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What is High Functioning Anxiety?

High-functioning anxiety is a form of anxiety that is not a clinical disorder but can still be detrimental. Someone with high-functioning anxiety is able to function relatively normally and appears fine on the outside but still experiences regular symptoms of anxiety and is struggling internally.

Signs and symptoms of high-functioning anxiety are often associated with desired characteristics by onlookers, so someone with high-functioning anxiety may even be successful and seem like a high-achiever. In reality, their anxiety is one of the driving factors for their success.

Some signs and symptoms of high functioning anxiety are:

  • People pleasing
    • inability to say no
    • fear of disappointing others
  • Always busy (full-schedule)
  • Unable to switch off and relax
  • Need for reassurance
  • Over working and over-committing to responsibilities
    • workaholic tendencies
  • Overthinking, nervous chatter
  • Discomfort when routine is disrupted
  • Having unrealistic expectations
  • Difficulty staying present
  • Neglecting own needs
  • Constantly comparing self to others
  • Mental and physical exhaustion
  • Overanalyzing, overdoing
  • Always early

My Experience With High Functioning Anxiety

I have struggled with anxiety for most of my life. The thing is though, I’ve been really good at hiding it.

I’ve always excelled in whatever I’ve done. I always got straight A’s and I always excelled in sports. I played All-Stars softball, and I was varsity for the sports I did year round from the time that I was a freshman in high school. I was captain of the field hockey team. On the outside, I looked like I really had it together. But the truth is, internally, I was suffering.

Nobody knew that I had really bad anxiety. I was able to hide it really well. I have always been really hard on myself because I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I’m the biggest people pleaser and I’m terrified of letting those around me down. I never put my needs first and I always did what was expected of me. Even though I was excelling at sports, I began to hate them because they became my life. Between work and school, I had no time for myself and that became my normal.

When I graduated high school and went to college, I stopped playing sports. Since I was so used to the go go go, when I started working, I picked up all the hours I possibly could. I was that person who ALWAYS picked up people’s shifts, even when I didn’t want to. Between my college courses and my job, I still had no time for myself. But, this is what I was used to. I didn’t know anything else. And honestly, I think part of me was just trying to keep myself busy so I wouldn’t have to be alone with my thoughts.

I’m still a bit of a workaholic to this day working two jobs and doing a bunch of “side gigs” from home. But again, to everyone, I’m just a hard working, successful individual. They don’t see the anxious person on the inside with excessive worrying going on and horrible intrusive thoughts.

But the thing is, all of these qualities that come with being a high functioning anxious person are praised. People praise the “hustle” with no breaks and climbing the ladder to success. To most people, if your schedule isn’t jam packed with work and projects, you’re not doing as much as you should be. But the nonstop working is so detrimental to both our physical and mental health.

I’ve spent so many nights staying up and working until midnight because I felt like I had to. I’ve realized now that I don’t have to do that to be successful. I’ve learned that breaks are important and necessary.

Living with anxiety is hard. It’s harder when on the outside you look like you have it together, when really you’re struggling day to day. It’s tough because people will ask you how you could possibly be anxious or depressed when you have all these things going for you. I’m here to tell you that you can both be successful AND anxious. The two can coexist. Don’t let anyone invalidate your feelings. You know what goes on inside your mind, they don’t.

The Two Sides of High Functioning Anxiety

What They SeeThe Reality
High-AchievingFear of Failure
Ability to Appear CalmRacing Thoughts
Meets DeadlinesOften Exhausted or Fatigued
OrganizedAfraid to Disappoint Others
HardworkingProcrastinates When Stressed

Although high functioning anxiety isn’t recognized by doctors, all anxiety is valid regardless of how functional someone might seem on the outside. 

If you’re feeling anxious, there is help out there. Check out our resources page to find ways to get help.

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