High functioning anxiety is a form of anxiety that tends to propel people forward instead of freezing and debilitating them. Over time, it can become debilitating, but the immediate effects are more of a forward motion that looks a lot like ambition and being highly organised.
In fact, most people with high functioning anxiety would be described by friends, family and co-workers as super competent, high achievers. They're hardly ever late, have a hundred things going on at once, and are in control of it all.
They seem outgoing and confident and appear to be driven to success. Most people envy those with high functioning anxiety because they seem to be so well put together.
The truth? The internal picture is vastly different. People with high functioning anxiety feel like they’re all over the place. They’re stressed, anxious and overwhelmed.
On the inside, they're always worrying about whether or not they’re doing the right thing. They’re permanently in a rush, dealing with a constant underlying sense of urgency. Their bodies are tense and they find it hard to relax.
High Functioning Anxiety: What’s Really Going On?While the picture seems to be that the person has taken on too much and is now feeling burnt out as a result, the truth is that they're riddled with unacknowledged anxiety.
The anxiety is often driven by a fear of failing or not being good enough. This fear drives behaviour aimed at disproving the sense of failing or not being good enough. Of course, if we succeed and achieve, then we can’t be failing, right? If we’re on top of it all and receiving accolades, then we must be good enough, right?
The forward movement to be better, do more, and stay on top of it all is driven by the fear of not being good enough.
The Consequences of High Functioning Anxiety
Simply put: burnout.
Eventually, those struggling with high functioning anxiety will crash and burnout. They might be diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) or present with severe anxiety that now debilitates them.
High functioning anxiety is often misdiagnosed as “burnout” and the remedy is to “do less”. They might be referred to retreats and advised to take more time for self-care. And while all of these are helpful, they do not address the root cause.
The root cause is anxiety. When the root cause is overlooked, the problem simply returns. So, what are the signs of high functioning anxiety?
3 Key Signs of High Functioning Anxiety
While people with high functioning anxiety seem to be doing really well, they often have the following three factors at play.
1. You Feel Overwhelmed and Stressed Out
Of course, the very first sign of high functioning anxiety is that you do, in fact, feel overwhelmed and stressed out. Despite the fact that you seem to be doing really well, the reality for you is that you feel like you’re barely hanging on.
People with high functioning anxiety tend to be sensitive. Often easily tearful, the slightest thing can make them feel distressed. They find themselves obsessing about routines and structures and feel distressed when plans change and routines fall apart.
It feels very unsettling to them when control has been taken away. In many instances, they feel overstimulated and irritable and might not tolerate loud noises or too much going on in the environment. A messy environment feels “noisy”, so they’re driven to keep things tidy and ordered. It looks like they’re on top of everything, but the reality is that chaos is simply too unbearable.
2. You’re Worried You Might Fail
People with high functioning anxiety are driven by a need to prove that they’re good enough. They have an inherent fear that they'll somehow fail, so their attention to detail is an attempt to ensure they don’t get things wrong.
They overthink and overanalyse everything. They may refer to themselves as perfectionists or talk about their Type A personality.
Even in social situations, they worry that they may have been too loud or too quiet. Maybe they offended someone. Perhaps the email was a little pushy. They feel concerned about the way they said goodbye or the tone of their text. Everything is analysed and checked, and it becomes exhausting.
3. Your Body Does Not Feel Healthy
The last key sign of high functioning anxiety relates to your body.
Are you struggling with persistent gut health issues, muscle tension or headaches? People with high functioning anxiety often have all three these physical symptoms present.
The biggest tell-tale signs, however, are the gut health issues. People with high functioning anxiety often have a diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). These symptoms are often overlooked and treated by their GP as separate issues, unrelated to anxiety.
People with high functioning anxiety also tend to completely overlook their physical symptoms. They’re really good at ignoring bodily discomfort and treat these issues as symptoms rather than addressing the underlying root cause: anxiety.
It's easy, as a high-functioning achiever, to simply disregard all of this and keep moving forward. But the risk to your mental and physical health is real and the anxiety must be addressed.
The good news is there are plenty of ways to reduce anxiety.
This can include having a closer look at the core beliefs that fuel anxiety. These are often around not feeling good enough or believing that you need to be perfect in order to be loved. If you're interested in a self-guided program, The Mental Wellbeing Toolkit is "like 10 therapy sessions in one."If addressing this feels too overwhelming to deal with alone, we strongly suggest reaching out to a therapist for extra support.
Diante is a clinical psychologist and certified anxiety coach offering online support for women who are fed up with anxiety getting in the way of their relationships, parenting or personal dreams. You can find out more about her at www.theunstuckinitiative.com or follow her on Instagram @the.intentional.psychologist or Facebook: www.facebook.com/intentionalpsychologist