Signs of High-functioning Anxiety

11 Warning Signs of High-functioning Anxiety

Writen By: Sana Ihsan
Reviewed By: Huma Khan
Publish Date: November 13, 2023

Do you ever find yourself striving for perfection and overthinking even the smallest tasks? Are you often praised for being high-achieving and capable but find yourself overwhelmed by persistent worry and stress? Are you curious if the signs of high-functioning anxiety are playing a role in your life? If any of these questions ever cross your mind, then you’ve discovered the best space to explore and understand the signs and symptoms of high-functioning anxiety in detail.

High-functioning anxiety disorder is a challenging condition that often goes unnoticed due to its subtle nature. People dealing with this form of anxiety may appear perfectly composed on the surface because this condition makes them keep going instead of getting stuck in depressive thoughts. So, you might seem really successful at work and in life. But what others can’t really see and you might not talk about is that, beneath that seemingly perfect exterior, you’re always dealing with a lot of anxiety.

In this blog post, we will dive deeper into the causes of high-functioning anxiety and explore what might contribute to its development. We will also thoroughly examine its symptoms and shed some light on the emotional and physical aspects of this condition. Moreover, we will discuss treatment options to manage the symptoms. Furthermore, we’ll introduce authentic organizations that specialize in assisting individuals with high-functioning anxiety disorders. Additionally, we will recommend some self-help books that have proven beneficial to many individuals dealing with this condition. So let’s explore the path together to a happy and healthier future.

What is High-Functioning Anxiety? 

High functioning anxiety is a disorder in which a person worries a lot, feels stressed, or can’t stop thinking about things, even though they seem to have everything under control, has repetitive behaviors, and sometimes exhibits traits of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Various reasons can trigger these symptoms. A common reason can be when you shift to a new country, get a new job, or start a new study program, where you might feel pressure to prove yourself.

In January 2023, a research study proved this as they mentioned that South Asians who have migrated to the US usually suffer from high-functioning anxiety disorder because they have a huge pressure on them to excel in their professional lives as well as adjust to the new environment.

This 2020 research also proves that high-functioning anxiety can significantly impact an individual’s health, particularly when engaging in anxiety-provoking tasks. These research studies prove the fact that high-functioning anxiety can be a crippling condition if not treated promptly. 

In today’s modern world of rat races and social media, anybody reading this right now would agree that life can be very stressful. So, feeling a bit anxious is normal. However, what’s not normal is looking fine on the outside, while inside, your mind is filled with worries and negative thoughts. You could look like the definition of success—always early at work, dressed perfectly, and never missing a deadline. But maybe it’s the nervous energy, the fear of failing, and not wanting to let others down that pushed you to be successful.

Diagnoses of High-Functioning Anxiety

The diagnosis of the signs of high-functioning anxiety involves a comprehensive assessment by a licensed mental health professional. This condition does not have a distinct diagnostic category in the DSM-5. Therefore, mental health professionals often consider the broader category of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) as a reference. The diagnosis process often involves:

  • An initial evaluation
  • Observation of individual behavior and emotional responses
  • Consideration of different diagnoses
  • A complete evaluation of personal and family history

Prevalence of High-Functioning Anxiety

The prevalence of signs of high-functioning anxiety varies widely. This condition comes under the umbrella of GAD. According to a recent research study by the National Institute of Mental Health published by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, GAD affects 6.8 million individuals, or 3.1% of the American population, yet only 43.2% are receiving treatment. It is mentioned that women are twice as likely to be affected as men.

Symptoms of High-Functioning Anxiety

These are some of the most common high functioning anxiety symptoms: 

1. Perfectionism

The most common sign of high-functioning anxiety is having the urge to perform every task perfectly and without any errors. For example, you get an appreciation for a presentation you prepared for work or an A* for a project in school, which makes you a high-achiever on the outside, but beneath that is a hidden obsession over the possibility of any mistakes and constantly rechecking it for hours to avoid any errors.

People who strive for perfection always set very high standards for themselves, and they may feel disappointed and stressed if there are any imperfections or mistakes.

2. Overthinking

In high-functioning anxiety disorder, the individual constantly keeps on overthinking and obsessively overanalyzing every single detail. Their minds are always preoccupied; they continuously replay the same thoughts in their heads over and over again and overthink every possible outcome and what-if scenario. It’s like having a mental to-do list that never seems to end, and each unchecked item adds to a growing sense of unease, making it challenging to focus on the present moment.

3. Excessive Worrying

Signs of high functioning anxiety include excessive worrying and having overwhelming fears that go beyond what is necessary for the situation. It’s not just a normal concern; it’s a persistent state of worry that spreads through various aspects of your life. Such individuals feel an intense need to over-anticipate and solve all the problems, even the minor ones, before they actually happen.

4. Avoidance Behavior

Apart from being highly capable in every aspect of life, those with signs of high functioning anxiety may struggle with this avoidance pattern. They tend to stay away from people, situations, or activities that trigger anxious feelings. It’s not just a preference for comfort; it’s a coping mechanism aimed at preventing potential stressors.

5. Procrastination

Individuals dealing with high functioning anxiety disorder may procrastinate not out of laziness but as a means of managing their anxiety. The thought of starting a task can trigger overwhelming worry about potential problems; therefore, people delay the tasks even if they are really important to temporarily ease the anxiety associated with perceived expectations or potential challenges.

6. People-Pleasing

Individuals with signs of high functioning anxiety may engage in pleasing people as a way to manage their own anxiety. Such individuals have an ingrained habit of prioritizing the needs and expectations of other people over their own. It’s not about just being considerate; it’s an intense desire to seek approval and validation and avoid any personal conflicts.

7. Physical Symptoms

High-functioning anxiety Physical symptoms include muscle tension, restlessness, headaches, fatigue, insomnia, gastrointestinal issues, rapid heartbeat, shallow breathing, dizziness or lightheadedness, trembling or shaking, excessive sweating, rubbery or jelly legs, and numbness in the toes and fingers.

8. Fear Of Failure

Individuals with signs of high-functioning anxiety often experience this fear of failure as a constant companion, driving them to work tirelessly to avoid any mistakes. This fear of failure is like a persistent stress that hovers over every task. It’s not simply worrying about making any mistakes; it’s an intense feeling of stress about falling short of impossibly high standards.

9. Self-Criticism

Many people suffering from high functioning anxiety disorder overly criticize themselves. Such people may have imposter syndrome (a condition in which individuals doubt their abilities) as well. Noticing your mistakes and correcting them is a healthy pattern. The problem arises when this self-criticism becomes the default response and your inner voice is constantly pointing out your flaws and shortcomings.

10. Fear Of Losing Control

Signs of high-functioning anxiety often include a fear of losing control over every minor situation in their lives. You always want things to go the way you have planned them, even for something that is beyond your control. It’s like holding on to the idea that having control over everything is the only way to feel safe and secure. This fear makes individuals overly cautious and hesitant to embrace uncertainties in life.

11. Repetitive Habits

In high functioning anxiety disorder, individuals often exhibit repetitive habits when they are nervous or stressed. These can include excessive talking, nervously playing with their hair, or cracking knuckles. Some may engage in repetitive actions like moving back and forth, asking for directions multiple times, or frequently checking on others to manage their anxiety.

Causes of High-Functioning Anxiety

There can be many reasons that cause signs of high-functioning anxiety, but the most common ones among them are:

  • Environmental stressors like stress at work or home, relationship problems, financial stress, bullying, and many more
  • Overachiever mindset 
  • Childhood experiences like abuse and neglect 
  • Lack of self-compassion
  • Personality traits like oversensitivity and nervousness
  • Social Anxiety
  • Workaholic Nature
  • High expectations of family or friends
  • Genetics: family history of high functioning anxiety disorder or other anxiety disorders
  • Physical issues like heart problems and thyroid and mental health issues

Effects of High-Functioning Anxiety On Our Daily Lives

The most common effects of high-functioning anxiety on our daily lives are:

  • Physical Health issues
  • Being always tired due to working too much
  • Sleep disturbances 
  • Difficulty relaxing due to continuous overthinking
  • Impact on personal relationships
  • Feelings of isolation due to your own avoidance pattern
  • Constant stress and anxiety to achieve perfection in every task
  • Difficulty in making decisions because of always being over-occupied
  • Low self-confidence
  • Inter-personal conflict due to suppressed emotions 

Managing Symptoms of High-Functioning Anxiety

Here we are going to explain the coping mechanisms for each of the symptoms of high functioning anxiety:

Perfectionism

  • Set achievable goals to ease perfectionist pressure
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself and embrace imperfections 
  • View mistakes as a chance for growth and learning
  • Celebrate your progress
  • Break tasks into manageable steps to avoid being overwhelmed 

Overthinking

  • Identify and challenge negative thought patterns
  • Prioritize self-care to manage stress
  • Establish a fixed routine for stability and predictability 
  • Limit the time spent on hypothetical scenarios and try to focus on the present through mindfulness meditation 
  • Develop healthy coping mechanisms, such as journaling and engaging in hobbies

Excessive Worrying

  • Learn and practice relaxing techniques like breathing, meditation, yoga and acupuncture 
  • Make a stress relief mantra and repeat it in tough times
  • Distract yourself with engaging activities when worries become overwhelming 
  • Set a specific time for addressing your worries and concerns 
  • Connect with nature to calm your mind

Avoidance Behaviour

  • Recognize the situations causing avoidance
  • Expose yourself to avoided situations gradually to build exposure and reduce social anxiety
  • Share your goals with close people for support and encouragement 
  • Focus on the positive aspects of social interaction
  • Seek professional therapy and guidance    

Procrastination

  • Minimize potential distractions to stay focused
  • Picture the positive outcomes of completing a task to enhance motivation
  • Focus on the completion of the task and embrace the potential errors
  • Celebrate completing tasks with small rewards
  • Work in focused intervals to enhance productivity 

People-Pleasing

  • Learn to say no when necessary to avoid overcommitting. 
  • Question your thoughts that prioritize external validation
  • Learn to value and express your authentic self
  • Accept that sometimes disappointing others is a natural part of life
  • Recognize situations that trigger the urge to please others
  • Learn assertiveness techniques with the help of a therapist. 

Physical Symptoms

  • Practice deep muscle relaxation techniques to ease physical tension 
  • Do regular full-body workouts to boost your health conditions
  • Limit the use of substances that can cause physical symptoms like caffeine, drugs, nicotine and alcohol 
  • Schedule regular checkups to address and manage physical symptoms
  • Maintain a balanced diet, prioritize a healthy sleep routine, and stay hydrated

Fear Of Failure

  • Reflect on your strengths and use them to overcome challenges
  • Use positive affirmations to boost your self-confidence
  • Surround yourself with a positive and supportive environment 
  • Practice mindfulness to stay present and reduce anxiety about the future
  • Embrace a growth mindset and learn from your failures
  • Seek professional help if fear of failure significantly impacts your health

Self-Criticism

  • Seek constructive feedback to avoid criticizing yourself
  • Cultivate a mindset of continuous improvement rather than perfection
  • Celebrate your achievements, even the smaller ones
  • Celebrate your uniqueness and do not compare yourself to others
  • Accept compliments graciously without downplaying your achievements  

Fear Of Losing Control

  • Create a control list that will differentiate between things you can and cannot control
  • Identify patterns in your behavior in times of fear and try to break them
  • Mentally prepare yourself for unexpected situations
  • Establish healthy boundaries and build a support network to rely on during  tough times
  • Explore the root causes of your fear with professional guidance.

Supporting Those With High-Functioning Anxiety

Here we are going to mention some tips on how you can provide support to your friend or a family member dealing with the signs of high-functioning anxiety:

  1. Educate yourself about the signs of high-functioning anxiety to understand your loved ones better
  2. Be a patient listener and help them express themselves without any judgment or pressure
  3. Validate their experiences and emotions, and acknowledge that anxiety disorders are impactful 
  4. Check on them regularly, but respect their space if they need some time alone
  5. Encourage them to seek professional help and assist them in finding a therapist if needed
  6. Create a calm and supportive environment for them and minimize their stress triggers
  7. Offer regular reminders for their self-care and relaxation time, as they might ignore it
  8. Celebrate their success, no matter how small, as it can boost their confidence 
  9. Share resources about stress management and suggest books or podcasts that might help them 
  10. Consider joining support groups together to create a good understanding with them

Conclusion

In conclusion, high-functioning anxiety disorder is when someone seems okay on the outside but is internally struggling. We have explained the causes and signs of high-functioning anxiety in detail. It is very important to note that it is possible that you or somebody closely related to you might be dealing with these problems and be unaware of the fact that they have high-functioning anxiety symptoms.

Therefore, it is very important to understand and educate yourself about this condition and help yourself or your loved ones who might be suffering from it. Seek professional help and contact support groups and organizations like the ones that we have mentioned below that can help you deal with this condition.

Platforms Providing Therapy and Support

Here are the three most popular websites that provide online therapy and support to those who are suffering from anxiety disorders.

Online-Therapy.com

This is an online platform that provides individual and couple therapy. They have an online team of consultant therapists, cognitive behavioral therapists, and practitioners who collaboratively work to help people in need of emotional support.

Better Help

This is another very credible online platform that provides therapy services to individuals suffering from any kind of anxiety disorder. 

Brightside Health

This platform claims that 85% of their patients feel better within 12 weeks. They are providing a team of psychiatric providers, therapists, and techs custom-built for anxiety and depression care. 

Self-Help Books

Here are five best books that will help you understand this condition better and help you get through it.

Your Thoughts, Body, and Behavior by Cardea Sirona

This book provides guidance and strategies for managing high-functioning anxiety, encouraging self-acceptance, and recasting anxiety as a potential source of motivation.

High-functioning anxiety by Luxe Living

This book empowers individuals with high-functioning anxiety to transform their lives by identifying triggers, implementing self-care practices, and embracing their unique strengths.

7 Ancient rituals to heal modern high-functioning anxiety by Anne Ruitberg Taylor 

This book guides readers to use the power of ancient rituals to reduce anxiety and promote inner peace, resilience, and overall well-being. 

High-functioning Anxiety: Five steps to learning you are good enough by Dr. Lalitaa Suglani 

This book guides the readers to challenge negative self-beliefs and embrace self-compassion, empowering them to overcome their anxiety.

Overcoming Perfectionism, Anxiety, and Depression by Cross-Border Books

This book provides practical strategies for identifying and overcoming perfectionist tendencies, promoting self-acceptance, and developing a growth mindset.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about high-functioning anxiety:

What are the signs of high-functioning anxiety in adults? 

The most common signs of high-functioning anxiety in adults are stress, irritability, and difficulty concentrating, despite being very competent on the outside.

What is high-performing anxiety?

High-performing anxiety means that you are constantly stressed about completing every task perfectly and are disappointed by even the smallest and unnoticeable errors.

What are high functioning anxiety symptoms in children? 

In children, the common symptoms include fear of going to school, overstressing about their exams, tense muscles, social anxiety, repetitive behavior, frequent crying, and aggression, resistance to eating and sleeping properly, nightmares, complaints of headaches or stomach aches without any other health conditions, and obsessing over doing their tasks perfectly.

A research study published in 2006 in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders suggests that family-based cognitive behavioral therapy is an effective treatment for such children. It further states that 71.4% of the treated participants no longer fit the diagnosis.

Do I have a high-functioning anxiety disorder? 

To find out if you have high-functioning anxiety, see how many of the symptoms in this blog post relate to you. If you have most of these symptoms, you may have high functioning anxiety. You can also visit a mental health professional, who can help you get the right diagnosis for your condition.   

What are the six types of anxiety disorders?

The six types are:

  1. Generalized Anxiety disorder (GAD)
  2. Panic disorder
  3. Social Anxiety disorder
  4. Phobia-related disorders
  5. Separation Anxiety disorder
  6. Agoraphobia

What medication is used for high-functioning anxiety?

The common medications that are prescribed are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). They regulate the activity of the neurotransmitters and reduce anxiety symptoms.

What are the four sub-personalities of anxiety?

The four sub-personalities of anxiety are:

  1. The Worrier:

The Worrier, dominant in anxious individuals, fuels anxiety by picturing the worst-case scenarios and exaggerating fears.

  1. The Critic:

The critic inside you constantly judges you and highlights your flaws, making you feel like a failure. It compares you to others and ignores your strengths, which creates a cycle of self-doubt.

  1. The Victim:

The victim inside you makes you feel powerless, leading you to blame external factors for challenges.  Individuals with this mindset avoid taking responsibility, which can hinder personal growth.

  1. The Perfectionist:

The perfectionist aims to push you to excel but causes anxiety by saying your efforts aren’t enough.  It links your self-worth to external achievements and ignores signs of stress, leading to burnout.

What is the best natural anti-anxiety?

The best natural anti-anxiety remedies are:

  • Regular exercise
  • Meditation
  • Having chamomile tea
  • Journaling 
  • taking Omega 3 fatty acids
  • Listening to relaxing meditation music 
  • Taking vitamin D supplements 
  • Loving yourself
  • Get enough magnesium 
  • Consider Complementary therapy