If you find yourself feeling anxious most of the time, even though you’re able to go about your day-to-day tasks, you might be suffering from high functioning anxiety.
You may even talk yourself out of believing you have a problem. People doubt anything is wrong if there hasn’t been noticeable damage to your relationships, work, or home life.
The first step to addressing anxiety is identifying whether it might be a problem for you. Below, read about what high functioning anxiety is, how it presents, and things you can do about it.
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High Functioning Anxiety: The Basics
Let’s establish the definition and other basics about high functioning anxiety.
Definition of High Functioning Anxiety
High functioning anxiety is similar to other types of anxiety in how it feels. People with this condition still experience obsessive thoughts, chronic worry and often overstimulation. Their thoughts feel out of control and are often intrusive. Despite these significant challenges, people with high functioning anxiety still manage their lives with little or no perceptible impact. Their friends and family might even be shocked to hear about their suffering.
Sometimes because of their condition, people with high functioning anxiety may even have many accomplishments in academics, career, and other areas.
Statistics on High Functioning Anxiety
According to the National Institute on Mental Health, approximately 19% of Americans suffer from an anxiety disorder in a given year. About 31% will meet the diagnostic criteria for anxiety disorders at some point in their lifetime.
More significantly, the majority of people with anxiety disorders (about 44%) experience mild or no impairment in their lives. That means that many have a form of high functioning anxiety.
Importance of Identifying High Functioning Anxiety
High functioning anxiety might seem preferable to more severe types because you can still live your life. But the problem is that it’s harder to identify and less likely to receive high functioning anxiety treatment.
That’s why discussing your anxiety concerns with your doctor or another health professional is critical. They can help identify if there’s a problem and point you in the right direction for seeking help.
What You’ll Find in This Blog Post
Now that we have a basic understanding of high functioning anxiety, we can dive deeper into its definition, symptoms, solutions, coping, and more.
Understanding High Functioning Anxiety
To fully understand high functioning anxiety, let’s look at how it shows up and affects the lives of people suffering from it.
Symptoms of High Functioning Anxiety
Anxiety feels and shows up differently for every person. Still, there are some crucial commonalities that can help you or your doctor identify high functioning anxiety.
Some of the most common high functioning anxiety symptoms are:
- Noticeable worry and pervasive anxious thoughts almost every day for at least six month
- Difficulty concentrating, especially on stressful or complex tasks
- Becoming easily irritated, more quickly than you used to
- Excessive fatigue
- Sleep problems, sometimes despite being over-tired
- Tension in your muscles and body
Many people wouldn’t recognize the following as symptoms of an anxiety disorder, mainly because many people see these as signs of strength or ambition. But these are also high functioning anxiety signs:
- High achiever
- Good organizational skills
Differences Between High Functioning Anxiety and General Anxiety
General anxiety disorder and high functioning anxiety share many of the same symptoms. Some clinicians consider high functioning anxiety to be a subset of general anxiety.
Either way, both conditions can cause sleep disruptions, mood changes, and excessive worry. In both cases, this worry is usually not tied to a specific trigger or event but is pervasive and constant.
Generalized anxiety disorder doesn’t have to become crippling, but it can, and that’s a major distinction between it and high functioning anxiety.
People with high functioning anxiety have figured out how to harness their disorder and make it work for them (or at least not get in their way).
Some people with general anxiety cannot. They can’t maintain jobs or school, have problems in their relationships, and may also struggle to care for themselves and their homes.
Impact of High Functioning Anxiety on Daily Life
It’s hard to measure the impact of high functioning anxiety on daily life because one of its main characteristics is that it doesn’t prevent you from living.
Still, anyone who suffers from this condition will tell you that it takes a massive toll on their life. Even though they can perform daily tasks, those things can be agonizingly difficult. Choosing where to eat, writing an email to a superior at work, or even meeting a friend for coffee can cause enormous internal distress.
Anxiety of any kind also takes a toll on your physical health. You can experience chronic digestive issues or strain on your heart and respiratory system. Chronic stress can also cause other health-related problems, such as weight gain and lack of sleep.
How to Solve High Functioning Anxiety
The good news is that by properly addressing your anxiety, you can learn to manage it better. With practice and over time, you can experience less distress daily.
Seeking Professional Help
Getting help from a licensed clinician is one of the best things you can do if you find yourself struggling. Psychology Today maintains a database of clinicians around the country to help match you with someone.
Be clear that you want help managing high functioning anxiety, and see where the process takes you.
Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques
Your therapist will almost certainly recommend mindfulness and other relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation.
Many people experience initial resistance to these tactics. Try them with an open mind, remembering that it may take several attempts before something clicks. Not every technique works for everyone, either.
Exercise and Physical Activity
It may seem nonsensical that raising your heart rate would help ease anxiety, but getting more active can alleviate the problem. Aerobic exercise especially enables you to release some of that nervous energy. It allows your body to remain calmer throughout the day.
Try beginning your day by raising your heart rate. Go for a run, bike ride, or take an aerobic fitness class. Even a power yoga class will work.
Just be sure not to do intense exercise too close to bedtime. Leave at least three hours (ideally five) between completing an intense workout and trying to turn in for the night.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT has proven to be one of the most effective therapeutic modalities in treating anxiety. This includes not only generalized anxiety disorder and high functioning anxiety but obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and others.
CBT involves working on changing your thought patterns. You can find a counselor who specializes in this kind of therapy. Many clinicians utilize it because it can be so effective for thought-based disorders.
If you want to start challenging your thoughts, try incorporating positive affirmations into your day. It might seem silly at first, but they work.
Medication (If Necessary)
Many prescription medications can treat various types of anxiety, including high functioning anxiety.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, are a common type of antidepressant that can also effectively treat anxiety. Doctors also utilize benzodiazepines, buspirone, and beta blockers.
In addition to pharmaceuticals, there are herbal medications that help some people. These include gabapentin, St. John’s wort, kava, valerian root, and others.
Always speak with your doctor and a mental health professional before starting any medication, whether over-the-counter or prescription.
Also, remember that not all remedies will work for every person. You may have to try multiple prescriptions or drug combinations before finding something that works for you.
Maintaining Mental Wellness With High Functioning Anxiety
Whether you decide to work with a therapist or not, once you reach a point of stability, you must maintain it. You can use the tricks and tactics below to help you do that successfully.
While you may sometimes need to go back to old practices, these are for when you’re in the maintenance phase.
Since high functioning anxiety is a subset of general anxiety, it’s with you most of the time. However, even people with anxiety all the time have certain situations, times, or even other people that make things worse.
You can uncover your patterns on your own or by working with a clinician. You’ll analyze your anxiety levels at different times of the day, week, and in response to stimuli. That process will reveal when your anxiety spikes.
Once you know when it happens, you can do two crucial things with that information. First, you can begin avoiding those stressful scenarios that set you up for trouble (see below for setting boundaries).
But also, you can start to analyze why those situations make you so anxious. Perhaps there’s an event from your past, or a deep false belief is getting in the way.
Once you figure it out, you can work on those underlying issues and permanently reduce the impact of your high functioning anxiety overall. Then you don’t need to worry as much about anxiety appearing unexpectedly.
Setting Boundaries and Prioritizing Self-Care
It isn’t enough to simply identify your triggers; you also have to set boundaries around them to prevent them from interrupting your life. This is one of the best ways to prioritize self-care.
Boundary setting will look very different depending on the situation. Some of the most important boundaries you can set are internal boundaries, where you protect yourself from things out of your control by building parameters around what can affect you in your mind.
Some of the hardest boundaries to set are with other people. In many cases, you don’t have to (or can’t) cut them out of your life, so you may have to have uncomfortable conversations about specific behaviors. Whether you need them to stop talking about a particular topic around you or engage in different behaviors, be direct, non-judgmental, and open to feedback.
Keep in mind that setting boundaries is not the same as avoiding an issue. You can’t walk eggshells around a problem and expect it to go away on its own. Boundaries are for situations you cannot control or change in the short term, such as other people’s behavior or laws.
Building a Support System
Another critical element in recovering from high functioning anxiety is inviting others into your struggle. It can be very uncomfortable to tell others what’s happening. You may even find it challenging if you don’t have the words to describe your experience.
However, people can’t read your mind and can’t help unless you share what’s going on. Try to give them some guidance on how best to support you.
Remember that a therapist or clinician can be a valuable source of support. They can help guide you through how to talk to loved ones about your mental health.
Incorporating Positive Habits Into Daily Life
Little changes add up over time, and there are hundreds of little things to improve your daily life.
Spend a week or so carefully observing your habits and routine. Then, sit down and analyze where you can make anxiety-reducing changes. Here are a few simple ideas to get you started:
- Begin your day by journaling instead of scrolling through social media
- Drink more water and less caffeine and alcohol
- Incorporate some exercise or more movement
- Work on your breathing
- Practice mindfulness
- Get plenty of sleep
- Eat your favorite foods (in moderation) regularly
High functioning anxiety is horrible to live with, even if it isn’t always noticeable to others. People who suffer from high functioning anxiety deal with intrusive thoughts, chronic worry, and many related mental and physical health problems.
Luckily, effective interventions exist. You can do many things independently, like learning mindfulness and incorporating exercise. It’s always a good idea to get professional help from a therapist, doctor, or both.
Once you have control over your high functioning anxiety, you can begin to make long-term, sustainable changes to prevent your anxiety from interrupting your life. Once you know your triggers, you can set boundaries and make changes to improve your life.