What do you think of when you hear the term “high-functioning anxiety?” At first, it can seem like a contradiction because when most visualize anxiety, they imagine something that makes them less able to achieve goals. They think of anxiety that saps your energy, drive, and purpose.

High-functioning anxiety does just the opposite though. It pushes people to achieve more and more…and more. Those who struggle in this way can seem unrivaled achievement-wise as they continually excel towards career excellence and life goals. So, what’s the big deal? If this type of anxiety gets serious results, why discuss it like it’s a problem?

In her “Psychology Today” article entitled Managing High-Functioning Anxiety in the Workplace, Candace Good, MD shares the following: 

“Professionals with high-functioning anxiety continue to take on more and more, even when overwhelmed with projects. They may overthink and procrastinate, lost in the details of a project that needs to be just right.”

High-performing anxiety can indeed lead to impressive achievements. However, as Good describes, all of those crossed off to-do lists and career advancements can come with a serious price tag. Let’s look at some signs you could be struggling with high-functioning anxiety symptoms.

What is High Functioning Anxiety?

High-functioning anxiety is not a diagnosable mental health condition in and of itself. Generally, there has to be enough obvious life interference for an anxiety disorder to be considered. For instance, the ability to work or interact with others (daily functioning) is lost in significant ways when an anxiety disorder is present.

However, that doesn’t mean the signs of high-functioning anxiety are no big deal. It certainly is something you want to work through. In time, this anxiety type can turn into a full-blown anxiety disorder as all those years of stress finally catch up with you.

Here are a few symptoms of high-functioning anxiety to watch out for:

  • A critical view of one’s self
  • Perfectionism makes it hard to complete work
  • Never satisfied with achievements no matter how hard you work
  • Inability to relax/constantly feeling the need to work 
  • Workaholism that carries over into your home life
  • Second-guessing your decisions
  • Constantly overanalyzing scenarios
  • Struggling to say no to requests (Even when it comes at too high of a personal cost)
  • Outwardly happy demeanor but an inwardly negative or pessimistic one
  • Discouragement and irritability when difficulties arise
  • Disrupted sleep or insomnia
  • Difficulty discussing your true feelings
  • Recognizing your emotions is challenging
  • Ongoing anticipatory anxiety
  • Nervous habits (hair pulling/twisting, cracking knuckles, biting fingers, fingernails or lips)
  • Worrying that others may judge you
  • Intense, ongoing fear of failing
  • Rituals or superstitions done to keep away potential harm
  • Difficulty relaxing or feeling calm even if everything seems fine

What follows are some additional indicators of high-functioning anxiety in more detail to keep in mind.

You’re Isolating and Hiding Your Anxiety from Others

High-functioning anxiety is something others around you, such as co-workers or colleagues, may not initially notice. They just see all you’re doing and are impressed with the results. Yes, they may view you as a complicated person or one who is hard to read, but probably chalk it up to personality quirks.

However, what you experience on the inside is likely much different. Instead of that calm persona, there is constant underlying anxiety. You may regularly worry you won’t measure up to others’ expectations or that you’ll let someone down, so you continually try harder. Your anxiety takes a toll on your mind and body, and few people know what you’re going through. 

So, it’s like two worlds are playing out. One seems calm, cool, collected, and able to achieve virtually anything. Many around you wonder how you accomplish all that you do. However, the other world is quite different. It is one of fear, worry, and self-criticism. It drives you forward and pushes you to do more, but eventually causes more harm than good.

Because of these conflicting worlds, you feel very isolated from others. Few know how badly you struggle with anxiety because you’re afraid others will see what’s really going on inside of you, so you hide your insecurities. This can lead specifically to high-functioning social anxiety

Ironically, that isolation only fuels your high-functioning anxiety, making it worse. Even if you were to share these struggles with a co-worker, they might minimize the hard time you’re having. They’d possibly tell you how well you’re doing and say not to worry about it.

High-Functioning Anxiety Eventually Leads to a Crumbling World

Because high achievers are so driven, they can go a long time ignoring their unhealthy anxiety levels. Living with high-functioning anxiety may go on for years. However, stress cracks eventually appear in their life’s foundation, and things gradually begin to crumble. 

Various outward signs of unmanageable anxiety may begin to show up that are more visible to others. That could include burnout or growing increasingly irritable when things don’t go well. You may also find it more challenging to complete tasks as your perfectionism and critical thoughts towards yourself worsen. 

Suppose your high-functioning anxiety isn’t properly handled. In that case, it can lead to a significant stress event where there is a prolonged loss of daily functioning. All of that anxiety is just too much, and life comes crashing down for a while. This is also part of the reason why high-functioning anxiety and depression are so commonly found together. It’s very discouraging going through life always feeling like a failure–feeling you have to accomplish more than you worry you’re able to complete.

The good news is you don’t have to continue living with so much high-functioning anxiety. The earlier you recognize the problems it is causing, the sooner you can implement coping strategies. 

Struggling With High-Functioning Anxiety? Consider Anxiety Counseling

Do you suspect you’re struggling with high-functioning anxiety? Or, do you worry that a close friend or family member may be dealing with it? If so, you don’t have to handle these stressors alone. The OC Relationship Center can provide you with treatment for high-functioning anxiety. 

Through anxiety counseling, you can find better ways to cope. If you’d like to know more about high-functioning anxiety treatment, please feel free to contact us. You can also schedule an appointment with an anxiety therapist.