High-Functioning Anxiety Stories: What You Should Know

An anxiety disorder is a mental illness that causes excessive worry and fear, out of proportion to existing events or situations. Some people struggle significantly with anxiety but don’t meet the qualifications for a diagnosis. This is known as high-functioning anxiety. Being able to meet responsibilities hides the fact that an individual may be having a very hard time every day. Treatment benefits this type of anxiety and can lead to a better quality of life.

High-functioning anxiety often remains hidden. You can function at work, and you may even excel at work; you hold your household and family together; your friends see you get things done every day. But your mind is racing, you feel overwhelmed and stressed, you’re fatigued and worn out, and you are unhappy.

Learn from the experiences of others and know that help is available for high-functioning anxiety. Just holding your life together is not good enough. Treatment can help you manage, minimize, and cope with anxiety, worry, and fear so that you can live a better life.

What Is High-Functioning Anxiety, and Do I Have it?

Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health diagnoses. Everyone experiences anxiety, worry, and fear at times, but in some people and in certain situations these feelings become overwhelming and interfere with how you live your life.

High-functioning anxiety is not a clinical diagnosis, but it describes people who have many of the symptoms of an anxiety disorder without meeting the full diagnostic criteria. The symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder are:

  • Worry and anxiety that are excessive and in response to any type of activity or event
  • Worrying that is difficult to control
  • Restlessness
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle tension
  • Difficulty concentrating, a blank mind
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty sleeping

To be diagnosed, you must have excessive anxiety along with three or more other symptoms that cause significant distress or impairment. If you can still function—do your work, go to school, manage home responsibilities—you may not qualify for a diagnosis.

This may mean you have high-functioning anxiety, and just because it is not an official diagnosis doesn’t mean it isn’t serious. With any excessive anxiety and worry, you experience a diminished quality of life, and you can benefit from treatment.

These stories from people with high-functioning anxiety explain what this is like, what you can do about it, and how to reach out and ask for help.

I Thought My Anxiety Was Normal Stress – Martha O.

I’m a mom of two boys, a wife, and a full-time worker. I have a lot going on in my life. I have stress, naturally. What I didn’t realize for a long time was that what I thought was just normal stress for someone as busy as me was actually anxiety.

What finally stopped me in my tracks and forced me to reassess my mental health was a physical collapse. I got so sick with some type of infection that I couldn’t function anymore. I talked to my doctor, and she suggested I had actually been struggling with anxiety, which led to exhaustion and interfered with my immune system.

Some of the signs I overlooked included being preoccupied all day long with schedules, for my work, for dinner, for the kids’ activities, for taking the dog outside, and everything else that had to get done. I felt overwhelmed most of the time and constantly on edge, but I didn’t realize I had anxiety because I functioned. I got it all done. With my physical illness, I finally accepted mental health help. Treatment for anxiety, even though I didn’t have an official diagnosis, gave me the perspective and the tools I needed to manage and minimize my anxiety.

High-Functioning Anxiety Is Easy to Hide – Kevin P.

I have been very successful at work, rising up the ranks of the company and making some major sales that I’m really proud of. But the truth of all that success is it was driven less by ambition than it was by my internal anxiety.

No one at work or among my friends suspected I had an issue with anxiety, as I found out when I finally took time off for treatment. They assumed that my long work hours, my rapid responses to emails and texts, and my success at work was simply me being a driven, hard worker.

As time went on in my current job, my days got worse. I was still functioning, but I would come home exhausted and unable to do anything but drink a couple glasses of wine and go to sleep. My house was a mess and I had no personal life anymore, but at work, I looked like a winner. Taking time off for treatment was the best thing I could have done. I’m still great at my job, but I have learned how to balance it with enjoying life and how to limit anxiety.

I Hate Change, and I Seem Overly Sensitive – Carla C.

For me, anxiety was a way of life. My mind races, I revise my to-do list every hour, I keep my home spotless, and more than anything I keep to a strict routine. My fastidiousness made it seem like I had it all together, but one thing my friends noticed about me before I got treatment was my overreactions to things.

Basically, if anything disrupted my routine or changed my ordinary days, I couldn’t handle it. I came off as super-sensitive, picky, and rigid, which I know turned some people off, and it worried me too. Yet another thing to be anxious about. When I lost it in front of my young niece because of a change in plans for a day out as a family, my sister convinced me to get some help.

In treatment, I learned that anxiety was a problem for me. I functioned, but I was miserable, and I couldn’t handle change or surprises. My therapist helped me learn to cope with change, to be more flexible, and to prevent a meltdown before it threatens to overwhelm me.

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Functioning Felt Like Performing – Kerry J.

Yes, my anxiety was mild enough to allow me to function on a daily basis, but it was exhausting until I got the treatment I needed. What was so tiring about just getting through each day was that it felt like acting, like putting on a show.

I had to pretend everything was fine, that my thoughts were not overwhelming me, that I wasn’t afraid of interacting with people. My job is in a busy office where I have to talk on the phone and interact with people, and every single day was a struggle. I constantly worried that I sounded stupid, that I came off as fearful, or that I would make a mistake when talking to someone.

When I finally did get treatment, I found that I came close to qualifying for a social anxiety diagnosis, but not quite. I almost didn’t go through with therapy. I mean I functioned, right? I talked to people every day and was pretty good at my job. Thank goodness I did it, though. I have the same job, and I still worry and feel anxious sometimes, but I am much better able to cope and I’m still good at it.

My Treatment for Anxiety Was Physical and Mental – Dave M.

It took me a long time to accept that I had problematic anxiety. Like others who struggle with this, I assumed that because I managed every day, that I didn’t really have a problem and that I didn’t qualify for treatment. But getting treatment was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

What I loved about treatment was that it worked with my strengths and needs. Therapy helped, but equally useful was learning deep breathing exercises, getting massage therapy, and learning to channel my anxiety into something physical, like a run or trying out rock climbing at my local gym. Burning off that nervous energy has made a huge difference in my life, and I’m thankful to the treatment center for helping me get to this point.

You don’t have to just survive with high-functioning anxiety. This is a treatable situation, even if it isn’t a true clinical diagnosis. Life can be better if you reach out for help. Treatment professionals can work with your specific needs and develop a program that will work best for you.

Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive treatment for people struggling with depression, anxiety, trauma, and other mental health issues. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Los Angeles program and how we can help you or your loved one start on the path to lasting wellness.