High-Functioning Anxiety Symptoms, Causes and Prevention


There is no recognised mental health diagnosis for high functioning anxiety. Rather, it has evolved as a catch-all word for persons who suffer from anxiety but identify as doing quite well in several aspects of their lives.  

If you have high functioning anxiety, you’ve probably noticed that your anxiety pulls you ahead rather than paralyses you.

On the surface, you appear to be a successful, well-organized, and calm Type A personality who excels at business and in life. The way you feel on the inside, on the other hand, may be extremely different. 

Anxiety disorders affect around 19% of adults in the United States, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

Some people may consider themselves to be “high functioning” but it’s difficult to tell how many suffer from this form of anxiety. 

High-Functioning Anxiety

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Diseases (DSM-5) does not accept high-functioning an
xiety as a diagnosis because it is not an anxiety disorder recognised by the DSM-5, which sets diagnostic criteria for mental disorders. As a result, there isn’t a lot of information or research on it. Instead, high-functioning anxiety is commonly used to describe someone who has anxiety but yet managing their everyday life quite effectively.

A person with high-functioning anxiety may appear well-dressed and accomplished on the surface, but on the inside, they may be worried, stressed, or have obsessive thoughts. 

Because it is not a recognised illness, there has been little research into high-functioning anxiety and how it impacts people. People with high-functioning anxiety may exhibit less visible signs and symptoms, and some experts believe these symptoms frequently overlap with those of generalised anxiety disorder (GAD).

Among the symptoms of GAD are:

  • For at least six months, there has been excessive concern or stress on most days.
  • Restlessness.
  • Concentration is difficult.
  • Being easily exhausted.
  • Irritability.
  • Muscle tenseness
  • Sleep issues. 

High-functioning anxiety contains both positive and negative traits, so while some of the positive aspects may appear to be fantastic (such as being able to handle everyday duties successfully), the inner struggle the person may be feeling should not be overlooked. It could be for these reasons why someone does not seek help or suffers from anxiety in silence.  

Positive Characteristics

The outcomes and triumphs that you and others notice demonstrate the potential benefits of high functioning anxiety.

On the surface, you may appear to be a very successful person in both job and life. This may be accurate objectively if you solely evaluate yourself based on your accomplishments. 

Characteristics of people with high functioning anxiety that are frequently regarded as beneficial include:

  • vivacious personality (happy, tells jokes, smiles, laughs).
  • On time (arrive early for appointments).
  • Proactiveness (plan ahead for all possibilities).
  • arranged (make lists or keep calendars).
  • High-achieving.
  • Detail-oriented.
  • Clean and tidy.
  • Active.
  • Helpful
  • Appearances to be calm and composed.
  • Loyal in relationships. Passionate. 

Negative Characteristics

A struggle typically hides beneath the veil of accomplishment in the case of high functioning anxiety. The worry you feel about your accomplishment will inevitably surface.

People don’t always realise that these behaviours are the result of anxiety, and they may mistake them for a part of who you are.

Despite being considered “high functioning,” you may face the following difficulties in your daily life.  

  • “People pleaser” (afraid of driving people away, fear of being a bad friend, spouse, and employee, fear of letting others down).
  • A lot of talking, uneasy “chatter”
  • Nervous tendencies (playing with your hair, cracking knuckles, biting your lip).
  • Repetitive tasks must be completed (counting stairs or rocking back and forth).
  • Overthinking.
  • Time wastage (arriving too early for appointments).
  • Reassurance is required (asking for directions multiple times or checking on others frequently).
  • Procrastination is followed by extended periods of crunch-time work. 

 How Is “High Functioning” Defined?

Although there is limited study on high functioning anxiety, we do know that there is an optimal degree of anxiety (not too low or too high) that stimulates performance (Source).

According to this theory, if you have a modest to moderate amount of anxiety, your ability to function at a higher level may be enhanced (as opposed to severe anxiety).

People with anxiety may perform better at work and in life if they have a higher IQ. According to a 2005 study, financial managers with high levels of anxiety made the greatest money managers—as long as they also had a high IQ

Famous People Who Suffer From High Functioning Anxiety

When attempting to promote awareness of a social issue such as mental illness, using well-known or famous persons as examples can 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 struggles with high functioning anxiety.

Scott Stossel, The Atlantic’s national editor, has written extensively on his experiences with anxiety in the context of his accomplishments. 

Daily Suggestions Tips

Whether you’ve already sought professional therapy or are still in the process, here are some self-help strategies for anxiety reduction.

  • Make a commitment to working on your mental health for 10 minutes per day.
  • Consider lifestyle adjustments such as reducing caffeine, eating a nutritious diet, and getting regular exercise before doing any cognitive work.
  • Sleep hygiene is also crucial, such as going to bed at the same time every night and not staying in bed if your mind is racing.
  • Examine a few of your mental habits
  • Anxiety, for example, involves a lot of negative predictions .
  • When you notice a negative idea, attempt to counter it with something more practical or useful.
  • Find coping solutions for nervous habits such as lip biting or nail chewing.
  • Deep breathing or progressive muscular relaxation can assist you reduce your tension. 
  • Get up and do something else till you’re weary. 

Antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), and tricyclic antidepressants, are also available for the treatment of anxiety disorders. Anxiety can also be treated with other drugs such as benzodiazepines, buspirone, and beta-blockers.

If you believe you may require treatment, consult with your doctor to determine which treatment option is best for you. 

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