Anxiety is an emotion everyone experiences each day, and the condition is considered the most common mental illness in the United States. It’s normal to feel a bit anxious before a big presentation before work or driving a car for the first time, but anxiety becomes a problem when it takes control of your life. An estimated 40 million adults deal with anxiety in some form each year, equating to 18.1 percent of the entire U.S. population. 

Those diagnosed with anxiety disorder are six times more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric disorders. The condition itself develops as a result of complex risk factors that include brain chemistry, personality, genetics, and life events. As was mentioned above, the occasional nerves before an event are common; the problem is when you can’t control how you feel. 

In some cases, even though a person is consumed by their anxiety, they’re still able to function, labeling themselves with “high-functioning anxiety.” For example, a person with high-functioning anxiety may do well at work, excel in sports, or otherwise succeed in all aspects of their lives. However, they still face several challenges they’ll have to endure and overcome that are more difficult than others without the condition. 

Those with high-functioning anxiety will endure many of the common symptoms associated with anxiety, including excessive overthinking, fear, worry, and an inability to sleep. So, what’s the difference?

What Is High-Functioning Anxiety?

Due to a lack of distinct research in this area, doctors don’t recognize high-functioning anxiety as an anxiety condition. However, those with symptoms of the disorder describe themselves as having an ability to function despite dealing with the symptoms, meaning they manage their day-to-day lives without much interference. 

The tension and stress a person will experience are not severe enough to impact their lives in an obvious manner, and because of this, men and women will hide this from the world and continue to struggle. Despite their ability to hold down a job, manage their financial and personal obligations, and meet the demands of their lives, those with high-functioning anxiety are in considerable pain and functioning at less than they could if they weren’t dealing with the condition. 

As this goes on, high-functioning anxiety will eventually take an emotional, physical, and psychological toll on the person suffering in silence. If the person fails to ask for help, it leaves them at risk of developing more severe and often debilitating psychiatric conditions later down the road.

It’s possible that someone who considers themselves as high functioning experiences only mild impairment, or they have something called subclinical anxiety, meaning they don’t meet the diagnostic criteria for anxiety but still have symptoms. The symptoms of subclinical anxiety include the following:

  • Hidden
  • Mild
  • Atypical
  • Brief but recurrent

Those with high-functioning anxiety will also be good at hiding their symptoms from other people. On the outside, they’ll appear cool, calm, and collected. However, inside they could be miserable and struggling even to spark up a conversation with you, which is why we should always be kind to others. We never know what someone else is going through on the inside. Whether it’s clinical or not, all types of anxiety can affect relationships and a person’s health. 

High-Functioning Anxiety Symptoms

Unlike the normal anxiety we’re used to hearing about, high-functioning anxiety won’t produce the same physical symptoms that influence our behaviors. Anxiety is something we endure physically and includes sweaty palms, elevated heart rate, and butterflies in the stomach. Still, it’s never strong enough to limit our activity or get noticed by others. 

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is the most common comparison because of how present yet vague it is by nature. However, it does overlap with other anxiety disorders as well. When compared to GAD, high-functioning anxiety doesn’t produce the same physical responses, cause avoidant behaviors, or attach as quickly to specific triggers.  

Those dealing with high-functioning anxiety will overcome their feelings and complete tasks even when they feel at their worst during, before, or after specific encounters with environments or people that cause them anxiety. 

Some of the behavioral and emotional symptoms of high-functioning anxiety include the following:

  • Overworking themselves and a need to keep moving even when they’re at home and should be relaxing
  • Feeling anxiety or worry that ruins your ability to relax, or that shows up when things are going seemingly well.
  • Being a perfectionist and feeling constant dissatisfaction with your performance
  • Overthinking or overanalyzing everything and second-guessing yourself after finalizing decisions
  • Unwillingness to share your true feelings
  • Obsession with failure and fear that everyone is negatively judging you
  • Frequent anxiety before various events or encounters
  • Superstitious, meaning you must repeat certain behaviors or patterns to avoid potential disaster
  • Inconsistent sleeping habits or periodic insomnia
  • Irritable and quickly becomes frustrated or discouraged by setback
  • Inability to say no
  • Pessimistic
  • Various unconscious nervous habits that include hair pulling or twisting, lip chewing, knuckle cracking, or idle scratching

Those battling high-functioning anxiety also have low self-esteem and even lower self-confidence. They compensate for their insecurities by pleasing others or pushing themselves to be better. However, their goals are unrealistic, and the failure to meet them only reinforces this strong feeling that they’re a failure or inadequate. 

How Is High-Functioning Anxiety Diagnosed?

high functioning anxiety

When an individual heads to the doctor and reports stress and anxiety, healthcare professionals will determine whether an anxiety disorder can be diagnosed. If one isn’t made, they may call it a high-functioning anxiety diagnosis by default. The diagnosis won’t be clinical per se because high-functioning anxiety isn’t an official disorder. However, it still represents a real condition with symptoms many others share. 

If a mental health professional believes the individual is dealing with the effects of high-functioning anxiety, they will discuss some options with the person and come up with ideas and ways to proceed. Since it’s non-clinical, high-functioning anxiety is a disorder that causes significant distress and leaves those suffering desperate for relief. Fortunately, it responds well to therapy, which is the route most physicians will suggest for recovery.

Causes of High-Functioning Anxiety

Those dealing with high-functioning anxiety respond to more than just external circumstances. But they also deal with internal fears that make it significantly worse. Anxiety is typically traced back to previous experiences or personality traits that have been present for quite some time. Below we’ll include common risk factors for high-functioning anxiety, which include:

  • Having demanding or extremely critical parents.
  • Being shy as a child.
  • Childhood abuse, sexual, physical, or emotional
  • A history of depression.
  • Highly stressful job.
  • A history of anxiety disorders in the family, especially prominent in parents
  • Exposed to traumatic events, such as violence, sudden loss of a loved one, being diagnosed with a serious illness, or involved in a natural disaster.
  • Persistent legal or financial problems.

Both men and women dealing with high-functioning anxiety are sensitive to various triggers, most of which wouldn’t bother someone who doesn’t have the disorder.

How Co-Occurring Disorders Affect High-Functioning Anxiety

Although high-functioning anxiety doesn’t meet the criteria for a mental health disorder, the condition will have an adverse effect and long-lasting impact on your psyche. In addition, it can trigger other conditions, such as:

  • Substance use disorders (SUDs): In their attempt to self-medicate, many people will use drugs or alcohol as a means to cope with high-functioning anxiety. Unfortunately, substance abuse is two to three times more likely to be diagnosed in men and women with a history of anxiety. If you’re battling both addiction and mental health problems, you’ll need specialized treatment tailored to your needs. 
  • Depression: Depression is considered the most common co-occuring mental health disorder among those battling high-functioning anxiety, which is involved in more than half of the cases. For those battling this disorder, it can be frustrating without help and lead them down the road of feeling hopeless and depressed.
  • Chronic physical ailments: Anxiety problems can exacerbate these. Some of the conditions anxiety may trigger include strokes, heart disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), functional dyspepsia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or asthma. Without the right care, anxiety will cause significant health problems and even shorten your lifespan. 
  • Eating disorders: These commonly overlap with anxiety, which is a clear risk for those with high-functioning anxiety.

Since it’s not a recognized disorder, you might wonder how doctors treat the condition. The treatment rate for someone dealing with anxiety is low, which affects those suffering from anxiety and who would benefit greatly from help. Treatment for high-functioning anxiety consists of psychotherapy, which works best for those under intensive care in a mental health treatment facility. You must speak with your doctor to find the right path for you. While some may benefit from intensive on-site care, others may do well with just outpatient therapy. 

Either way, you don’t have to spend another day wondering why you feel this way. By picking up the phone and calling your doctor, you can alleviate symptoms that have been nagging you for months or years. Don’t’ wait another day.

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