High functioning anxiety is not classified as a mental health clinical disorder. Yet, those who have it often feel chronic and debilitating symptoms which make it hard to heal. While this is a treatable condition, often those who have it will hide it from the world. In this article we will share with you what high functioning anxiety is, facts about the condition, what you can do to help heal, and how to get treatment. If you or someone you love is dealing with high functioning anxiety, you are not alone. We are here to help you recognize the issue and learn more about healing from it.

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What Is High Functioning Anxiety?

Someone with high functioning anxiety has the same issues that a person with anxiety has. While their quality of life is diminished, they are not always considered having an anxiety diagnosis because they do not meet the usual criteria. The reason is that those with high functioning anxiety do an excellent job of keeping their lifestyle hidden. They meet their deadlines, show up to work or school on time, and are well-groomed. But underneath all of that seemingly high confidence, there is fear of failure, fear of disappointing others, and constant, nervous energy.

Some believe that high functioning anxiety is the same as generalized anxiety.

Generalized anxiety disorder is a common anxiety disorder that affects the mental health of an individual as they try to perform their daily activities. There is usually never one particular thing causing feelings of excessive worry and fear. Generalized anxiety may include fear of the future, anxiety regarding various daily tasks, a sense of incompleteness, and more. This disorder may have physical symptoms such as fatigue, insomnia, increased heart rate, inability to concentrate, muscle tension or soreness, or unease.

Anxiety causes a variety of symptoms including:

  • Feelings of discomfort, unease, and tense feelings
  • A strong aversion to certain people or certain situations
  • A sense of danger, doom, or panic that comes out of nowhere
  • Worrying that you cannot control
  • Heart palpitations

What Causes High Functioning Anxiety?

There is not one exact cause when it comes to high functioning anxiety. There are, however, risk factors to be aware of. These include:

  • Long-term legal or financial problems
  • Childhood shyness
  • Extremely stressful jobs
  • Critical and demanding parents
  • History of depression
  • Childhood abuse (This includes emotional, sexual, and physical)
  • Family history of anxiety disorders
  • Exposure to trauma and traumatic events

While we don’t know what causes high functioning anxiety, we do know a little about the disorders. As mentioned on Healthline;

What causes anxiety and anxiety disorders can be complicated. It’s likely that a combination of factors, including genetics and environmental reasons, play a role. However, it’s clear that some events, emotions, or experiences may cause symptoms of anxiety to begin or may make them worse. These elements are called triggers.

The Good and the Bad

There are both good and bad characteristics of high functioning anxiety. For example, some of the good characteristics include:

  • Loyalty
  • Outgoing personality
  • Passionate
  • Punctual
  • Calm and collected appearance
  • High-achieving
  • Active
  • Plans ahead
  • Tidy and orderly
  • Helpful
  • Attention to detail
  • Organized

As with any condition, there are also negative aspects. These characteristics do not mean that there is something wrong with the person. It simply means that there are certain attributes considered negative and here are a few.

  • Potential for unhealthy coping mechanisms like drugs or alcohol
  • Wanting to please others constantly
  • Loyal to a fault
  • Nervous chatter or talking a lot
  • Physical fatigue
  • Mental fatigue
  • Nervous habits (these include biting your lip, playing with your hair, etc)
  • Tendency to compare to others
  • Intimidated by the future
  • Overthinking
  • Inability to “enjoy the moment”
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Repeating repetitive behavior
  • Minimize social life
  • Projections of being cold, stoic, hard to read, or unemotional
  • Racing mind
  • Insomnia

Characteristics of High Functioning Anxiety

There are indications of someone who has high functioning anxiety. These include characteristics like being a perfectionist. Those who have this have one specific characteristic and that is that their anxiety does not paralyze them. With this kind of anxiety, the person is more driven or propelled forward in life. They appear to be calm and organized. Those with high functioning anxiety are the type to not call out of work. Even if they need a day off they feel that they have to maintain that persona of always being there and always meeting their deadlines.

Those who have anxiety attacks may feel a variety of things from a racing heart and nausea to shortness of breath or feeling the world is out of their control. Those with high functioning anxiety may not experience the same type of attacks. These people may find it easier to avoid the triggers that others experience. These triggers may include:

  • Health issues
  • Medications
  • Caffeine
  • Skipping meals
  • Negative thinking
  • Financial concerns
  • Social events or parties
  • Stress
  • Conflict
  • Performances or public events
  • Personal triggers

In fact, many people with high functioning anxiety become experts at crafting out a life that avoids their own triggers. They won’t skip a meal, which is good. But they also may not want to attend a public event or attend a party. This takes away from the person being able to be more free and get out and do the things they might otherwise enjoy. Instead, they may focus all of their attention on working harder and harder. Sure, most people respect that kind of work ethic and there is nothing wrong with that. But if work is being used to bypass certain triggers out of fear, this can cause problems with relationships and other areas of your life that do not include work habits.

There Is Help For High Functioning Anxiety

People who have high functioning anxiety do not have to feel that they are alone. While there is plenty of help for someone with this type of anxiety, some may be hesitant to seek help. This is due to some of the following reasons:

  • You may feel that you cannot miss out on work or that your work will likely suffer if you take time off or admit to needing help
  • You may feel as if you’ll lose the drive that comes with fear and if you do get help you’ll lose that drive that makes you work harder
  • Some feel that they won’t be taken seriously or have support since no one has seen their struggles
  • In fact, you may feel as if everyone feels this way and what you are experiencing is normal and does not need addressing in a professional capacity
  • Some feel that if they are successful then they do not need help and some may even feel they do not deserve help
  • You may even feel that you cannot ask for help because you are so used to being silent in your suffering

Often, those with high functioning anxiety are often perfectionists and insist on specific routines, they may seek a diagnosis for a better-known disorder like obsessive compulsive disorder. Anxiety disorders are not considered a mental illness but the first step is to consult with your doctor. And it is important to know that there may be an underlying mental illness. Not necessarily but it is always good to find out the most you can about your anxiety. This is so you can get a diagnosis conclusive to what is going on and can seek treatment. For those with anxiety disorders, there are many treatments possible in order to help. This includes medication and psychotherapy – and when combined, they make a formidable treatment.

Keep in mind that medication therapy is not a cure. This is instead something that helps with the symptoms. These include drugs like beta blockers, anti-anxiety medications, and anti-depressants.

As far as psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of therapy shown to have excellent results. According to the American Psychiatric Association:

Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is a way to help people with a broad variety of mental illnesses and emotional difficulties. Psychotherapy can help eliminate or control troubling symptoms so a person can function better and can increase well-being and healing.

We offer treatment options to fit the needs of those with high functioning anxiety. If you or someone you love has anxiety issues, contact us so we can help with recovery.

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