyone and live a truly happy life, no matter how hard you try.

Yet, people with high-functioning anxiety often find themselves saying “yes,” even when it is not convenient, because they associate saying “no” with failing. This is partly because external approval is vital to their self-image or how they perceive themselves.

They take on extra tasks at work and want to be the shoulder for everyone to cry on in relationships.

The problem with spreading yourself too thin is that, sooner or later, it will result in physical and emotional fatigue.

6. You Have Sleep Issues

Do you have racing thoughts that keep you up at night?

Of course, it might not be related to high-functioning anxiety. However, it might be the case if your thoughts revolve around performance issues or how others perceive you.

Here are some strong indications that your lack of sleep is linked to high-functioning anxiety:

  • You consistently put off sleep just to get one more task done
  • Your mind hardly stops thinking about work to the point of interfering with your sleep pattern
  • Sleep feels like a luxury because you want to get more things done
  • You always wake up early to complete some tasks, even when you don’t get enough shuteye at night
  • You are consumed with racing thoughts when you wake up in the middle of the night, making it difficult to go back to sleep

7. You Worry About Not Being Good Enough

People with high-functioning anxiety are often consumed with thoughts and feelings of not being good enough.

To make things worse, they are reluctant to express their emotions for fear of being judged.

Unfortunately, this makes them work even harder to prove themselves worthy at work and in relationships.

You may be dealing with high-functioning anxiety if you can’t let your guard down even for a bit because others might perceive you in a “poor light.”

Coping Tips for High-Functioning Anxiety

woman basking in the sunlight with eyes closed

Although you may currently have high-functioning anxiety, you can create a healthier lifestyle in no time by making a few changes in your thinking and behavior.

Here are a few coping strategies to help you reduce anxiety, enjoy peace of mind, and live a more satisfying lifestyle:

  • Acknowledge the problem: Denying your feelings when you are anxious will only worsen the situation. Instead of resisting anxious thoughts and inadvertently engaging them, a more helpful approach is to acknowledge your feelings. This gives you better control over your responses to anxious thoughts.
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle: Make sure to eat a balanced diet and exercise regularly, as maintaining good physical health is important for a peaceful mind. While getting a good night’s sleep might be challenging for some sufferers, you can practice a pre-bedtime routine to help manage anxiety at night. Consider journaling, meditation, and other calming practices as part of your regular self-care routine.
  • Identify anxious responses for what they are: One of the best ways to reduce the effect of anxiety is to put the symptoms in proper perspective. The problem will likely lose some of its grip on you if you recognize that anxious responses are mostly unreasonable and illogical.
  • Think less, act more: Okay, this may sound a bit counterintuitive, but overanalyzing or thinking too much is not your friend if you have high-functioning anxiety. Of course, acting without thinking is never a good way to live, but don’t talk yourself out of doing or saying what feels right for you just because you’ve over-analyzed the situation. Practice going with your first instinct sometimes, and you’ll develop the ability to overcome overthinking before long.
  • Confide in trustworthy, positive allies: People with high functioning anxiety are often not open to discussing their dissatisfaction and stress. This is usually because they don’t want to be perceived as weak. However, this often leads to misunderstanding and frustration among anxiety sufferers.

It is best to share your thoughts and feelings with people you trust to reduce misunderstanding and build healthy relationships.

Surround yourself with positive people who can support you, no matter what. They will listen without judgment and help reduce the burden you carry.

Remember to Seek Professional Help

client and psychologist in a therapy session

Self-help can go a long way in relieving some of the stress caused by anxiety. This is especially true if you consistently practice the above coping strategies.

That said, it is crucial to seek professional help if you identify any of the 7 signs of high-functioning anxiety listed in this article.

Mental health professionals may suggest a variety of treatments, including:

  • Anxiety medication
  • Solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT)
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Deep-breathing exercises

Here’s one last thing to remember: you are not weak just because you opt for mental health treatment.

Indeed, people with high functioning anxiety want to appear strong and well-accomplished. But seeking help isn’t a sign of failure or weakness at all!

If anything, it shows you are strong enough to acknowledge the problem and brave enough to ask for help.

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