The Relationship Centre

What is High-Functioning Anxiety, and Do I Have It?

With high-functioning anxiety, things often aren’t what they appear to be. You may be super driven and used to completing tasks at super high standards. On the outside, everything seems fine to those who see you from a distance. Many would never suspect that underneath the surface, your mind and body churn from stress and anxiety.

In her “Psychology Today” article entitled, 6 Tips for Professionals with High-Functioning Anxiety, Candace Good, MD shares the following:

“People with high-functioning anxiety pride themselves on being hardworking, detail-oriented, and helpful, but these traits can be a recipe for burnout.”

You go through each day with your stomach in knots and your body offering subtle clues it’s succumbing to stress. Your frequent ruminating thoughts also keep you up at night or from feeling fully happy or alive while awake. Along the path of “doing what you have to do,” you carry an awful lot of unnecessary mental strain.

Is it possible you’re dealing with high-functioning anxiety? Or, are you concerned that a close friend, romantic partner or family member may be struggling in this way? If so, here’s a little more on possible high-functioning anxiety symptoms and what to do.

You’re at Risk Even Though You May Be Fooling Others

For some people, anxiety breaks them down. For those with signs of high-functioning anxiety, it pushes them forward. There can be a self-critical mindset that you’ll never be good enough no matter how hard you strive. And even when you get some big wins in life, you struggle to enjoy them because you’re so focused on your perceived shortcomings.

What’s the supposed solution to your symptoms of high-functioning anxiety? Those fears that you may not be good enough or you could let others down? Working longer and harder. Proving ever again that you’re more than capable even though, underneath the surface, you may regularly feel like anything but that.

Those with this anxiety type are good at fooling others, even if they experience high-functioning social anxiety. Many around them would never suspect the level of mental struggle and even anguish these high achievers live with. And there lies the problem—when you never admit these challenges with others, they just keep growing worse.

You may fear being judged if you open up about your struggles. And so, the pressure continues. You keep going at a break-neck pace with many people thinking you’re doing just fine. They’re likely very thankful for your thoroughness and attention to detail but have no idea how much you’re hurting.

You’re Dropping Subtle Clues to Others that You’re Struggling

While you may initially be able to fool many people in your life, those closest to you are likely already living your struggle alongside you. After all, all that anxiety needs a release valve and that, unfortunately, usually happens at home. Also, co-workers and other friends and family will eventually notice too. Over time, little chinks in your armour become visible.

It may take the form of perfectionism that holds you back. The feeling that you need to be perfect can lead to task avoidance and procrastination, which only adds to your anxiety. In time, the relationships around you can become superficial, overly serious and empty feeling.

You also may notice that you can no longer keep up with the ever-increasing number of projects you place on yourself. One of the things you may fear most begins to happen too. People around you start noticing that you’re having a tough time.

Eventually, you find that trying to appear perfect is far more of a burden than appearing human. Although highly stressful at first, that can be a truly liberating experience once you’ve worked through it better.

Your Combined Pace and Mental Strain Aren’t Sustainable

When you’re a high achiever, it can be unthinkable that you could break down mentally and physically. That may happen to others, but not you, because you’re so accustomed to pushing through the barriers and discomfort. While it’s great to break through obstacles, it isn’t good if this happens at the regular expense of your mental and physical health.

Because achievers with high-performing anxiety are so driven, they’re prone to ignore mental and physical cues telling them they need to slow down or take a break. Even when they aren’t at work, their to-do lists are quite long. And even during enjoyable activities like hobbies or family events, it can be tough to unwind, relax and just have fun. That achieving button is still pushed, and the off switch is difficult to find.

While some people can take more stress than others, everyone has their limits—including the highest achievers. Suppose these limits aren’t heeded soon enough. In that case, individuals with high-functioning anxiety can eventually see their world come crashing down in a big way.

It may take years or even decades, but it eventually happens. By then, the burnout or anxiety can be severe. These breakdowns usually are a combination of physical and mental components since both were neglected for so long.

And while these stress-induced crash-and-burn moments seem like anything but good, a lot of positives can result. People know you’ve struggled so there’s not much need to hide your feelings. This also provides the opportunity to set healthy coping strategies and boundaries to prevent future difficulties. And, of course, if you notice the warning signs before a full-blown collapse, that is always better!

Also, since the ongoing harmful effects of stress are well-documented, slowing down could even save your life. Constant, unchecked stress can lead to strokes, heart attacks and other serious to life-threatening health conditions. There’s also a solid link between high-functioning anxiety and depression.

Treatment for High-Functioning Anxiety

High-functioning anxiety is an ingrained habit that usually goes on for many years. Because of this, it takes time and effort to overcome or manage better. While that may seem like a daunting journey, the heavyweight of going through the rest of your life with such high anxiety levels is far more so. Here are a few self-care ideas for the high-functioning anxiety you’re experiencing.

Recognize It: The first step is learning to identify high-functioning anxiety in your life. Admitting it exists is a necessary starting point for coping and takes some of its negative power away.

Choose Differently: Keep telling yourself that you have the choice to be anxious or not. Keep in touch with what you’re thinking and feeling. Then, find ways to distract your thoughts or find something more positive to think about. Over time, this will get easier, and your anxiety will slowly lose its strength.

Focus on Action: Overthinking is a widespread concern with high-functioning anxiety. This makes it tough to act on decisions because you always second guess yourself, feeling the need for unhealthy perfectionism. As a result, make a point to intentionally act before you have the chance to overthink, keeping in mind that you’ll also want to avoid impulsivity.

Talk About Your Anxiety: You probably noticed a theme of secrecy among those who struggle with high-functioning anxiety. This type of anxiety maintains all the more of a stranglehold due to the isolation it creates. For that reason, if you can find a few trustworthy friends to discuss your anxiety with, that will be invaluable.

Focus on Small Steps: Overcoming high-functioning anxiety can sometimes be a slow climb. But don’t let that discourage you because each small step matters to your overall wellbeing. Celebrate those small victories since, over time, they can be truly life-changing.

Improve Your Physical Health: The bodies of those living with high-functioning anxiety tend to take a real beating along the path to achievement. If you can focus on a healthier diet, regular exercise and more rest, you’ll see a noticeable drop in your anxiety levels. Your body will just naturally be able to better handle the daily demands you face.

Ask for Help: More than most people out there, individuals with high-functioning anxiety struggle to ask for help. But please keep in mind that we all need help sometimes and that’s okay. It’s what makes us human, and it takes a lot of courage. But the result can be a life that is drastically more fulfilled and far less anxious.

There’s Hope if You Wrestle with High-Functioning Anxiety

Struggling with high-functioning anxiety can feel very isolating. It can seem like you have to keep your glass castle from shattering while others look on. The good news is that, despite feeling like you have to do this all alone, there is hope.

The Relationship Centre can assist you with high-functioning anxiety treatment so you can continue giving your best but with way less stress. If you’d like to learn more about how we can assist you, please get in touch. You can also schedule an appointment with us.