Recognising and Managing High Functioning Anxiety

Benjamin Bonetti Therapy Online Coaching

Anxiety is an emotional state that almost everyone experiences at some stage in their lives. Stressful situations or experiences often provoke it, and usually, it recedes once the situation has passed.

For some people, however, anxiety can be an enduring, omnipresent part of life, with them experiencing constant anxiety that seeps into their daily routines. One such form of anxiety disorder is 'High Functioning Anxiety'. Despite not being an officially recognised term in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), High Functioning Anxiety is widely acknowledged in psychological dialogue as a descriptor for individuals who live with persistent anxiety but still maintain a high level of functionality in their daily life. This blog aims to delve deeper into High Functioning Anxiety, providing an in-depth understanding of what it is and practical advice on how to manage it. 

Understanding High Functioning Anxiety

High Functioning Anxiety, although not a medically recognised term, serves to describe a subset of individuals who live with chronic anxiety yet manage to maintain a semblance of normalcy and function in their everyday life. On the outside, these individuals appear successful, detail-oriented, punctual, and are often high achievers. They appear to be managing their responsibilities with ease, balancing a myriad of tasks efficiently. However, underneath this veneer of competency and productivity, they live with incessant worry, fear, and anxiety. The notion of High Functioning Anxiety is paradoxical. How can an individual function highly while simultaneously grappling with a mental health disorder? To truly comprehend this, we must explore the symptoms and signs that characterise High Functioning Anxiety. 

Recognising High Functioning Anxiety: Symptoms and Signs

High Functioning Anxiety presents a unique challenge when it comes to recognition and diagnosis. The symptoms are often inconspicuous, hidden behind a facade of productivity and functionality. The constant state of worry and anxiety is often dismissed as a side effect of their 'busy' lifestyle or their ambitious nature. Let's delve into some common signs of High Functioning Anxiety:

Overthinking and Perfectionism

Individuals with High Functioning Anxiety often find themselves trapped in cycles of constant overthinking. They grapple with every decision, replaying scenarios in their mind and fretting over the possible outcomes. This overthinking often stems from their perfectionistic tendencies. They hold themselves to high, sometimes unattainable, standards, stemming from an acute fear of failure or making mistakes. They strive for perfection in all facets of life, from their work to their relationships. This need for perfection, however, often leads to heightened stress and anxiety.

Physical Symptoms

Often, physical symptoms accompany High Functioning Anxiety. These can include feelings of restlessness or being 'on edge', fatigue, difficulty sleeping, heart palpitations, or gastrointestinal problems. These symptoms are usually dismissed or overlooked, attributed to factors like a hectic lifestyle or physical stress. However, these persistent physical symptoms often indicate an underlying mental health condition such as High Functioning Anxiety.

Procrastination followed by 'Bursts of Activity'

Procrastination is a common symptom of High Functioning Anxiety. The individual might delay tasks, often out of a fear of failure or making mistakes. However, as deadlines approach, their anxiety levels rise, prompting them to complete the tasks in frenzied bursts of activity. This cycle of procrastination and last-minute productivity perpetuates their anxiety, further entrenching them in this destructive pattern.

Discomfort with Peaceful Moments

One of the paradoxes of High Functioning Anxiety is the individual's difficulty in enjoying peaceful moments or downtime. Free time or periods without tasks can trigger feelings of unease, guilt, or even restlessness. They often feel compelled to fill their schedules with tasks and commitments, finding a sense of comfort in the predictability and control that a busy schedule provides.

Difficulty Saying No

Individuals with High Functioning Anxiety often struggle with setting boundaries. They find it challenging to say no, driven by a need to please others and a fear of rejection. This difficulty often leads to overcommitment, stretching themselves thin across multiple tasks and responsibilities, which can lead to increased stress and anxiety.

The Impact of High Functioning Anxiety

While High Functioning Anxiety may seem less destructive due to the individual's ability to maintain function and productivity, it is not without its consequences. Even though these individuals appear successful, composed, and in control, the constant state of anxiety has significant effects on their mental health and overall well-being. 

Relationship Strains

The perfectionism, need for control, and fear of failure that characterise High Functioning Anxiety can lead to strains and conflicts in personal and professional relationships. These individuals often struggle with insecurity in their relationships, constantly fearing rejection or abandonment. They may also be overly sensitive to criticism, interpreting constructive feedback as a personal attack or confirmation of their perceived inadequacies. Over time, these issues can lead to significant strain on relationships, often causing conflicts, misunderstandings, and emotional distress. 

Physical Health Problems

Persistent, untreated anxiety can also lead to a range of physical health problems. The constant state of anxiety and stress puts the body in a state of 'high alert', leading to physical symptoms such as sleep disorders, digestive problems, chronic headaches, and even cardiovascular issues. Over time, these physical symptoms can lead to significant health problems, exacerbating the individual's anxiety and stress.

Mental Exhaustion and Burnout

Living with constant anxiety and maintaining a facade of functionality and success can lead to mental exhaustion and burnout. The constant need to perform, coupled with persistent worry and anxiety, can gradually erode the individual's mental health, increasing the risk of other mental health conditions such as depression.

Managing High Functioning Anxiety: Practical Guidance

Understanding the symptoms and impacts of High Functioning Anxiety is just the first step in managing this condition. Implementing practical strategies to manage the anxiety and improve mental well-being is crucial. Here are some strategies that can help: 

Acknowledging and Accepting Anxiety

The first step in managing High Functioning Anxiety is recognising and acknowledging the anxiety. This step is crucial. It's not about resigning to the anxiety or allowing it to take control. Rather, it is about recognising and accepting your feelings without judgement. It's about acknowledging that the anxiety exists and that it is a part of your experience. This acknowledgement is the first step towards understanding and managing the anxiety.

Engage in Self-care Activities

In the hustle and bustle of maintaining functionality and productivity, self-care often falls by the wayside. However, engaging in self-care activities can have a significant impact on managing High Functioning Anxiety. These activities should be ones that help you relax, recharge, and reduce stress. It could be reading a good book, practicing yoga, engaging in a hobby, meditating, or even taking a peaceful walk in the park. These activities can help reduce stress, improve mood, and provide a much-needed break from the constant worry and anxiety.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a form of psychological treatment that has been proven to be effective in treating a range of mental health conditions, including anxiety disorders. CBT involves identifying negative thought patterns and beliefs and working to challenge and change them. For individuals with High Functioning Anxiety, CBT can help identify triggers and develop effective coping strategies. 

Mindfulness and Meditation

Mindfulness and meditation can be highly effective in managing anxiety. These practices involve focusing on the present moment, acknowledging thoughts and feelings without judgement. Mindfulness and meditation can help reduce stress, improve mental clarity, and promote relaxation. 

Seeking Professional Help

If High Functioning Anxiety is causing significant distress or interfering with your life, it may be beneficial to seek professional help. A mental health professional can provide a safe space to explore your feelings, identify triggers, and develop effective coping strategies. They can also provide additional support and resources, such as cognitive-behavioural therapy, medication (if necessary), and support groups.

Living with High Functioning Anxiety can be challenging. However, with understanding, acceptance, and the right strategies, it is possible to manage the anxiety and lead a fulfilling, successful life. Remember, seeking help is not a sign of weakness. Rather, it is a step towards taking control of your mental health and well-being. 

Discover a Path Towards Better Mental Health

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