7 Silent Signs of High Functioning Anxiety
Your anxiety may be affecting your life—and your general health—more than you realize. Here are the warning signs.
What is high-functioning anxiety?
While “high-functioning anxiety” isn’t an actual clinical diagnosis, it’s a phrase that’s become increasingly popular in the past few years (alongside its relative, high-functioning depression). When we talk about people with high-functioning anxiety, we are talking about people who, at least on the surface, seem successful at school, at work, or at home, explains clinical psychologist Inna Khazan, PhD. On the inside, however, they are experiencing a near-constant state of anxiety. “People with high-functioning anxiety push themselves to get things done, with anxiety constantly holding a ‘stick’ over their heads,” adds Khazan. “Fear of what might happen if they don’t move forward keeps them moving forward. And because these people are often high achieving, no one thinks that there is anything ‘wrong’ with them.”
Here are some common high-functioning anxiety symptoms.
You worry excessively
Life gives us a lot to worry about, and it’s normal to ruminate over things and have brief periods of worry. But if this is the mental state you experience 15-plus days a month for six months or more, you have an anxiety disorder, says Annie Wright, a licensed psychotherapist with a private practice in California. “This worry can and likely includes everything from worries about your career to your love life, the size of your thighs to the viability of your eggs, to not having saved enough for retirement to wondering how you’re going to cope with the family at Thanksgiving this year, etc.,” she explains. “And, often, the amount and intensity of the worry you have are likely disproportionate to the event itself. In other words, everything feels like a really big deal when it, perhaps, isn’t.” Don’t miss these nine weird reasons you always feel anxious.
You can’t control your anxiety (but nobody realizes this)
Even if you know all the tricks—three deep breaths, making lists of your worries, releasing it all on the yoga mat, meditating—you still worry as much as ever, living with your anxieties on a daily basis. Despite your self-care practices, your anxiety may get the better of you because you simply cannot control it, says Wright. Despite this, high-functioning anxiety often goes undetected, reveals Khazan. “People who experience it do not look like what we expect a highly anxious person to look like—frozen, unable to make decisions, failing to get things done. Also, people with high functioning anxiety rarely allow themselves to ask for help or admit that there is anything wrong,” she says. Next time you feel your anxiety starting to take over, try saying one of these 14 magic phrases to calm yourself down.
Nothing is ever good enough
People who have anxiety disorders often feel a constant pressure to perform at top-notch standards in all areas of life, including parenting, school, work, relationships, etc.,” says Thai-An Truong, a therapist in private practice in Oklahoma City. A perfectionist over-worries about failure, mistakes, and disappointing or losing the respect of others, and equates making a mistake to complete failure, among other clear signs of perfectionism, adds Truong. “Generally, a person who we might classify as having high-functioning anxiety is ambitious, perfectionistic, and set in their way of doing things,” says Khazan. “Anxiety, in general, is about feeling unsafe. These structured rituals and certain ways of doing things provide people with high-functioning anxiety with a sense of safety. They may become quite upset if they are knocked out of their routine because the lack of familiar structure feels overwhelmingly unsafe.”
Your anxiety is interfering with your daily life
While other people may not be able to see just how much your anxiety is affecting your daily life (because, remember, you’re a perfectionist who is doing a stellar job of hiding it), you may be aware that it’s becoming harder to feel secure and competent at work and in your relationships with partners, relatives, and friends, says Wright. You may appear calm and in control on the surface, but it’s a different story on the inside. As Wright puts it, “inwardly, you’re living out a high-drama movie each day and it’s starting to wear on your quality of life.”
You can’t sleep
Sleep issues are common in people with anxiety disorders—and they come in all shapes and sizes: trouble falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, having a restless or unfulfilling sleep, etc. “You may rely on a glass or two of wine or a Tylenol PM to mask it temporarily, but basically, you have sleep issues,” warns Wright. Because your nervous system is in overdrive, you may also have a heightened “startle response,” meaning you jump or startle easily, such as when ambulance sirens go off or a door slams shut. Lack of sleep isn’t the only symptom of high functioning anxiety, it’s also one of the nine silent signs of an anxiety disorder.
You can’t concentrate
Concentration issues go hand-in-hand with anxiety, says Wright. You may find yourself focusing at work, on what someone is saying to you during a conversation, or finding that you have to re-read a page of a book three times because your mind wandered. Instead of concentrating on what’s happening in front of you right now, you may find yourself worrying about what may happen in the future or just feeling as if your mind is blank. Here are the ways your home could be causing your anxiety.
You’re irritable and tense
Living with anxiety means living with a low capacity for stressors, says Wright. This means the small stuff—the things you’re not “supposed” to sweat—really do wind you up. Your patience is thin and your grumpiness is high. But it’s not just your mind that’s tense; many people with anxiety disorders experience tightness, constricting, and general tension in their muscles. “If you’re emotionally and mentally wound up in knots, your body is likely holding onto the tension, leading to a general feeling of physical tightness, etc.,” explains Wright. And make sure you never ever say these 10 things to a loved one who is suffering from anxiety.
How to get help
You can start taking steps by checking out these ten natural remedies for anxiety. But it’s imperative that you don’t ignore signs of an anxiety disorder. “People often think they are fine because they get praise and approval from others about their leadership or accomplishments, but ignoring it can cause burn out and increase your risk of physical health issues, sleep problems, relationship problems, anger, irritability, depression,” explains Carrie Krawiec, a marriage and family therapist at Birmingham Maple Clinic in Troy, MI and executive director of Michigan Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. Individual or group therapy and, if necessary, medication can help treat anxiety. “Treatment usually involves replacing maladaptive or unhelpful thoughts and behaviors with more reasonable alternatives or learning coping techniques to tolerate things that would normally make you uncomfortable, like leaving the house in the morning with your bed unmade or dishes in the sink, even though you would feel better if they were all finished before you started your day,” says Krawiec. Here are 11 therapist-approved tricks you can use to manage your anxiety.