Looking Behind the Lens of High Functioning Anxiety

When you look behind the lens of high-functioning-anxiety, here is what you often find—

  • Type A personalities, over-achievers, and those who hold high standards for perfection
  • Busy individuals who are productive with their use of time
  • People who are viewed as successful and accomplished on the outside but often silently struggle on the inside

Individuals with high-functioning-anxiety tend to do very well in work/ school and within interpersonal relationships and may not visibly appear anxious; however, the impact of anxiety can take a toll of one’s mental health due to “worry, stress, or obsessive thoughts on the inside”. According to the Yerkes-Dodson-Law there is an optimal level of stress for peak performance. Too little anxiety can contribute to feelings of boredom or apathy, while too much stress contributes to high anxiety. While individuals may still appear to be functioning well, worry and stress from anxious thoughts can begin to feel overwhelming.

Common phrases that individual have used when seeking therapy includes the following:

“I am beginning to feel paralyzed by my thoughts”

“I don’t want to let others down”

“I keep re-playing certain scenarios in my mind”

“I can’t get over ______”

The mind is constantly busy–over-thinking, over-analyzing, ruminating on the past, and worrying about the future.

Self-talk can become quite harsh. Individuals with “high functioning anxiety” can become their worst critic and hold themselves to an extremely high standard. They may “beat themselves up” when making a mistake.

Those with “high-functioning anxiety” may have underlying feelings of being unsettled, especially when not “productive”.

It can be hard to disclose to others what one is really experiencing. Emotions may stay bottled up inside, due to difficulty being vulnerable and fear of judgement.

Depressive symptoms are often commonly associated, including feeling of hopelessness and low self-esteem.

Individuals may rely on external validation from others to feel good about themselves and have an overall fear of failure. They may directly tie self-worth to accomplishments and have difficulty finding meaning outside of other things, especially things outside of their control.

Individuals with “high functioning anxiety” may set aside their own needs to please others. Saying no can be difficult.

Unexpected changes in plans, uncertainty, and lack of control are hard.

Letting others down or disappointing others can be devastating.

Anxiety can be felt in the body such as insomnia, restlessness, and fatigue.

While “high functioning anxiety” is not a mental health diagnosis, symptoms of anxiety can still cause clinically significant distress for the individual as measured by their self-reported levels of distress.

Written By : Charlotte Johnson, MA, LPCC

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