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.