Living With High-Functioning Anxiety

High-functioning anxiety is a difficult condition to live with, especially since sufferers usually keep their feelings hidden. No one suspects, because on the outside everything seems fine. But high-functioning anxiety sufferers are often unhappy in their jobs and their relationships, as they struggle to cope with constant worry and insecurity. Fortunately, treatment can make a huge difference, and people suffering from high-functioning anxiety who find the courage to ask for help have great hopes for a brighter future.

Anxiety is a fact of life for everyone, but its ability to affect behavior varies from person to person. People who’ve been diagnosed with anxiety disorders (generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), or panic disorder) experience significant disruption in their daily lives, experiencing anxiety that is persistent, consistent, and oftentimes intense and debilitating.

But some people experience frequent anxiety without meeting the criteria for an anxiety disorder. Their anxiety causes problems, but despite its pervasive and all-encompassing nature they manage to keep going, doing what they have to do to meet their work, family, and personal obligations.

These individuals experience what is known as high-functioning anxiety. Their anxiety is real, significant, and unpleasant, but their behavior and accomplishments still seem to fall well within the range of normal. In fact, they are often overachievers, and most people who know them would be surprised to discover the truth about their anxiety issues.

But there is a difference between truly thriving and just getting by, and despite their apparent external successes people with high-functioning anxiety spend a lot of time doing the latter. Emotionally they are a long way from being as healthy as they could be and would like to be, and their achievements aren’t enough to bring them peace or satisfaction.

High-Functioning Anxiety in the Workplace

Men and women with high-functioning anxiety place great emphasis on career success. They approach their jobs as proving grounds, hoping to demonstrate their worthiness. Their accomplishments are often impressive, and co-workers tend to see them as being among the best and the brightest.

But men and women with high-functioning anxiety never feel completely satisfied with their performance, and as a result they overcompensate by trying to do too much, to overcome their self-doubt. They feel compelled to achieve and often don’t enjoy the experience.

Some of the characteristics that define high-functioning anxiety sufferers in the workplace include:

  • Workaholism. Employees and managers with high-functioning anxiety won’t usually arrive early, but they will stay late if they need to and won’t hesitate to take their work home with them. They feel guilty if anything is left undone and often take on more responsibility than expected.
  • Perfectionism. People motivated by anxiety demand constant excellence from themselves, no matter how unrealistic their expectations. As a result, they are seldom satisfied with their own performance and don’t feel deserving of praise if it comes.
  • Indecisiveness. Despite their reputation for giving great effort and always getting things done, people with high-functioning anxiety tend to overanalyze and overthink everything, to the point where they can have a hard time making a decision or choosing a clearly defined path.
  • Inconsistency in social behavior. People with high-functioning anxiety can be friendly, accommodating, and quick to offer praise to co-workers. But at times they will seem overly serious, unable to relax and be themselves. This happens because people with high-functioning anxiety are constantly worried that they will be rejected or judged for their work performance, their personalities, or their social abilities (or lack thereof).
  • Procrastination. Despite the go-getter personas they adopt, and their habit of going beyond and above the call of duty, at times men and women with high-functioning anxiety will seem surprisingly reluctant to tackle certain assignments or work-related tasks. This is a reflection of their self-esteem and self-confidence issues, and when they fear being unable to rise to the challenge they will put things off for as long as they can.

People with high-functioning anxiety may seem like natural achievers. But their work ethic, perfectionism, and willingness to go the extra mile are to some extent a cover for their insecurities, which motivate their need to prove themselves over and over again.

Needless to say, this demanding attitude is mentally and physically exhausting, and people who don’t seek treatment for high-functioning anxiety may eventually suffer other serious health problems as a result of their hard-driving and uncompromising way.

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High-Functioning Anxiety in Personal Relationships

Partners, parents, children, and lifelong friends of anxiety sufferers often underestimate how much their loved ones suffer with their problems. Men and women with high-functioning anxiety are reluctant to discuss their stress or deep feelings of dissatisfaction openly and honestly, and that can lead to misunderstandings and disagreements.

People with high-functioning anxiety care a lot about what other people think, and that impacts their relationships in multiple ways. In general they seek approval, but they can also be quick to become angry, frustrated or distant when they feel neglected, disrespected, or taken for granted by the people they love.

In their personal relationships, some characteristics common to high-anxiety sufferers include:

  • A lack of emotional openness and expressiveness. Anxiety sufferers often aren’t comfortable revealing their true feelings, fearing they’ll be judged but also feeling guilty over their insecurities and inability to handle situations without worry or anxiety.
  • Eagerness to please and an inability to say no. Men and women with high-functioning anxiety seek love and affirmation from the people they care about, and they may be overly accommodating and neglectful of their own needs if they think it will win their loved ones’ approval.
  • Occasional need for isolation. At times, anxiety sufferers need to get away, to find the time and the privacy to relax and decompress. Loved ones may misinterpret their absences as a sign that they’ve done something wrong, but anxiety can be difficult to bear and people with high-functioning anxiety sometimes need space.
  • Moodiness and irritability. People with high-functioning anxiety are frequently dissatisfied with themselves, and that can make them irritable at times. They may also suffer from bouts of depression.
  • High sensitivity. People with high-functioning anxiety are sensitive to any perceived slights or criticism, and they often believe they’re being judged by loved ones even when they’re not.

Despite their love and affection for the important people in their lives, people with high-functioning anxiety often feel uneasy, uncomfortable, or unappreciated in their relationships. They want to be happy and make their loved ones feel happy, but sometimes their insecurities get in the way.

Unfortunately, people with anxiety problems sometimes have trouble extending their network of relationships beyond an intimate, family-based circle, and they may be more isolated than they’d like to be as a result.

Strategies for Coping with High-Functioning Anxiety

The good news for high-functioning anxiety sufferers is that things can be turned around in a hurry. By making some changes in the way they think and behave, they can soon bridge the gap that separates them from a healthier, more satisfying lifestyle.

To help control their anxiety and restore their freedom and peace of mind, people with high-functioning anxiety should:

  1. Learn to recognize their symptoms for what they are. Anxiety loses some of its hold when sufferers put it in the proper perspective. Recognizing anxious reactions as illogical and unreasonable is the first step to overcoming them.
  2. Refuse to engage their anxious thoughts. Anxiety tends to get worse when it’s resisted or denied. Acknowledging it is not the same thing as giving in to it, and anxiety sufferers who can perceive their anxious responses as optional will begin to assert control over their actions and reactions.
  3. Act before (over)thinking. Too often anxiety sufferers talk themselves out of going with their first instinct. No one should be thoughtlessly impulsive, but when something feels right anxiety sufferers should try doing it or saying it without excessive reflection, and over time that approach can become the new normal.
  4. Embrace a healthy lifestyle. Good diet, regular exercise, and other healthy practices like meditation, yoga, or immersion in nature can help anxiety sufferers find a calmer state of mind and improve their self-esteem.
  5. Find trustworthy confidantes. Finding people they can share their thoughts and feelings with, openly and without restriction, can help lift their burden while proving that others will accept them despite their flaws and frailties. Having even one person to confide in can help enormously, and loved ones are usually happy to fill that role.
  6. Remember that little successes add up to big changes. People with high-functioning anxiety are already participating in the world, and that gives them endless opportunities to score small victories in their fight to overcome anxiety. Anytime anxiety is overcome it will be helpful—over time those small triumphs will lead to real, sustainable progress.
  7. Ask for help, and accept it. Mental health professionals can help high-functioning anxiety sufferers understand themselves and change their relationship with anxiety. High-functioning anxiety is highly amenable to treatment, and people who suffer from it can enjoy significant improvement in their symptoms if they put a real effort into recovery.

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Diagnosis and Treatment

Like other anxiety-related conditions, high-functioning anxiety responds very well to targeted therapy and other appropriate interventions, including limited use of medications and training in holistic healing methodologies.

At Bridges to Recovery, we offer residential treatment for high-functioning anxiety in a peaceful, safe environment, surrounded by caring medical professionals and supportive peers, men and women with high-functioning anxiety can make enormous progress in a relatively short period of time.

All high-functioning anxiety sufferers need to learn coping skills, to prevent their existing anxiety from taking control. But as patients progress through individual, peer group, and family therapy, deepen their knowledge of holistic healing and stress management techniques, and take moderate doses of anti-anxiety medications as recommended, their anxiety symptoms will begin to decrease in frequency and intensity, opening new opportunities for personal growth and improvement.

With a continuing commitment to healing, high-functioning anxiety sufferers can learn to function more successfully than ever before. Treatment plus effective self-help strategies make this kind of victory possible, as many other anxiety sufferers have already discovered.