What is High-Functioning Anxiety, and Does It Require Treatment?

High-functioning anxiety is something that slips under many people’s radar, and it can be very difficult, even for the person suffering, to recognize the signs of high-functioning anxiety. But by understanding the potential of treatments such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), lifestyle changes, and peer support, you will realize the necessity of walking the path of recovery.

If you struggle with high-functioning anxiety, you have probably wrestled with the decision of whether or not to get help. Perhaps you did, but found your treatment ineffective and decided you were better off coping on your own. Or, perhaps you decided instead to use your anxious tendencies to thrive in environments where its defining traits can be beneficial, as Maria did.

“Most people don’t see someone with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) when they look at me,” says Maria. “They see someone who’s hyper-vigilant and organized. I’m great at compartmentalizing my life and a master at deflecting, so no one notices that it’s fear that pushes me to be this way. They don’t see the struggle, just the results.”

The defining feature of high-functioning anxiety—your ability to carry out your daily routine with seemingly no trouble, at least from an outsider’s perspective—is also what makes it hard to recognize, not just for others but even for you. And yet, the key to recovery lies in doing exactly that—recognizing your struggle for what it is, so that you can take steps to overcome it. “I thought, ‘this is just the way I am,’” says Maria. “It just didn’t occur to me that my fear was anything other than a normal part of my life. My diagnosis and the treatment that followed changed everything.”

Recognizing the Signs of High-Functioning Anxiety

The relative invisibility of high-functioning anxiety makes it easy to brush aside the severity of the disorder. Maybe you’ve been an anxious person your whole life, sometimes feeling like it’s too much to handle. Yet you always manage to keep control of it, and this success makes you feel like you don’t need treatment for high-functioning anxiety. Maybe, like Maria, you think it’s just a part of who you are.

But consider this: just 36.7 percent of people living with anxiety disorders get treatment. And when it comes to people with high-functioning anxiety, this number is believed to be even lower. It’s very possible that this low number stems from the lack of concrete diagnostic criteria and the tendency of high-functioning people to take hide their struggles behind success. And that’s why recognizing the signs of this challenge and acknowledging the impact they have on your life is so important.

Some of the most common signs include:

  • Persistent feelings of worry
  • Workaholism, even when at home
  • Overanalyzing and frequent second-guessing, even after choices are made
  • Difficulty expressing true feelings
  • Insomnia or inconsistent sleep
  • Obsessing over negative judgments of others
  • Fear of failure
  • Irritability
  • Various unconscious nervous habits (lip chewing, nail biting, scratching, et cetera)

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Understanding the Potential of Anxiety Treatment

Regardless of how much you appear to be getting done in your life, neglecting the signs of an anxious disorder will eventually catch up to you. But even though it can be hard to spot, there are many facets of high-functioning anxiety treatment that can help pinpoint your challenges and learn how to adapt to them in a positive way.

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). By using CBT, you can identify the maladaptive thought patterns that are guiding your behavior and change them for the better. A great example is defense mechanisms, which are unconscious responses in your mind that are triggered by anxiety-ridden situations. While they are used by your brain to maintain order in the chaos, they can hold you back from getting a clear picture of your challenge. Some people use denial to ignore the signs of damage that their anxiety is doing, while others use sublimation to transform unwanted feelings into another negative behavior (such as smoking to overeating).
  • Lifestyle changes. Enacting lifestyle changes can be difficult in the midst of daily life. But in the new setting of a residential treatment facility, changing up your diet and exercise routine is much easier. Here, you will learn the importance of making little changes (from meditation to regular walks in nature) that have huge impacts on your path to recovery.
  • Peer support. Through bonding with others that experience similar struggles, you will be able to see yourself clearer. Seeing others express their feelings and learning from them, you create a positive network that provides a means of expression for people who rarely get to do so. You will also be able to see how people in your position are misunderstood and learn how to prevent this stigma from acting as a barrier to treatment.

The benefits of these treatment modalities for people with high-functioning anxiety are invaluable. Given the low number of people struggling with anxiety that seek help on their own, using the diagnostic tools and therapies provided by these environments is crucial. With their help, you will understand why you need help and just how much it can benefit you.

Walking the Path of Recovery

While occasional anxiety is a normal part of life, a persistent fear that permeates your life is not. No matter how well you adapt to it, understanding that there are healthier ways to do so will make you happier and more productive than you thought possible. By beginning your path in comprehensive residential treatment, you will have access to both standard and holistic therapies, group sessions, and pharmacotherapies that will work synergistically to guide you through your recovery.

As a whole, this is an experience will provide you with every tool and lifeline needed during the difficult process of healing. Through this journey, you will come to realize that your anxiety has been making you struggle and suffer more than you need to. Using what you’ve learned, you will set off on a path toward a better future defined by positivity and adaptation.

Bridges to Recovery is a residential treatment center for high-functioning anxiety and other mental health disorders. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Los Angeles programs and how we can help you or your loved one start on the path to lasting wellness.