High-Functioning Anxiety: What It Looks Like VS. How It Feels

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High-Functioning Anxiety: What It Looks Like VS. How It Feels

Sometimes mental illness can be hard to spot. While much attention is placed upon more visible disorders like PTSD, OCD, and bipolar disorder, oftentimes anxiety goes unnoticed and, as a result, untreated.

In fact, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimates that around 40 million American adults suffer from anxiety disorders, yet only about 37 percent of those seek treatment (ADAA).

This may be due in part to the fact that those with high-functioning anxiety can get through their day-to-day lives, appearing “normal” to those around them while suffering inside. Many people who experience high-functioning anxiety like this may hide their condition from others their entire lives. And some might not even recognize their own condition thinking that if they “really needed help” they wouldn’t be managing everything as well as they are—or appear to be.

Keep reading to learn more about the symptoms of high-functioning anxiety and how you can better support yourself or your loved one living with this anxiety disorder.

What Are The Symptoms Of High-Functioning Anxiety?

 sign of high-functioning anxiety
Credit: Kat Jayne via Pexels

When you think of anxiety, you might imagine a person who avoids certain social situations, appears worried or restless on a regular basis, or has trouble sleeping. While these certainly can be signs of an anxiety disorder, those with high-functioning anxiety often manifest their illness in a different way. Oftentimes, people with this condition use their anxious feelings as a motivator to work harder in every aspect of their lives. According to psychologist Suzanne Leckie, those suffering from high-functioning anxiety may “feel the desire to achieve more as a way to manage their fears and doubts.” (Women’s Health Australia)

As with most anxiety sufferers, those with high-functioning anxiety may experience restlessness, worry, racing and catastrophic thoughts, and irritability. However, this anxiety doesn’t halt them from doing normal, daily activities but instead pushes them to overcompensate. They channel these negative feelings into their work and social lives, giving them a stronger sense of control over their own lives.

To the sufferer, these behaviors can feel like perfectionism, where everything in life is all or nothing. Ate a cupcake? Your entire health journey feels ruined. Missed a deadline? They might as well fire you because you’re a failure at your job.

Another common symptom of high-functioning anxiety is not being able to say “no.”

People with this anxiety disorder oftentimes have a deep-seated fear of letting people down, so they will take on way more than they can handle. Not wanting to disappoint anyone, they are known to accept any work project, plan with friends, or favor that someone asks of them until they are spread so thin that they’re susceptible to a mental breakdown. Fearing that people won’t like them— and having incredibly high standards for themselves—make it even harder for these sufferers to turn people down.

If you have high-functioning anxiety, chances are you probably also aren’t getting much sleep, either. Everything you are worried about seems to swarm your brain when you’re lying in bed, making it nearly impossible to get good, healthy sleep. In fact, this is the exact reason why people with this disorder keep themselves so busy. When you are running around doing a million things, you don’t have time to be alone with your racing thoughts.

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As with all anxiety disorders, high-functioning anxiety often comes with physical symptoms. Stomach problems and muscle aches with no medical explanation can be a sign of anxiety. Alternately, you might have a tic or habit like jiggling your foot, biting your nails, or cracking your knuckles that shows even more when your anxiety spikes.

What Does High-Functioning Anxiety Look Like From The Outside?

 What Does High-Functioning Anxiety Look Like From The Outside?
Credit: energepic.com via Pexels

Everyone knows at least one person who is constantly busy. She is super type-A, always on-the-go with a million things scheduled on their calendar. She is a perfectionist, constantly worrying about everything going right, and can often come off as irritable or angry.

Whether it’s your boss, your bestie, or your partner, you might get frustrated with the person who always has to have things their way. While some people are just bossy, those with high-functioning anxiety exhibit controlling behaviors that go beyond simply preferring things to be done a certain way. If something goes wrong to any degree, they become visibly upset. They can be triggered by something as small as you being late to a lunch meeting or loading the dishwasher “wrong.” These things might not seem like a big deal to you, but to someone with high-functioning anxiety, it means a loss of control and can ruin their entire day.

People with high-functioning anxiety often appear hard to read. On the outside, they seem stoic and unemotional. On the inside, though, they are constantly battling a wide range of emotions. Because they don’t want to appear weak, they may hide these feelings and project a rational, logical, and even cold demeanor.

How Can I Help My Loved One With This Disorder?

woman comforting friend : high-functioning anxiety

Unlike physical illnesses where there are concrete things, you can actually do to help, assisting your loved one who suffers from a mental illness is slightly trickier. It can be much harder to know if and when they need help. Luckily, there are ways you can support your friend or family member that will make them feel seen and loved.

First, educate yourself about high-functioning anxiety. This post is a great place to start. Learn how to recognize the signs of an anxiety attack and how to talk to your loved one about their disorder. This helps remove the stigma that often comes with mental illnesses.

The best way you can help is to listen and be supportive. Let your pal vent to you but make sure you listen without judgment. Ask how you can help when times get tough. Everyone is different so be sure to pay attention to her needs!

Most importantly, don’t rush her to get better. Even if she starts treatment for her disorder, your friend may not see results for a while. And that’s ok! People with high-functioning anxiety feel enough pressure to be perfect from the inside without you pushing them to change. (Women’s Health Australia)

Seeking Treatment For Your Anxiety? Visit The Beach Cottage at Seasons in Malibu

beach cottage:high-functioning anxiety
Source: Seasons In Malibu

Another way you can help your loved one with high-functioning anxiety is to encourage her to seek treatment—when she’s ready. Be sure to offer this suggestion in a non-judgmental way. You can even provide them with a list of resources they can consult!

The Beach Cottage at Seasons in Malibu is one great option to consider for anxiety treatment. This CARF-accredited mental health treatment center located in sunny Malibu, CA offers luxurious accommodations alongside world-class mental health treatment. The professionals at The Beach Cottage at Seasons in Malibu create a unique, individualized program for every guest based on their 7-step program that is designed to help you or your loved one reach success.

 Give The Beach Cottage at Seasons in Malibu a call today for a free insurance check or confidential consultation about your struggle with anxiety: 855-869-5332


Though it can often be hard to recognize, high-functioning anxiety is no joke. If you or someone you know exhibits the symptoms listed in this post, consider seeking out help. (But please remember not to self-diagnose!) Being supportive and understanding can help remove the stigma around mental health and make the world a healthier, happier place for us all.



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High-Functioning Anxiety: What It Looks Like VS. How It Feels

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