High-functioning anxiety is not a recognized mental health diagnosis. It describes those who are doing well in life and are functioning normally day-to-day, but are doing so with anxiety and high-levels of stress.
Characteristics of High-Functioning Anxiety
High-functioning anxiety can hide itself as success and motivation. You may excel in work and life, but how you feel on the inside may counteract your success and performance. On the surface, those who have high-functioning anxiety may be prompt individuals or even arrive earlier than most to appointments or meetings. These individuals may be seen as driven and has a high ability to multi-task, never miss deadlines, have a busy calendar filled with social events, and seem fine most of the time.
Underneath the image of “perfectionism” and being an “overachiever,” these individuals may have constant anxious thoughts and feelings, internal nervous energy, are constantly overthinking, and may display nervous behaviors or repetitive habits such as hair twirling, knuckle cracking, talking a lot (chattering), need constant reassurance, have trouble sleeping, are seen as people pleasers or have the inability to say “no.”
While there are also positive characteristics associated with high-functioning anxiety as mentioned earlier, individuals living with high-functioning anxiety, are at greater risk for burnout, both physically and mentally. Those experiencing high-functioning anxiety may be more apt to bottle up and compartmentalize their feelings. Most of their choices are linked to the anxiety, meaning that may select activities and tasks within their comfort zone instead of outside of it which would cause an increase in anxiety and uncertainty. While high-functioning anxiety noticeably propels individuals forward, it can be debilitating in certain areas of life at the same time. Furthermore, they may feel as though they are fine overall in life and that may very well be true, but individuals experiencing high-functioning anxiety may not want to seek help as this also comes with the “territory.”
High-functioning anxiety may not be a diagnosed mental health condition, but it can look and feel like other forms of anxiety, but it is more well-hidden. The important thing to note is that it can create barriers or be disruptive to your life.
How to Address High-Functioning Anxiety
First, it is highly recommended that you speak with a professional such as a counselor or doctor about what you are feeling and experiencing and go from there. Talking to a trusted source, taking time to yourself, or even taking a couple of days off work for no reason, may help to reduce this type of inner turmoil. Setting boundaries between work and home life is also a good practice—do not take on more than what you can manage, when and where possible. Think about burning off some of that anxious energy with exercise. Dedicate time to your mental health, daily. This could be 10 or 20 minutes a day to just meditate or do nothing but breathe.
High-functioning anxiety can hide itself well and may look like stress that naturally comes from being a high-performer and hard-worker. Some individuals may argue that you need a certain amount of pressure or anxiety to perform at your best, and while this may be true to an extent, it is important to not work yourself into a state of burnout or constant fatigue. Remember to set aside time for yourself and collect your thoughts. While self-care may be easier said than done, it is essential to your mental and physical health and overall well-being.