High-Functioning Anxiety: Is It a Real Thing? Here’s What the Experts Say

You’ve probably heard of High-Functioning Anxiety disorders, which the National Institute of Mental Health estimates impact close to one-third of individuals at some time in their life. However, the term “high-functioning anxiety” has lately gained popularity to describe people who may suffer high anxiety symptoms but whose symptoms don’t necessarily impede their everyday lives.

Despite the fact that high-functioning anxiety cannot be diagnosed, unlike generalised anxiety disorder, many people appear to identify with it and seek treatment for it. What what is high-functioning anxiety, then? We consulted specialists, who also provided information on the symptoms of high-functioning anxiety as well as treatment options. Here is what they said.

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What Is High-Functioning Anxiety?

According to Nina Westbrook, MA, LMFT, who works with POPSUGAR, “high-functioning anxiety” is “a phrase that’s going to describe somebody who’s going to be functioning at a high level with anxiety, to the point where it doesn’t impede their abilities to carry out daily tasks, interact with their families, and complete tasks at work,” Despite the fact that many people have high-functioning anxiety, it is not included as a mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) since it doesn’t affect how well a person can perform.

In contrast to generalised anxiety, which is crippling, Westbrook claims that high-functioning anxiety “has a tendency to propel you forward” and can actually give you more energy. According to Westbrook, instead of paralysing dread or rendering them incapable of performing chores, “their fear almost is a source of energy as it might create lots of adrenaline the same way stress does in our bodies,” which afterwards gives them the vigour they need to finish jobs and go through the day.

According to Monique Castro, LMFT, the founder and CEO of Indigenous Circle of Wellness and a Diné and Xicana, people with high functioning anxiety may also be suffering typical anxiety symptoms (such racing thoughts or overthinking), “but it’s usually not visible,” she explains. Or, even if you’re battling within, it can be overlooked because of how “well” you’re doing on the outside.

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Signs of High-Functioning Anxiety

“Most people won’t know this person has anxiety,” Westbrook said, because those with high-functioning anxiety are typically not negatively impacted by it when it comes to accomplishments or success. They can just give off the impression of being a Type A personality. And while a person with high functioning anxiety can do daily duties, they are usually internally worn out and spent, according to Westbrook. They can be attempting to maintain a flawless perception, and because maintaining this perception is so vital to them, they will stop at nothing to maintain it.” They might never take a break or rest because of this, she remarked.

The signs of high-functioning anxiety might differ from person to person because there are no definitive criteria or diagnoses for it. Some symptoms of high-functioning anxiety, according to Westbrook and Castro, include:

  • Overtalking
  • Overthinking
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • racing thoughts
  • emotional and physical fatigue
  • constant worry
  • drugs and/or alcohol use
  • fearfulness that lingers
  • the inability to create boundaries and say no
  • the inability to be present and enjoy experiences
  • physical symptoms such as nausea, heart palpitations, migraines, stomach issues, and high blood pressure

According to Castro, it is also conceivable for high-functioning anxiety and anxiety disorders to co-occur with other conditions and issues like depression, eating disorders, and drug misuse. It’s vital for people to understand that this is a possibility, she added, adding that it could or might not happen.

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How to Manage With High-Functioning Anxiety

Even though high-functioning anxiety is not a recognised diagnosis in the DSM-5, it may still be controlled. First, according to Westbrook, in order to realise that there is a problem that has to be resolved, you must be able to recognise and identify it inside yourself. Second, Westbrook cautioned against delaying help-seeking until you’ve hit your breaking point. Instead, if you start to notice a change in your behaviour (such as being less sociable) and you’re feeling physically or mentally exhausted to the point where you are unable to carry out your typical responsibilities and lifestyle, she highly advises seeking out to a mental health expert.

Adult colouring books, writing, and exercise, according to Westbrook, may all be helpful if you’re continuously overworked and tired and feel like you’re being pushed in a number of directions. Exercise, in her opinion, might be the best method for anyone with anxiety of any kind to manage and feel better, particularly for individuals who are secretive about their anxiety and unsure of whether they want to see a therapist. Daily exercise regimens can benefit in reducing physical and mental stress and anxiety, according to Westbrook. Other techniques for managing anxiety include writing, spending time with family, meditating, and maintaining a self-care regimen.

“I believe that a lot of the things you can do on your own will be things that someone who is struggling with high-functioning anxiety may gravitate towards to aid, since they are used to presenting themselves in a specific manner. They’re used to doing things alone and rarely asking for assistance or support from others, according to Westbrook.

According to Castro, “maintaining some kind of balance is always the best way to support anxiety, in general, and definitely with high-functioning anxiety.” She adheres to a holistic philosophy and emphasised how maintaining a balance among our bodily, mental, spiritual, and emotional well-being is necessary to avert a number of difficulties.

Castro also suggested counselling since it may educate you how to adopt and comprehend the health practises that are ideal for your sustainability and can help you create limits with both yourself and others. When attempting to establish and keep balance, she added, working with a life coach and having community support from friends and family can both be beneficial, inspiring, and holding us responsible.

There is no one specific way that high-functioning anxiety presents itself, and there is no one ideal technique to treat it. We advise talking to trusted friends and family members about how you’re feeling and, if at all feasible, seeking the help of a qualified professional if you feel you need more direction and support in terms of your mental health.


What percent of people have high-functioning anxiety?

Around 40 million persons in the United States currently struggle with an anxiety condition, and 18% of them are classified as high-functioning, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Is high-functioning anxiety not real?

Despite not being a recognised clinical disease and not being listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), high-functioning anxiety nonetheless has an influence on people’s lives. According to Dr., “The persistent stresses, worries, and anxiety that people experience are real, and their symptoms are valid.”

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Divya Rajput

As I am a Quick learner, enthusiastic and self-driven professional working in the Content and PR domain of personal finance field. Ability to work in competitive environment, good research and time management skills, solution oriented methods.

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