What is High Functioning Anxiety and How to Deal with It
Anxiety represents the body’s natural response to danger or stress, so everyone experiences it from time to time. However, feelings of apprehension, worry, and fear can be persistent or overwhelming for some people.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting around 18 percent of the adult population every year. Nearly half of people diagnosed with anxiety suffer from depression as well.
Although you may not be diagnosed with anxiety disorder, you may still struggle with anxiety symptoms regularly while successfully managing your daily life.
What is High Functioning Anxiety?
High functioning anxiety is not recognized as a clinical disorder.
It is considered a milder form of anxiety because people with high functioning anxiety can still manage their everyday tasks and function quite well. However, high functioning anxiety can still negatively impact your mood, relationships, and mental well-being.
You may appear perfectly happy, well-organized, grounded, and even high-achieving. And you may indeed be all of that. Still, you may struggle on the inside, experiencing ongoing stress and worry.
You may have self-sabotaging thoughts about your own worth, competence, or lovability, obsess about being perfect in everything you do, or feel like a fraud, doubting your skills and achievements.
Such internal struggle can be overwhelming, draining you emotionally, mentally, and physically.
Understanding your symptoms can help you learn how to deal with high functioning anxiety.
High Functioning Anxiety Symptoms
High functioning anxiety can manifest in subtle symptoms, and as such, it can be hard to recognize. On the outside, you can be perceived as someone who functions perfectly okay – you are successful at work, outgoing, and organized. You maintain successful relationships, balance work, and life, and manage your finances quite well.
People love being around you, as they perceive you as loyal, helpful, and composed.
At the same time, however, you may be struggling with anxious thoughts and feelings, never telling others about your struggle.
To help you identify whether you may suffer from high functioning anxiety, let’s take a closer look at its positive and negative symptoms.
The Positive Aspects of High Functioning Anxiety
Individuals with high functioning anxiety often appear well-organized, perfectly balanced, and successful. Here is how your functioning anxiety can manifest on the positive side:
- You are a high-achiever
- You appear calm and composed
- You are proactive and motivated
- You are sociable and friendly
- You are organized and punctual at work
- You are passionate about everything you do
- You develop and maintain positive relationships
The Negative Aspects of High Functioning Anxiety
In people with functioning anxiety, the internal struggle is often masked with high performance, outgoing personality, and confidence. Your high functioning anxiety can manifest through a variety of negative symptoms such as:
- A tendency to overthink and overanalyze everything
- Excessive worry
- Imposter syndrome
- Fear of failure
- Emotional and physical fatigue
- Self-sabotaging thoughts and behaviors
- Irritability and restlessness
- Nervous habits (nervous chatter, biting your lip, shaking a leg, biting your nails)
- Sleep problems
- Problems concentrating
- Difficulty saying “no”
- Seeking validation from others
- Tendency to compare yourself to others
- People pleasing
You may have difficulty setting boundaries and saying “no” to tasks or people because you fear being seen as incompetent or letting others down. However, your inability to turn down unreasonable requests can lead to stress, burnout, and inability to relax and enjoy the moment. It can also increase the risk of engaging in toxic relationships in life and at work.
Also, your perfectionism and tendency to see yourself as incompetent can take their toll on your mental health, productivity, relationships, and well-being in general.
How to Deal with High Functioning Anxiety
Fortunately, high functioning anxiety is something you can tackle and overcome. Here are some potential ways to deal with high functioning anxiety.
Many high achievers with high functioning anxiety decide to bottle up their inner turmoil, fearing that they will be perceived as weak, incompetent, or phony. So, you may choose not to talk about your struggle, feeling lonely, isolated, and unsupported.
Talking openly about your struggle can help reduce the stigma around mental health challenges. In addition, it can help understand that a certain amount of anxiety can be a powerful motivating force. To some degree, anxiety can prompt you to be punctual, act proactively, and do things with passion.
Ask for Help
Talk to your health provider if you identify with high functioning anxiety symptoms. They may help you address your symptoms and refer you to a mental health counselor or a coach to work with you on managing your anxiety.
One of the ways to treat anxiety is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).
CBT is an evidence-based and goal-oriented talk therapy founded on the idea that our thoughts govern our feelings and behavior.
Therefore, CBT aims to help people manage their problems by changing negative thinking patterns and behavior.
A cognitive-behavioral therapist can help you identify cognitive distortions and limiting beliefs and learn strategies to replace them with more affirming thoughts and positive behaviors. It can also help you set boundaries and manage your symptoms more successfully.
Coaches who have worked with CBT-based coaching theories can also help support. Oftentimes, working with both a therapist and a coach can help treat the anxiety as well as move you forward.
Research has many times confirmed numerous mental health benefits of physical exercise.
Regular physical activity stimulates the production of the brain’s feeling-good hormones such as dopamine and serotonin. The production of these causes effects is very similar to antidepressant therapy.
So, exercise can help deal with high functioning anxiety by:
- Improving your mood
- Helping you feel relaxed
- Improving your sleep
- Increasing resilience
- Improving self-esteem
- Helping cope with negative thoughts
- Encouraging optimistic outlook
Regular mindfulness exercise can be one of the most effective ways to deal with high functioning anxiety. In addition, mindfulness has proven to help gain control over negative thinking patterns that often trigger anxious feelings and behaviors.
The ability to be fully present allows you to observe your thoughts without self-judgment and let go of them without feeling upset or anxious. In addition, regular mindfulness practice can increase your mood, cultivate optimism, and help identify and overcome your self-limiting beliefs.