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What is high-functioning anxiety?

High-functioning anxiety is still anxiety – it’s just often disguised beneath a plethora of activities, awards, and false fronts.

Many high-functioning anxiety sufferers suffer twice: not only are they challenged with the debilitating feelings of anxiety, they’ve also become expert at keeping these emotions buried so no one knows. Often, they’re unhappy at work and in their relationships, and are constantly worried, insecure, or lonely (yes, even when surrounded by people. Even if they have “great” careers. Even if they seem joyfully married or attached.)

While many people report feeling anxiety at one time or another, those who have been diagnosed with a clinical type of anxiety feel more than just minor disruptions in their daily lives. Their anxiety is persistent, intense, and seems to never end. Those with high-functioning anxiety are able to keep going at work and at home, despite the pervasive nature of their disorder, which means that their ailment is more than likely hidden from those they love, those who know them well.

And what’s more – they’re often overachievers, because of their desire to keep their anxiety hidden from the world.  

But with assistance, those who live with high-functioning anxiety can find recovery and healing.

High functioning anxiety at work

Those with high-functioning anxiety are typically quite successful at work – they put a lot of focus, energy and heart into their careers and workplaces, to the detriment of their emotional health. Their jobs are where they hide their pain, and where they seek out validation and self-worth. Because of such laser focus, their accomplishments are significant and plentiful, and they’re heralded for being the best of the best.

Underneath it all, they feel dissatisfied. Confused. Sad. Worried. Alone.

Some of the characteristics shared by those with high-functioning anxiety include the following:

They’re perfectionists. They demand the best out of others, but mostly, out of themselves – and they may even set unreasonable expectations so as to try to prove they can’t “do it.” They’re rarely satisfied with their own output, and they don’t believe the praised they’re granted.

They’re workaholics. They typically arrive early and leave late. They take work home. When they can’t sleep at night, they roll out of bed to work. They’re constantly on their mobile devices checking in on work. They feel immense guilt taking vacation time or sick days. They take on more work than required, setting a stage for themselves, and then they feel trapped that they can’t seem to steal away from it all.

They’re socially inconsistent. One on hand, those with high-functioning anxiety seem friendly, outgoing, social and kind; on the other, they’re serious, defensive, stiff and withdrawn. Some people with high-functioning anxiety also have some social anxiety, and worry that people will judge them, or discover they’re impostors, or that they’ll be rejected for who they are.

They’re indecisive. Because they overthink and overanalyze, those with high-functioning anxiety can’t seem to make a quick or clear decision, moving from one idea to another. Despite this, they do get things done.

They put things off. Some people with high-functioning anxiety will procrastinate on things they feel are less important, not because these items are truly low-priority, but because they don’t think these projects will warrant the praise or accolades of another task. It could also be that a project is particularly intimidating, and because they’re concerned they can’t pull it off, they put it off – and make up reasons why it’s not being done.

High-functioning anxiety at home and in love


Just as people with high-functioning anxiety don’t discuss their disorder at work, they’re not likely to talk about it at home either. This reluctance to discuss will often lead to disagreements and disconnections at home.

People with high-functioning anxiety worry about what others think, and they certainly don’t want to disappoint those they love. They want approval, but they also get angry quickly if they feel as though they’re being disrespected or taken for granted – or judged.

They can lack emotional openness, yes, but they may also be overly eager to please. They may not say no for fear of disappointing the one they love. They may seek isolation often. They might be moody, irritable, or depressed. They may be highly sensitive, especially if they think they’re being criticized.

People with high-functioning anxiety love hard, but their disorder may leave them feeling unloved and unappreciated. Despite their greatest efforts, they still don’t feel like they’re enough.

How to cope with high-functioning anxiety


Fortunately, there are many strategies one can employ at home to help control high-functioning anxiety.

The following tactics have been found by many high-functioning anxiety sufferers to help:

1. Don’t have conversations with your anxious thoughts. Don’t engage! When the thoughts come barrelling through, acknowledge that they’re there, but know that you don’t have to accept them.

2. Talk it out. Find a trusted friend and talk to them about your thoughts and feelings, someone you know won’t judge you for sharing your thoughts.

3. Work it out. No, not work at work – work out, as in exercise! Daily exercise (coupled with a healthy diet) does wonders for anxiety. Exercise helps calm the mind, improves one’s self-esteem, and helps you shed pounds (if desired) in the process.

4. Ask for help. There are many mental health professionals who can help with high-functioning anxiety. With individualized treatment, those with high-functioning anxiety soon learn that there’s a way through to recovery.

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