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What is high functioning anxiety?

You may have heard the term “anxiety” in many contexts and wondered if it fits the description of the amount you overthink about which box of cereal to buy in the grocery store, the constant feeling of worry about the future, or the guilt and shame you experience when you don’t meet your expectations at a task.

People with high-functioning anxiety are often perceived as driven, successful and hard-working by others. Internally, they question their achievements, experience guilt when they don’t perform their best, and constantly feel like they have to analyze every situation from multiple perspectives.

High-functioning anxiety can often hide itself behind words like “motivated” or misunderstood concepts like “type A” personality. People with this kind of anxiety are used to living on a daily basis with high levels of stress, and often are controlled by their schedules, goals, and fear of the future. The thought of slowing down and having time to relax can seem overwhelming or impossible. In fact, for some people, having free time causes feelings of fear or guilt that one will be left alone to their thoughts or that one should be using that time to do something productive. Work or school comes first whereas sleeping, eating, and other basic self care comes last.

Though high-functioning anxiety can often increase productivity and seem like a positive thing, the high levels of stress and overwhelming nature of daily living can lead to burnout and other health issues such as depression, insomnia, and fatigue.

How do I know if I have high-functioning anxiety?

Below are a few ways in which high-functioning anxiety can manifest. While many people may experience these challenges, the intensity and subjective distress is relevant when considering if someone is experiencing high-functioning anxiety.

  • Overthinking or over-analyzing situations that seem “small” to you or others

  • Having stress or panic attacks involving difficulty breathing, sweating, or hyperventilating

  • Problems with staying asleep, having nightmares, or difficulty falling asleep

  • Always feeling “on edge”

  • Feeling overwhelmed

  • Feelings of guilt, fear, or self-doubt

  • Ruminating

  • Negative self-talk or self-deprecation

  • Need for praise or constant fear of what others think about you

  • Fear of the future or the unknown

What should I do if I have high-functioning anxiety?

  • Incorporating basic self-care into your daily routine is essential to reduce overall stress levels and improve mood. Establishing a routine for sleeping, eating, and exercising can vastly improve your ability to cope with stressors and manage anxiety.

Establish health coping skills
  • Learning better ways of coping with stress can help to break the cycle of anxiety. Studies show that small practices such as gratitude journals and daily mindfulness practices can help reduce overall stress levels, improve mood, foster resiliency, and reduce pain and fear responses. Even fifteen minutes of mindfulness a day has significant impacts on improving mental health.

Talk to a therapist
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy is an evidence-based practice through which you can learn to challenge the fears and negative thoughts often associated with high-functioning anxiety. In addition, therapy can provide you with helpful tools to manage the symptoms of anxiety.

Anxiety is different for everyone - people experience it and describe it in different ways and it shows up in our lives in different ways. Our subjective experience is what matters - does your anxiety affect your ability to experience joy or relaxation? Do you often feel overwhelmed, like you can’t catch a breath? Do you wonder what life might be like if you didn’t overthink everything?

As someone with high-functioning anxiety, you may sometimes think that since you are successful and put-together on a day-to-day basis, it’s normal to feel the way you do. However, you don’t have to go through life feeling distressed on the inside while smiling on the outside everyday. Reach out to a therapist to see how you can manage your anxiety!

  • Book a free consultation to address your anxiety today.

  • Read more about which of our clinicians may be a good fit for you.

  • Practice five minutes of mindfulness daily to help reduce your anxiety levels!

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