Recognizing High-Functioning Anxiety in Your Spouse, and How to Help

Recognizing the signs of high-functioning anxiety in your spouse is nothing to take lightly. If you find yourself in this position, the key to helping them lies in approaching your loved one in a kind, caring manner. With your support, they will be able to seek the help they need, take control of their anxiety, and take the first steps toward a better future for you both.

Anne was always a perfectionist. It was something that seemed to help her succeed in her career as a financial planner. She excelled, and worked her way up the ladder in the financial sector fast. But soon the nail biting, constant irritation, and insomnia began to worry her husband. He began to consider the possibility that she had high-functioning anxiety, and wondered how to help.

Being the spouse of someone with high-functioning anxiety, you are in a unique position to help them began their path to recovery. The difficulty lies in the fact that these people are often in careers or situations where their anxiety is harnessed for the better. It’s not uncommon for them to be overachievers, using their nervous energy to excel in their career. They may chalk their persistent worries up to everyday stress or a source of motivation, or they may not perceive their anxiety as a problem at all, seeing it instead as simply a part of who they are.

Over time, however, these anxieties begin to take their toll. The sleepless nights, the repressed emotions, the tension, can all negatively affect you both—and your relationship. If you have a spouse in this position, knowing how to help them with their high-functioning anxiety begins with first understanding their struggle and how they experience it.

Signs of High-Functioning Anxiety

Before you approach them, you need to look for the signs. Again, it can be tough to spot them at first because you’ve probably thought of them as natural parts of your spouse’s personality. But once you take a closer look, you may find that they are indicative of a serious problem. Symptoms of high-functioning anxiety include:

  • Persistent feelings of worry
  • Workaholism
  • Overanalyzing decisions, even after they’re made
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Difficult expressing true feelings
  • Fear of failure
  • Nervous habits (lip chewing, biting nails, scratching)

When these signs present themselves consistently, they are not likely coincidences—they probably signify deeper underlying problems. And when these problems are not addressed, they can exacerbate present anxiety disorders and other co-occurring disorders.

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Approaching Your Loved One

Noticing the signs of high-functioning anxiety is one thing, but approaching your loved one about them is a different story. Only 36.7% percent of people with an anxiety disorder get treatment, and this number is believed to be lower for those with high-functioning anxiety. When you consider the fact that this disorder makes it difficult to express feelings, this number makes sense. Throw in the fact that many people function well enough that they don’t realize they have a problem, and broaching the subject of treatment seems to be even more difficult. But it doesn’t have to be. When bringing up the subject of your spouse’s anxiety, try to be sure you:

  • Approach them gently. Living with anxiety on a daily basis can put you in a state of fear, making it difficult to express what you’re really feeling. Always make sure to highlight the fact that you’re talking to them because you care about their well-being, not because there is something wrong with them. By doing this, you lessen the chance of them reacting in a defensive manner.
  • Do your research into the programs that offer specialized treatment for high-functioning anxiety. Emphasize the non-judgmental nature of these programs and the fact that they will be surrounded with others who are struggling with a similar problem. When your loved one is in recovery, relating to other people that they can empathize with is a crucial part of understanding and overcoming their own mental health struggle.
  • Use your own experiences to convey just how much you see their anxiety affecting them. After all, you’re in a relationship with this person, meaning you are in the unique position of being able to clearly see how their anxiety manifests itself. It can be tough for them to realize how much their anxiety is actually impacting their life; try to act as a looking glass that can convey this to them as gently as possible. Take care to make sure they understand that you’re saying this out of concern, not to attack them.
  • Try and break the pattern of normalization that they likely feed into. When you live with anxiety, it’s often easier to feel like it’s a part of who you are that cannot be changed. Other people in their life, such as their parents or siblings, may even have unintentionally encouraged this by treating the symptoms of their anxiety as an immutable fact of life. Try to help them understand that their symptoms are not facets of their personality that define them. Instead, they are symptoms of an underlying problem that can be overcome.
  • Emphasize the promise of treatment. Many people with high-functioning anxiety believe that they are being as productive as they can be when, in reality, treatment can make their life so much better. By helping them understand how much they can improve, even through small changes, they will come to realize how much their anxiety has been holding them back.

Taking Control of Anxiety

High-functioning anxiety is a pervasive disorder that can take an increasing toll on your spouse’s life and, in turn, your relationship. Using the tools offered by comprehensive residential treatment, your spouse will realize the potential that they hold and learn coping strategies to minimize the effect that anxiety exerts on their life. Not only that, you will have access to couples therapy to ensure that you can grow along with them on their journey to recovery.

It’s a scary thought to approach your loved one about a mental health challenge, especially one they might not be aware of. But through compassion and support, you can help them overcome their challenge and you will both be able to lead happier, healthier lives.

Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive residential treatment for people struggling with mental health disorders as well as co-occurring substance abuse and eating disorders. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Los Angeles and San Diego-based programs and how we can help you or your loved one start on the path to lasting wellness.