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Anxiety can affect anyone even the highly productive amongst us. Maybe it helps them perform at the level that they do. Maybe not. In this article, we discuss what high functioning anxiety is, why it occurs and whether you have it or not. 

High-functioning anxiety could indeed be challenging to deal with. While a person may appear to be in good health on the surface, he or she may be fighting to get through the day on the inside. People with high-functioning anxiety can often complete tasks and seem to function normally in social situations, but they are experiencing all of the symptoms of anxiety disorder on the inside, including powerful emotions of imminent disaster, worry, anxiety, a racing heart, and gastrointestinal distress. People with high-functioning anxiety don’t seem to avoid circumstances that might cause anxiety, and they don’t seem to have any noticeable disruptions or impairments in their everyday lives. 

There is limited study on high functioning anxiety, but it can be said that there is an optimal degree of anxiety that feeds efficiency (neither too low nor very high). Nonetheless,  according to this theory, if you have a low to moderate amount of anxiety, your capacity to perform at a higher level may be enhanced (as opposed to severe anxiety). Moreover, how well persons with anxiety perform at work and in life may be influenced by their IQ. Financial managers with high levels of anxiety made the greatest money managers, according to a 2005 study—as long as they also had a high IQ. This begs the question, what exactly is High Functioning anxiety? Let’s break it down and first consider that anxiety in itself is:

Anxiety is a normal and healthy feeling that almost everyone goes through. It’s an essential sensation since it exposes individuals to critical concerns or warns them of impending danger. With an anxiety disorder, however, the fear response is exaggerated, and a person gets worried and afraid in situations when it is not warranted. Fear and anxiety can become so overwhelming that people take measures to avoid circumstances that provoke them. Furthermore, stressing about anxiety and the events that produce it might lead to even more anxiety.

Now we must look at what ‘High-functioning’ means. It refers to or describing a person with a handicap, chronic disease, or mental health problem who performs better cognitively or physically than others with the same condition, e.g., Autism in a high-functioning child; alcoholism in a high-functioning youngster. 

A person with high functioning anxiety may appear to be the epitome of success. You could be the first one to arrive at work, immaculately dressed and with your hair nicely groomed. Coworkers may describe you as a hard worker who has never missed a deadline or failed to complete a task. Not only that, but you’re always willing to assist others when they’re in need. Furthermore, your social calendar appears to be jam-packed. What others may not realize (and what you would never admit) is that you’re fighting a continual churn of worry beneath the surface of an apparently flawless façade. Nervous energy, fear of failure, and the dread of failing others may have propelled you to achievement.

What is High Functioning Depression?

You know you need time from work to get your act together, but you’re embarrassed to call in sick. Nobody would ever suspect anything was wrong with you since you always pretended to be fine. If these traits ring true for you, here’s a look at what you could go through or what others might notice if you have high functioning anxiety. We will first consider the positive characteristics (those which may show that you are indeed an overachiever):

  • extroverted personality (happy, tells jokes, smiles, laughs)
  • On-time (arrive early for appointments)
  • Being proactive (plan ahead for all possibilities)
  • Streamlined (make lists or keep calendars)
  • High-achieving
  • Detail-oriented
  • Clean and orderly
  • Active
  • Helpful
  • Exudes a calm and controlled demeanor.
  • In relationships – passionate, Loyal

The list of the negative consequences can seem to outweigh the positives: 

  • “A people-pleasing personality” (afraid of driving people away, fear of being a bad friend, spouse, and employee, fear of letting others down)
  • Nervous “chatter” and a lot of talking.
  • Nervous tendencies (playing with your hair, cracking knuckles, biting your lip)
  • Repetitive tasks are required (counting stairs or rocking back and forth)
  • Overthinking
  • squandered time (arriving too early for appointments)
  • Reassurance is required (asking for directions multiple times or checking on others frequently)
  • Long periods of procrastination followed by crunch-time work
  • Eye contact is avoided at all costs.
  • Rumination and a propensity to dwell on the negative (“What if?” thinking and ruminating on mistakes made in the past)
  • The inability to say “no,” a packed schedule, and a never-ending to-do list
  • I’m having trouble sleeping (difficulty falling asleep or waking early and being unable to fall back asleep)
  • The mind is racing.
  • Others believe you are “tough to understand” (stoic, unemotional, cold)
  • Social life is limited (turning down invitations)
  • Inability to “appreciate the current time” (being unable to relax and be in the present or expecting the worst in any situation)
  • Feeling apprehensive about the future
  • The habit of comparing yourself to others (falling short of expectations)
  • Physical and mental exhaustion
  • In relationships, loyal (to a fault).
  • Possibility of alcohol or drug misuse as a harmful coping mechanism
  • Anxiety is most likely driving your behaviors.
  • Instead of seeking things that you would like or that would broaden your horizons, you are more inclined to choose activities that quiet your racing thoughts.
  • You’ve probably mastered the art of projecting a fake identity to the outside world and never revealing your genuine sentiments to anyone.
  • You bottle up your emotions and compartmentalize them with the intention of dealing with them later (but later never comes).

The aforementioned may be problematic, but out of them (or apart from them), the most worrisome is the victim will not be ready to seek help: 

There is assistance available for those suffering from any type of anxiety, including high-functioning anxiety. Certain features of high functioning anxiety, on the other hand, may have kept you from getting treatment. You may not have sought assistance for high functioning anxiety for a variety of reasons, including:

You see it as a two-edged sword, and you don’t want to lose the good impact worry has on your accomplishments; You’re concerned that if you’re not continuously pushed to work hard out of dread, your job will deteriorate; You could believe that because you appear to be succeeding (at least objectively), you don’t “need” or “deserve” assistance for your anxiety; You may believe that everyone struggles in the same manner that you do and that this is normal; You may, on the other hand, feel that you are simply “poor” at dealing with life’s stressors; Your silence has reinforced the notion that you can’t seek for help since you’ve never informed anybody about your personal difficulties; Because they haven’t seen you struggle, you may feel that no one would support you in asking for or seeking help.

Many individuals have a preconceived notion of what it means to be diagnosed with anxiety. You may imagine a person who is housebound, unable to work, or who fails to establish any type of relationship. We don’t typically consider anxiety’s inner turmoil to be a sufficient cause to seek treatment which thus gives rise to the question; ‘is high functioning anxiety real?’ 

Anxiety may lead to a lot of denials. You could even persuade yourself that there’s nothing wrong with you—that you’re merely a workaholic, germaphobe, or list-maker, for example. It would be more useful if we just called “high functioning anxiety” as plainly as ‘anxiety.’

It’s more difficult to reach out to others when you feel lonely and alone. It may become simpler for people to seek treatment if more people talk about and identify with “high functioning” anxiety. It may be beneficial to consider anxiety in both positive and negative terms to help eliminate stigma. To get things done in life, we all require a certain amount of worry. Rather than viewing anxiety as a flaw, society has been able to emphasize when persons with anxiety are able to live full and productive lives as a result of the reduction in stigma.

When attempting to promote awareness of a societal issue such as mental illness, using well-known or famous persons as role models may be beneficial. Stars like Barbra Streisand and Donny Osmond, as well as athletes like Zack Greinke and Ricky Williams, have all spoken openly about their high-functioning anxiety, which does go to show that it is ‘real.’ The Atlantic’s national editor, Scott Stossel, has written extensively on his anxiety in the context of his accomplishments.

Medically speaking, High-functioning anxiety is not a recognized diagnosis, and it is not included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the most widely used manual for diagnosing mental illnesses. Anxiety disorder must cause disruption or impairment of everyday activities, as well as a change in behavior to avoid circumstances that elicit anxiety, according to the DSM-5. Because disruption or impairment of life activities is a necessary component, some argue that if there is no evident impairment, anxiety disorder does not exist. However, many mental health experts understand that people with anxiety disorders can have various degrees of impairment. When the impairment is minor, it is referred to as anxiety disorder with moderate impairment rather than anxiety disorder without impairment. The general consensus is that this is a moderate anxiety disorder rather than a high-functioning anxiety disorder.

Mild anxiety causes minimal liver damage, and the person is typically described as having mild symptoms rather than being “high-functioning.” This argument, on the other hand, ignores the tension that exists between how an individual feels inwardly and how he or she expresses those feelings externally. In other words, while the resulting impairment (the visible expression of anxiety) may be little, the way the person feels on the inside (the internal manifestation of anxiety) may be severe. The term “high-functioning anxiety” refers to the tension that exists between powerful interior sensations and the ability to operate despite them. The point isn’t that the symptoms are light; rather, the person with high-functioning anxiety may be better able to control how severe symptoms appear to impact him or her, even if he or she is suffering in silence.

Conclusively, despite the fact that high-functioning anxiety isn’t formally recognized as a mental health illness, it doesn’t imply that those who suffer from it don’t have severe symptoms. They might be able to conceal them rather effectively.

Medical specialists can’t explain how high functioning anxiety manifests and how it impacts those who encounter it since there isn’t enough study. According to anecdotal evidence, persons with good functioning anxiety may have fewer visible symptoms that impair their ability to operate. While they may exhibit many of the traditional anxiety symptoms, they may be on the lesser end of the scale.

Nonetheless, there are a few typical symptom combinations to be aware of, including:

Outward feeling

  • They put on a brave front and act as though they don’t have any worry.
  • Type-A personality who is fear-free and stress-free
  • Pragmatist
  • professionally successful
  • Overachiever
  • Proactive\sProductive
  • Encouraging
  • Extroverted
  • The appearance of being peace-loving
  • The appearance of being peace-loving
  • Concentrated
  • Detail-oriented
  • It gives the impression that you have it all together.

Inward feeling

  • Breathing problems
  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Nausea
  • Urination problems or diarrhea
  • Exhaustion
  • Muscle deterioration
  • Tension in the muscles
  • Dizziness
  • Inconsistent body temperature
  • The heart rate rises.
  • agitated thoughts
  • Insomnia

Long-term anxiety, if left untreated, can have negative consequences for both mental and physical health. The following are some of the most prevalent side effects:

  • The most frequent co-occurring illness is depression;
  • Heart disease,
  • Gastrointestinal problems, 
  • Stroke,
  •  COPD,
  •  asthma, 
  • and irritable bowel syndrome
  • Substance abuse; 
  • eating problems; and/or 
  • worse quality of life and, 
  • potentially, a shorter lifespan

Are among chronic diseases, possibilities, and unfortunate consequences that can be aggravated by high functioning anxiety.

Anxiety affects 19 percent of adults in the United States each year. It can be in many forms; a branch of this is high functioning anxiety. High functioning anxiety is when an anxious person is able to complete tasks and perform well in social situations while also experiencing symptoms of anxiety within, for example, fear, pounding heart rate, anxiety, and gastrointestinal unease. On the outside, these individuals appear to be in strong control of their lives, managing work life and social life side by side, achieving high in every aspect, submitting their work on time, engaging in physical, being early or right on time for meetings and events, and/or simply being their best versions of themselves. In all reality, they suffer from high functioning anxiety. While they seem to be winning at life, they are actually filled with disturbing emotions that are characteristic of anxiety – fear, worry, and self-doubt, and so on.   

Depression, conversely, is a mental disorder that affects a person’s emotions, thoughts, and actions negatively. It is characterized by persistent sadness, tiredness and is frequently associated with a disturbing pattern of sleep where the person either sleeps too little or too much. Poor concentration and a general lack of interest in previously enjoyable activities are other common symptoms of depression. Unlike high functioning anxiety, depression does not allow a person to perform adequately in different situations. Instead, day-to-day interactions become difficult, and so, depression creates hindrances for the individual instead of helping them achieve great feats.

One of the major differences in recorded literature between high functioning anxiety and depression is that depression is mentioned in DSM 5 (which is the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders), but high functioning anxiety is not. Simply put, people with high functioning anxiety do not have noticeable disruptions in their daily activities, but depression significantly impacts normal functioning. A depressive person may not even want to get out of bed in the morning, but a person with high functioning anxiety may end up doing their assignment well before the deadline.

The symptoms of the two also defer greatly. Very briefly, depression is linked to feeling sad, loss of interest in activities that were previously pleasurable, changes in appetite and sleep patterns, increased fatigue, feelings of worthlessness, difficulty making decisions, difficulty concentrating and having thoughts of death. High functioning anxiety, on the other hand, makes the individual a perfectionist and wanting to have control of situations. It also can cause the person to develop the habit of biting nails and being highly organized. The person may show anger when circumstances do not align with their plans. They also are their own harsh critics and do not like to distribute tasks to others, wanting to do everything themselves.

Although high functioning anxiety gives the illusion of being advantageous, it is nevertheless an impediment to normal functioning and is a disorder that requires attention.

High functioning anxiety tests are tests used to measure whether a person has this mental disorder and sometimes also tell the severity of it. These tests come in a variety of forms. One of the ways to test for high functioning anxiety is to conduct an online quiz – a type of questionnaire. A quiz like this asks several questions that allude to symptoms and/or characteristics of high functioning anxiety. Examples of such questions are as follows:

  1. Do you overthink before doing anything? Yes or no
  2. Are you a people pleaser? Yes or no
  3. Are you intimidated about what happens in the future? Yes or no
  4. Do you arrive for appointments (work-related or otherwise) ahead of time? Yes or no
  5. Are you usually worried about different things? Yes or no

Some quizzes or surveys have ranging answers. For example, the answer options for “do you overthink before doing anything?” may go from “all the time,” to “a lot of times,” to “sometimes,” to “very few times,” and lastly, to “not at all.” Some questionnaires also have a time limit. The number of questions also depends on how detailed our results will be. Of course, a higher number of questions, and hence answers, will give more information about a person’s habits, and so the results will be more accurate than a quiz with only a handful of questions.

Although self-diagnosis is not advised, such online tests can be a useful indicator of high functioning anxiety in a person. These tests and questionnaires do not always have to be online – they can also be conducted in a mental health professional’s clinic who can then guide the individual towards treatment. The format and questions are more or less the same, and the only difference is that they are printed out on paper and are not displayed on a computer screen.

It is not impossible to learn to live with high functioning anxiety in a constructive manner, and there are several ways to cope with it. Some of these include:

  1. Accept the truth – the most important but overlooked factor on the road to coping with anxiety is to recognize that you have this high functioning anxiety. Being in denial will only prolong treatment and consequent recovery
  2. Look your fears in the eye – instead of ignoring your fears, such as ignoring the fact that you need the approval of others in everything, face them. Face your fears and come to terms with them without ignoring their presence. This way, you will be able to understand their root cause, and the fear will no longer seem frightening
  3. Use deep breathing exercises – these have shown to significantly improve anxious behavior in individuals, easing feelings of worry and overwhelm
  4. Have a mantra – this is kind of like “fake it till you make it” accept that you religiously believe in the mantra. These mantras can be “I am not perfect, but I love who I am” or “whatever I do does not have to be perfect, but it is the best I can do.”
  5. Find a support group – friends and peers can play a huge role in helping one battle anxiety and eventually overcome it. It is advised to surround yourself with those who can be there for you at any time of the day to provide comfort and support when needed.
  6. Seek professional guidance – choosing professional help and therapy will only ease the treatment process and perhaps even make it longer-lasting, if not permanent. So if an individual is unable to cope with their high functioning anxiety, despite following the above steps, professional help should be their next safe bet, which will almost surely give positive results. 

Besides these practices, other ways to deal with high functioning anxiety include the highly effective method of CBT (which is cognitive behavior therapy). This is one of the most useful techniques that target destructive and unhealthy thoughts, beliefs, and emotions. The treatment process helps a person resolve their anxious behavior patterns and/or replace them with healthier ones.

Psychotherapy (also called talk therapy) is extremely useful because the person suffering from high functioning anxiety talks about their symptoms and maladaptive behaviors, identifying them and coming to terms with them in the process. Meditation has always been relaxing for individuals with various illnesses. Similarly, it is also useful for people who have high functioning anxiety.

To speed up the therapy process, medication may be advised. These medications include anti-anxiety (also called anxiolytics) medications, benzodiazepines (short-term anxiety relief medicines), and antidepressants in order to control the symptoms. Lastly, a good diet, regular exercise and mindfulness, and yoga can greatly help a person with high functioning anxiety to achieve a calm and relaxed emotional state.

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