High-Functioning Anxiety: What Is It & How To Cope With It

Are you a natural overachiever? Or is your overachieving masking your anxiety? People with high-functioning anxiety are driven to move forward and work harder but this drive to succeed can be harmful. Learn more about high-functioning anxiety.

Last Update on January 26, 2021 : Published on January 26, 2021

Anxiety can manifest itself in different ways – from panic attacks to ruminating thoughts – it can make our life a struggle. Anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental health conditions out there. But did you know that anxiety can drive people to succeed?

These people are termed as “overachievers” or “overperformers” because their anxiety makes them work harder than your peer or colleague not because they want to move up but because they are driven by their fear of failure and their fear of rejection.

High-functioning anxiety is a chronic mental health condition that can leave a lasting impact on your health – mental, emotional, and physical – relationships, and self-confidence. People with high-functioning anxiety, while proud of their achievements, are often plagued by thoughts of disappointing others, criticism, and rejection.

Like the term suggests, people with high-functioning anxiety don’t find it difficult to function in their daily routines and will tire themselves to be perfect. Even if they need a vacation or a break, they’ll be too scared to do as they fear that people won’t believe them.

Why so?

People with high-functioning anxiety don’t look or act like they have an anxiety disorder. Instead, their daily actions may lead others to believe that they are perfectionists and like to do things a certain way.

Symptoms Of High-Functioning Anxiety

Symptoms Of High-Functioning Anxiety

People with high-functioning anxiety are driven by their anxiety to work hard and move on rather than letting it affect their daily functioning. Let me give you an example;

On the outside, let’s say person A is a calm confident person whose work is always perfect and they are always put together. On the inside though, they are struggling with anxiety. Their nervousness, fear of disappointing others, and constant worry is the driving force behind their achievements. While they look put together and immaculate, they might feel anything but.

People with high-functioning anxiety have positive and negative signs that you need to look out for:

Positive Signs:

  • They are successful at work
  • They have an outgoing personality
  • They always plan for possibilities
  • They are calm and organized
  • They are very detail-oriented
  • They look put together and tidy
  • They are active participants in what they do
  • They are always ready to help others
  • They are passionate about what they do

Negative Signs:

  • They are “people pleasers” and are afraid of letting others down
  • They talk a lot, mostly nervous ramblings
  • They have certain nervous habits like playing with hair, biting lips, etc.
  • They need to repeat their movements like tapping their foot or clicking pen
  • They are overthinkers
  • They seek reassurance from others
  • They are procrastinators
  • They avoid eye contact most of the time
  • They tend to dwell on the “what-ifs”
  • They have trouble saying “no” to others
  • They constantly overwork themselves and stay busy all the time
  • They suffer from insomnia
  • They suffer from racing thoughts
  • They have difficulty staying and enjoying the moment as they keep expecting the worst
  • They are constantly worried about the future
  • They compare themselves to others
  • They suffer fatigue – mental and physical

While people with high-functioning anxiety can perform menial tasks such as cleaning their home, they might feel like their life experiences are limited. If you have high-functioning anxiety, then you have a persona that you present to the world but never show your true feelings to anyone.

Characteristics Of People With High-Functioning Anxiety

Characteristics Of People With High-Functioning Anxiety

If you can relate to the above symptoms then you need to understand these characteristics of a person with high-functioning anxiety:

You might have high-functioning anxiety if:

  • You excel in your job but struggle with personal and social relationships.
  • Your anxiety makes you look like you’re ambitious.
  • You look and act put together but in reality, you’re struggling.
  • Any change in your routine makes you upset.
  • Your mind is constantly on and refuses to calm.
  • You often zone out when in the company of others.
  • You get upset over small things that many people think aren’t a big deal.
  • You cancel plans because you’re low on energy.
  • Your day off feels like a workday.
  • You’re constantly misunderstood by others because you seem put together and fine.

How To Cope With High-Functioning Anxiety

How To Cope With High-Functioning Anxiety

1. Accept Your Symptoms As They Are

For every disorder, the first thing you need to do is to accept your symptoms for what they are. Acknowledge that your anxiety is what affecting you. If you’re overthinking something then accept that it’s a part of you and that’s okay. Your anxiety is a part of you and you need to treat it like that.

Having anxiety is okay and nothing that you should feel guilt over.

2. Fear Can Be Good

Fear is an emotion that often motivates us to act. So if you have anxiety then fear might just be your friend. You can’t ignore anxiety but you can look back and understand why you fear and where it’s coming from.

Being aware of your fear can help you take control of your anxiety rather than your anxiety taking control of your life.

3. Do Some Physical Exercise

We often forget to take care of our physical health where our anxiety is concerned. People with high anxiety are often lost in their minds and to break that cycle, you need to focus on understanding your body. Deep breathing, desk yoga, walking out in nature, and yoga are exercises that can help you break the cycle of ruminating thoughts.

When you feel overwhelmed, take five to ten minutes to relax and clear your mind.

4. Repeat A Mantra

Like I said before, fear is your friend. So when your fear tells you that you’re not good enough, you tell it, “No, I’m good where I am and I’m doing my best.” When you have high-functioning anxiety, you are driven by it to be a perfectionist. Repeating a mantra when the urge to be perfect comes up can help you ground yourself.

You deserve to take time off for yourself so when that voice says “you’re not good enough” you tell it back that “I’m good now where I am”.

5. Prioritize Yourself

Anxiety feeds off your fear so once you’ve accepted your fear and symptoms why give? You need to prioritize yourself first and foremost. If you’re working all week then you deserve a weekend to yourself. If you’re overworked, then say “no” if someone asks you to do something for them even if it means facing their disappointment. If you’re looking after yourself how will you look after others?

Learn to give yourself the time and space that you need to recoup.

6. Have A Support System In Place

One of my biggest concerns was telling my peers, colleagues, and friends about my anxiety. I feared that they wouldn’t believe me because I was always smiling and was always putting on a good front. Having a support system in place when your anxiety becomes too overwhelming can help. It gives you a safety net that you can fall back on when your anxiety causes you to feel discomfort.

Talking to people you trust can help you understand your struggle and how to work through it.

Get Help…

Get Help

High anxiety can be treated with the help of:

It is important to seek therapy when you’re unable to control your anxiety. Untreated anxiety disorders can become life-threatening and can cause substance abuse and addiction problems in the future. If you need professional counseling, you can write to us at info@calmsage.com or visit our services page to connect with licensed counselors.

High-functioning anxiety might be a little difficult to break but you need to focus on the positive signs of high-functioning anxiety than the negative ones. Let go of the characteristics that are hurting your mental peace and health.

Having anxiety is normal and okay but letting your anxiety control your actions isn’t. So when it’s time to let go – do.

“Man is not worried by real problems so much as by his imagined anxieties about real problems” – Epictetus

About The Author

Swarnakshi Sharma
Swarnakshi Sharma

Swarnakshi is a content writer at Calm sage, who believes in a healthier lifestyle for mind and body. A fighter and survivor of depression, she strives to reach and help spread awareness on ending the stigma surrounding mental health issues. A spiritual person at heart, she believes in destiny and the power of Self. She is an avid reader and writer and likes to spend her free time baking and learning about world cultures.

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