What Is High-Functioning Anxiety? – Definition, Signs, and Symptoms

On the outside, everything seems great.

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People believe that you have it all together.

You’re great at your work, people find you friendly and engaging, and you are devoted to your family. In fact, the relationships that you do have with others appear to be strong and stable.

Yet, deep down you struggle with chronic stress and anxiety.

Many sources refer to this as high-functioning anxiety. Let's take a closer look at the definition, signs, and symptoms of this form of anxiety.

What Is High-Functioning Anxiety?

High-functioning anxiety refers to those individuals who are able to have some normalcy, even great success, in their everyday lives while still coping with anxiety. In fact, they are actually quite adept at concealing their anxiety from others, even their closest relationships.

Yet, it is still a burden that they carry with them every day.

One example could be a student who gets phenomenal grades, is active in clubs and sports, and by all measures appears to be “perfect.” However, the reality is that underneath the surface, they struggle with chronic anxiety. In fact, one of the reasons why they appear to be so successful is that they're terrified of failing.

Just like any form of anxiety, high-functioning anxiety can develop at any point in one’s life. Often, though, the anxiety originates during childhood development. For example, you might learn early on in life that not having enough money is very bad. Thus, you do everything possible to avoid this, including working several jobs or denying yourself even inexpensive niceties, despite your bank account perhaps demonstrating that your financial situation is far from dire. At the same time, you still find it possible to enjoy a positive romantic relationship and are moving up the ladder in your primary career.

Signs and Symptoms

Because high-functioning anxiety is less obvious than other forms of anxiety, the signs and symptoms will be less obvious as well.

Some of these include:

  • Having a need to always be in control

  • Never taking time to rest and reflect

  • Being afraid to disappoint others

  • Always saying yes to additional work or assignments

  • Sleep problems

  • Feeling like you are anxious on the inside yet staying calm on the outside

  • Avoiding unpleasant situations through routine

  • Overthinking matters

"Handling" Everyday Life

How is it possible for people with high-functioning anxiety to do get through life? Shouldn’t they be crippled by their anxiety?

That’s the typical image that we have of someone with this condition. The reality is less stark. People with high-functioning anxiety have learned habits to manage their anxious feelings.

For instance, they may have a daily routine which helps with managing the anxiety. Or they make sure they're being prepared in case an unexpected situation presents itself. Such as, having several “hidden” savings accounts full of emergency funds.

The problem is that managing your anxiety takes constant work and consumes energy. Plus, those anxious feelings don’t ever go away. They continue to lurk beneath the surface, ready to come out.

Finding Real Solutions Through Treatment

Just because you may have high-functioning anxiety doesn’t mean that you don’t have a problem with anxiety. Although you are able to put on a façade that allows you to function in everyday life, it requires a lot of work to maintain.

The biggest issue is that, even though you are able to get by in life, you still never truly address the problem. Over time, the anxiety that you keep inside will spill over and possibly into most if not all aspects of your life. The chronic stress will affect your work and even your health. And, eventually, it will even impact those relationships you care most about.

Therefore, you need help to find lasting change. One solution is to seek therapy with a professional who understands anxiety. Working with a therapist will allow you to get to the root of the problem, instead of relying on a patchwork of "pseudo-solutions."

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I am a therapist who specializes in anxiety therapy. In time, with my help, you'll find you don’t have to wear a mask anymore. You can truly be yourself—free of anxiety.

If you would like to know more about my approach to anxiety therapy, please contact me or click HERE to learn more.