The idea of someone having it all together on the outside but falling apart on the inside isn’t uncommon. Maybe someone you work with - or you yourself - is so driven, so productive, so busy, you’d never know they’re struggling with anxiety.
In fact, they may not know it, either. But there are some sneaky ways high-functioning anxiety manifests. We’ll go over seven of those, as well as some beginner info on high-functioning anxiety.
What’s the difference between high-functioning anxiety and anxiety?
The difference between anxiety and high-functioning anxiety isn’t in the symptoms, but the way we react to or manage them.
Someone with anxiety may avoid certain situations. For instance, they’ll be less likely to take on extra responsibilities at work or home. They acknowledge that the pressures of life trigger or increase their anxiety.
On the other hand, someone with high-functioning anxiety doesn’t arrange their life around anxiety. In fact, they may attempt to suppress their anxiety symptoms with lots of plans and responsibilities.
What causes high-functioning anxiety?
Just like anxiety, there could be several causes of high-functioning anxiety, both genetic and environmental (nature and nurture). Anything from painful childhood events to certain medical conditions to an immediate family member with anxiety can increase your likelihood.
But with high-functioning anxiety, some researchers find that successful or high-achieving people are more prone to stuff it down. That doesn’t even have to describe you today; an adult who was seen as especially gifted as a child can have that contribute to high-functioning anxiety, regardless of post-grad success.
Now, let’s review those seven sneaky signs of high-functioning anxiety.
1. Muscle tension.
Stiff neck? Aching shoulders? Sore jaw? If you experience one or all of these, but aren’t sure why, high-functioning anxiety can be to blame.
As you focus on absolutely anything else, anxiety fights to make itself known with tight, tense muscles.
2. Low-quality sleep.
Many people think that as long as they’re going to sleep, they’re okay. However, waking frequently, waking up tired, or being a “light sleeper” who is easily disrupted are signs of low-quality sleep.
You don’t have to be a confirmed insomniac to have sleep troubles. Plus, managing everyday anxiety can help resolve many of these sleep issues.
3. Consistent worry or feelings of anxiety.
If someone with high-functioning anxiety stops to acknowledge it, they’ll find they have lots of thoughts.
They might notice the same worries on a loop, persistent overthinking about the smallest things, or just a sense of anxiety they’re working overtime to ignore.
4. Trouble focusing.
Those with high-functioning anxiety may seem like focused, productive people, but that isn’t the whole story. One might have such a difficult time concentrating that they put off important tasks until the last minute. This zero-hour scramble to deliver is common with this type of anxiety.
5. Can’t sit still/restlessness.
From pacing and fidgeting to a packed social schedule, people with high-functioning anxiety can be agitated by periods of peace, solitude, and reflection. They need activity to mask the anxiety.
6. People pleasing.
Since many people with high-functioning anxiety are seen as successful or intelligent, they often want confirmation that they’re viewed favorably or have others’ approval.
This, combined with their need for busyness, means they’ll say “yes” to everyone or take on extra tasks just to reinforce their image as an ultra-capable, can-do person.
7. Being incredibly hard on yourself.
The expectation of personal perfection is common among those with anxiety, but with high-functioning anxiety, it can take center stage.
Constant self-recrimination, ruminating on perceived failures, and comparing oneself unfavorably to others are just a few ways we can punish ourselves.
How do you stop high-functioning anxiety?
It’s a hard pill to swallow, but believing you need to STOP high-functioning anxiety can be the wrong mindset. First, talk to a healthcare professional, get a diagnosis, and discuss potential treatments. From there, working to acknowledge and accept anxiety can help it dissipate over time - or at least help keep it at manageable levels.
Finally, it must be said that practicing relaxation techniques can help ease you into a different state of being. People with high-functioning anxiety are often uncomfortable with peace and calm at first, but they can and will adjust to it.
Practicing meditation and playing or listening to a singing bowl can help regulate your central nervous system, helping you tolerate - and eventually appreciate - the present moment. If you’d like to get started, try our handy singing bowl selection quiz.
So, do you think you have high-functioning anxiety? Do any of these seven sneaky signs resonate with you? Let us know in the comments, or share a red flag that we missed.