In American culture, being driven to succeed is seen largely as a good thing.
But the truth is that our ambition can derive from feelings of anxiety and fear.
High-functioning anxiety is a term used to show this split: people who have it are successful on the outside, but anxious and worried on the inside.
If you’re tired of feeling this way or want to help someone you suspect may be feeling this way, this blog is for you.
What is High-Functioning Anxiety? What Does High-Functioning Anxiety Mean?
Currently, the term “high-functioning anxiety” is not in the DSM-5. (This is the big book mental health professionals use to make diagnoses.)
So understandably, some have asked “is high-functioning anxiety real?”
Since it isn’t an official diagnosis, it may be better to think of it as being like Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).
The symptoms have quite a bit of overlap, which you can see in the symptoms section below.
What does high-functioning anxiety feel like?
Those who have high-functioning anxiety can manage life well. On the outside, they’re hitting deadlines, keeping promises, and managing responsibilities.
But on the inside, they may describe it as:
- Struggling to stay afloat
- Fearing the worst
- Dreading being judged by others
- Feeling Intense internal pressure to avoid failure
- The feeling that something terrible is about to happen
Additionally, there can be a well-hidden sense of inner panic or restlessness.
What Causes High-Functioning Anxiety?
The causes of high-functioning anxiety are many.
Here’s a list of potential causes:
- Financial stress
- Overwhelming responsibilities
- Lack of time off from work
- Death of a loved one
- Relationship troubles
- Stress at home
- Feelings of unworthiness
- Needing to prove oneself
- Family history of anxiety disorders
- Negative or stressful life events
- Thyroid issues
- Substance Use Disorder
- And more
It’s best to consult a professional for help finding the cause of your own anxiety. Your provider will also want to make sure it’s not due to a medical issue or side effects from a medication, so be sure to seek out professional help.
Normal Anxiety vs. High-Functioning Anxiety
Did you know that anxiety is experienced by over 40 million Americans each year?
It’s true. Anxiety disorders are extremely common.
So, what signs differentiate anxiety from high-functioning anxiety?
High-functioning anxiety is not an official diagnosis and thus, has little research focused on it.
However, one difference is in the level of functioning.
People with high-functioning anxiety still meet their obligations, while those with anxiety disorders are more likely to let anxiety interfere with their lives.
Those with high-functioning anxiety are more likely to be high-achievers. They can be detail-oriented and organized, often keeping lists and busy calendars.
At Destination Therapy, we’re used to seeing busy professionals, many of whom are experiencing high-functioning anxiety.
High-Functioning Anxiety in the Workplace
As I mentioned in the introduction, American culture often idolizes those who burn the midnight oil.
Working hard and long is seen as a virtue in mainstream culture.
This can make spotting high-functioning anxiety in the workplace hard.
We can be so conditioned to see pushing ourselves as virtuous that we won’t notice the negative effects.
At work, high-functioning anxiety can look like:
- Skipping lunch and other breaks
- Working earlier and/or later than others
- Taking on too much responsibility
- Not being able to say “no” to new projects
- Trying to make everything perfect
- Working to please others
- And more
The signs and symptoms can be hard to see. But for the high-functioning and anxious person, they may sense that there is some underlying fear that they are avoiding.
Luckily, the mainstream culture is shifting in favor of mental health, albeit slowly. With efforts like Mental Health Month each May, the value of mental health is being brought into the public consciousness.
What Are the Symptoms?
Here is a list of some symptoms you may be experiencing if you have high-functioning anxiety:
- Excessive anxiety or worry on most days for at least six months
- Restlessness of mind or body
- Concentration troubles
- Fatigue or being quick to fatigue
- Annoyance and irritability
- Muscle tension
- Sleep problems
- Aversion to slowing down
Here are some high-functioning anxiety physical symptoms:
- Tight jaw muscles
- Tight shoulder muscles
- Shallow breathing
- Facial tension
- Foot tapping
- Tapping knuckles on a desk
- Rapid talking
It’s important to seek out help from a provider if you’re experiencing these symptoms.
Alt text: high-functioning anxiety and burnout
How Can We Treat This Type of Anxiety?
By now, you may be thinking “okay I get the issues, but can high-functioning anxiety be cured?”
We’re here to tell you that with the right methods and effort over a long enough period, it can be reduced if not eliminated.
This section details 3 ways to beat or reduce your anxiety:
Exercise for Anxiety
One great way to reduce your anxiety is to use the anxious energy in the gym, outdoors, at at home. All that’s needed is enough room to do basic movements and stretches..
By getting exercise, you’ll channel the energy productively.
You’ll also release feel-good chemicals in your brain like epinephrine, which can provide lasting relief from anxiety.
Or, if you’d like to combine benefits, take a walk in nature.
Walking has been proven to release anxiety, and sunshine and seeing greenery have been shown to improve mood.
So, go to your local park for a walk or sign up for a fitness class. If you have no equipment available to you, do bodyweight exercises like pushups, pullups, crunches, squats, and jumping jacks.
Or if you prefer a slower style of workout, look up a free yoga class on YouTube. You’ll feel great physically and reduce your anxiety – a win-win.
Release Anxiety Through Therapy
I like to think this is where we specialize.
At Destination Therapy in Houston, we’ve helped dozens of people in person and online overcome their anxiety.
In fact, we love working with professionals facing high-functioning anxiety challenges.
While the anchor of our work is person-centered, an approach we use often is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT.
In CBT, we’ll help you recognize anxious thought patterns and unhelpful behaviors.
Then, we’ll help you change both gently over time.
This way, you’ll be free of anxiety from the inside out.
Don’t try to beat anxiety alone. It’s been studied for decades, and a high-quality therapist will be able to help you work through it as fast and thoroughly as possible.
We’ll also help you identify effective tools to help you cope with anxiety for the rest of your life.
Medications for High-Functioning Anxiety
We know that medication can have a negative connotation. But when it comes to your mental health, medication may be a good option to support you in managing symptoms and getting you closer to where you want to be.
There is a range of medications that are approved to treat anxiety. We can collaborate with you and your prescriber as you explore what the best options may be for you.
At Destination Therapy, we’ll be able to help you think through each of these options.
Additionally, we’ll chart a therapy path that may reduce the need for medications over time. This way, they’ll be used as a tool rather than a band-aid.
High-functioning anxiety isn’t an official diagnosis, so it can be helpful to think of it as being similar to generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
Despite this, treatments are available and helpful.
This blog showed you how exercise, therapy, and medication can be used to treat the causes of anxiety.
By implementing these into your daily and weekly routines with the help of a professional, you should see your anxiety reduce significantly.
If you’ve found this blog helpful, share it on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn.
And if you’re ready to break free from your own high-functioning anxiety, schedule a free phone consultation here.