High-functioning anxiety is not an official diagnosis but rather a term people relate to when they have anxiety while still carrying out everyday tasks at a functional level. Does "I am fine" translate into you're doing well, though?
When someone has high-functioning anxiety, they generally work well in society. As they have a very heightened sense of worry, there's a fear of failure, as they're very high achieving and perfectionists. The problem is that their level of worry is so high that even simple tasks require a huge amount of energy, while completing multiple tasks at a time is difficult.
A person with high-functioning anxiety on the outside can look driven, detail-oriented and punctual. However, what may be below the surface is perfectionism, difficulty with sleep, constant second-guessing, feelings of guilt or overthinking.
Signs of High-Functioning Anxiety
Approximately 19% of the US population struggles with anxiety, with many of them having high-functioning anxiety. The following are some signs that may indicate you have high-functioning anxiety:
1) You're an overachiever
Do you find yourself in constant pursuit? Do you consider yourself a perfectionist, a planner and probably have a type A personality (driven, time-bound, achievement oriented)?
Generally, people with anxiety feel they need to be in control to feel better or at ease. That can include making big to-do lists, showing up at airports super early or staying up late at night to study even though they've learnt things by heart.
2) Getting Things Done
Saying 'no' is not an option for you to the point that it's secondary to your health. If you sacrifice eating on time or cancel a meeting with friends to do someone a favour, you may have high-functioning anxiety. It's easier to get the work done, rather than say no and let it all pile up.
3) Disturbed Sleep
People with high-functioning anxiety may keep tossing and turning in the night worrying about things that have to be done for the next day. That's often accompanied by negative self-talk.
Did you do enough for the day? Will you be prepared for the next day? As that's so common, it has become a part of our daily routine. You may be sleeping only a couple of hours at night but will still push yourself to work the next day.
You constantly need to know if you have performed well. As we're our biggest critics, whatever we do never meets our expectations. Therefore, the best option is to ask others. Some may reach out to others for support and advice, while others may see themselves as a burden and choose to suffer quietly.
How to Address High-functioning Anxiety?
High-functioning anxiety can take control over many areas of your life and make you feel like it's never going to change. However, there are ways to treat this form of anxiety, such as:
1) Talking to a Professional
If you feel you can relate to any of the signs mentioned above, the first thing you can consider doing is meeting a professional.
Although your high-functioning anxiety may work for you, especially in professional settings, they can eventually lead to a plethora of unhealthy coping mechanisms. Your therapist can help you understand where this need to overachieve comes from and that you're worthy irrespective of these overachievements.
2) Self Care
Are you able to engage in any form of self-care and not feel guilty about it? If not, you may be experiencing high-functioning anxiety.
If taking a day off for yourself is too overwhelming, you can start small, and take a 10-20 minute active break where you can do things for yourself. Taking care of your sleep hygiene becomes crucial in the process.
3) Guided Meditation and Breathing
Anxiety is like an alarm system that keeps going off from time to time. Even if it's a small chore or an everyday task, the alarm system can take over and keep blaring all day. Meditation and breathing can calm this alarm system and allow you to relax. It can be as simple as taking three deep inhalations and exhalations.
It's easier to be critical of yourself than to show compassion and love towards your growth, but the latter is more sustainable. Try to let go of the pressure and criticism. Exhale, and reflect on everything you've done well that has gotten you to where you are. Remember, there're more right to you than wrong.
Just because high-functioning anxiety is not officially recognised, it doesn't mean you have to live alone with it. High-functioning anxiety is not a flaw or weakness. Once you begin to accept yourself as you are rather than trying to reject your anxiety, you can work with your triggers and preferences to make your life better.