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What Is High-Functioning Anxiety

High functioning anxiety is a term used to describe a type of anxiety where an individual experiences symptoms of anxiety, but is able to continue with their daily activities and responsibilities, often appearing outwardly successful and functioning well in various areas of life, such as work, school, relationships, and social settings.

People with high functioning anxiety may have a persistent internal sense of worry, fear, or unease, but they may not exhibit the typical signs of anxiety such as avoidance, withdrawal, or impairment in their ability to function. Instead, they may appear competent and successful on the outside, while dealing with significant anxiety on the inside.

Some common characteristics or symptoms of high functioning anxiety may include:

Persistent Worry Or Fear: Individuals with high functioning anxiety may experience persistent worry or fear about a wide range of situations, such as work performance, social interactions, health, relationships, or future events. One possible remedy for this could be to practise mindfulness/meditation. Focussing on what is happening rather than what might happen is a strong way of abating anxiety.

Perfectionism: There may be a strong drive to excel and achieve high standards, often setting unrealistic expectations for themselves and feeling anxious about meeting those standards. It’s good to have high standards, but make sure they’re realistic! I wrote about perfection in a previous blog which you can read here.

Overthinking And Analysis Paralysis: A tendency to overthink and analyse situations, often getting stuck in a cycle of indecisiveness and over-analysing potential outcomes. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t weigh up the pros and cons of a situation before making a decision, but overthinking holds us back.

Need For Control: A desire to be in control of situations and a fear of uncertainty or unpredictability, which can result in heightened anxiety when facing ambiguity or lack of control. In our own lives we want to be able to control as much as we can, but when this isn’t possible it can be difficult. Recognising that which is in your power of control and that which isn’t is half the battle. Once you’ve acknowledged this you can then start taking baby steps to accepting it.

Avoidance Of Situations That Trigger Anxiety: While individuals with high functioning anxiety may continue to engage in their responsibilities, they may also avoid situations or activities that trigger their anxiety, leading to increased stress and discomfort. This is to mind a sensible thing to do but of course it isn’t always possible. We all have to do things we don’t like and very often it’s never as bad as the picture we’ve built up in our head. When I find myself approaching a situation I am anxious about, I’ll meditate on it and focus on the positives that will come the situation.

Physical Symptoms: Physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, muscle tension, or difficulty sleeping may be present, although they may not be easily noticeable to others. My stomach gets incredibly knotted when my anxiety kicks in and it’s incredibly uncomfortable. Breathing into the pain helps me with this. In fact, spending a few minutes doing some deep, controlled breathing goes a long way to making me feel better.

Inner Turmoil: Despite appearing outwardly successful, individuals with high functioning anxiety may experience inner turmoil, self-doubt, and self-criticism, often striving for perfection and fearing failure. They may also seek reassurance a lot (even though they may not actually believe it when they get it).

It's important to note that high functioning anxiety is not a clinical diagnosis, but rather a descriptive term used to characterise a type of anxiety. However, like any other form of anxiety, high functioning anxiety can still impact an individual's mental and emotional well-being, and seeking support from a mental health professional can be beneficial if you believe you may be experiencing high functioning anxiety or any other form of anxiety. A qualified mental health professional can provide assessment, diagnosis, and appropriate treatment options tailored to an individual's unique needs.

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