5 highly effective ways to manage high-functioning anxiety

5 highly effective ways to manage high-functioning anxiety

We’ve all met a ”seemingly” flawless person at some stage – that guy or girl who seems to have it all together. 

They usually arrive at work fifteen minutes early, impeccably dressed and not a strand of hair out of place.

These individuals rarely call in sick, and their work projects are delivered perfectly and on time.

It would be almost impossible for people to notice that this perfect alliteration of a person also suffers from a condition called high-functioning anxiety since everything about a high functioning person may seem helpful, successful and present.

Anxiety symptoms

Anxiety disorders

According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) 1 in 5 Canadians experience a mental illness or addiction problem

High-functioning anxiety or functioning anxiety does not get classified as a mental health condition; it falls under the umbrella of ”anxiety” and refers to people who may live with anxiety but can function reasonably well in many aspects of their life.

Symptoms

People with high functioning anxiety may notice that their stress encourages them to excel even further, whether through work achievements or personal triumphs.

Those suffering from functioning anxiety may find that their condition drives them forwards rather than leaving them crippled with fear. 

A high functioning person may seem like a successful, calm, and in control individual on the surface, but they are often incredibly anxious and insecure underneath it all.

Signs

The symptoms associated with high-functioning anxiety present in many ways – they include:

  • People-pleasing
  • Poor sleep (too much sleep or not enough)
  • Racing thoughts that make it difficult for you to switch off and relax
  • Overly busy due to an inability to say no to other people’s demands or requests
  • The use of alcohol and substances to cope
  • Feeling anxious or upset when your routine gets disrupted
  • Overthinking and getting plagued by unhelpful thoughts such as ”I’m not enough for ”I’m a failure”.
  • Being driven by anxiety and not ambition
  • Keeping it together on the surface but struggling on the inside
  • Working long hours and as a result, you feel burnt out
Anxiety disorder up close

Anxiety disorder up close

Since high-functioning anxiety does not get classified as a diagnosed condition, it can often be challenging for sufferers and the people around them to understand this type of anxiety disorder.

Anxiety symptoms

People with general anxiety tend to exhibit a whole range of mental and physical symptoms that are slightly easier to identify, such as:

  • Fast breathing
  • Trembling
  • Racing heart and racing thoughts
  • Nervousness and feeling on edge
Feeling stressed

Stress

Those with high functioning anxiety may fly under the radar because even though the symptoms can be incredibly unpleasant, they are not always obvious.

Co-workers, family and friends may believe that a person with high functioning anxiety is super confident, booming, and together – they can never do enough and are incredibly helpful, resourceful and dependent.

But underneath all that helpfulness and burning ambition is a constant churn of stress and high functioning anxiety.

People with high functioning anxiety tend to push themselves to the brink, working long hours and hardly ever taking time off work.

Often, the ”hidden casualties” – high functioning anxiety sufferers tend to suffer intensely because their condition allows them to perform and function (whereas many other anxiety disorders leave many people debilitated).

Positives

Surprisingly, there are some benefits to having a mental health condition such as high functioning anxiety – mainly when you and the people around you observe the successes and outcomes that often get achieved because of the disease.

On a surface level, you may seem happy, optimistic and goal-oriented in both work and your personal life, but these characteristics usually get evaluated through the lens of achievement.

Positive traits

Positive traits and lifestyle characteristics of people living with high functioning anxiety include;

  • Punctual and dependable (always arriving early for appointments)
  • Proactive and organized
  • High-achieving
  • Active
  • Helpful
  • Tidy and orderly
  • Outgoing – always telling jokes, happy, smiles and laughs a lot
  • Appears calm and collected on the surface
  • In control of their feelings and behaviour
  • Upholds a strict professional demeanor at work
  • Passionate
  • Loyal with friends, family and relationships

Negatives

There are also many negative traits associated with high functioning anxiety – these traits are ever-present and may even get viewed as ”sweet” or ”cute” by family and friends.

In high functioning anxiety, a deep, internal struggle often hides behind a mask of great success and personal achievement.

It can be hard to manage your anxiety – especially high functioning anxiety, as it easily gets misinterpreted as enthusiasm or ambition.

It is also possible for high functioning anxiety and depression to co-exist. Therefore, understanding the repercussions of this mental health condition is crucial to treating people with high-functioning anxiety.

Negative traits

  • Lost time (arriving too early for dates and appointments)
  • Talking a lot, nervous ”chatter.”
  • The need to indulge in repetitive behaviors – counting or turning the lights off multiple times
  • Nervous habits, cracking knuckles, clearing your throat, biting your lip, etc
  • Procrastination – followed by lots of work and going into crunch mode
  • Being unable to say ”no” to peoples’ requests or demands
  • Limited social life (not attending social functions or turning down invitations)
  • Mental and physical exhaustion
  • Using substances to cope with stress, such as drugs and alcohol
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Ruminating about past failures and events – focusing on the negative and continually dwelling on the ”what ifs?”

Inner struggle

High-functioning anxiety disorder doesn’t prevent people from finishing their tasks in a timely, organized manner, all of which is incompatible with people with anxiety presenting to clinicians or mental health professionals.

Anxiety is usually debilitating. 

The symptoms are often life-limiting; people with anxiety are sometimes unable to cope with the most basic tasks since they get gripped by suffering and anxiety symptoms.

High functioning anxiety presents in a way that works almost in reverse to other anxiety disorders – people with high-functioning anxiety are some of the most successful, productive people in the world. Yet, they get plagued by feelings of worry, struggle and mental conflict.

Coping

In times of stress, functioning anxiety sufferers tend to bottle up their feelings and project a calm and collected exterior to the world.

Essentially, people with high-functioning anxiety have become adept at hiding their true selves for fear of being rejected or viewed as weak.

Their functioning anxiety often dictates their thoughts and behaviors, making it challenging for functioning anxiety sufferers to cope in the long term.

Anxiety treatment

Treatment

Fortunately, the recovery outcomes for those with high functioning anxiety disorder usually fall into a good prognostic group. 

Like other anxiety disorders such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and Social Anxiety Disorder, high functioning anxiety has many healthy treatment options.

A mental health professional will work with you to determine which treatment options are best suited to you and take into account any other co-occurring mental health conditions. 

Some of the most effective techniques and treatment options for high-functioning anxiety include:

  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) – focuses on modifying any unhelpful, maladaptive thoughts and feelings that may cause stress. CBT aims to address any destructive patterns of worry, behaviour and internal conflict and replace them with helpful coping mechanisms.
  • Mindfulness training – is a type of meditation that allows people to become intensely aware of the present moment, what they’re sensing and what they’re feeling, without judgement. Practicing mindfulness involves many techniques such as deep breathing exercises, guided imagery and the ability to accept sensations in the mind and body without judgement.
  • Medication – selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor medications are incredibly helpful in reducing symptoms of high functioning anxiety
  • Sleep hygiene – sticking to a consistent sleeping pattern is another way to combat the signs of high functioning anxiety. Going to sleep at the same time every night and not staying in bed if the stress starts to take hold can be helpful ways to stop the anxiety from taking hold.
  • Lifestyle changes – may involve cutting out caffeine and alcohol, replacing them with a healthy diet, and following a consistent exercise routine.

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