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Understanding “High Functioning” Anxiety: Signs, Symptoms, and Coping Strategies

girl working too hard on the weekend

High functioning anxiety ………… yeah that is a “thing” lol.

So what is “high functioning” anxiety, and what does it mean?

Let’s get into that first, and then talk about why I am writing this.

High functioning anxiety is a term used to describe folks who experience some anxiety symptoms but are able to “function” in their daily lives. While they may appear successful and put-together on the outside, these folks struggle internally with high levels of anxiety. They may not be able to say no to additional work; they may strive to be unrealistically perfect in all their actions. They can also be the "planner" in your friend group, or your family. They may also feel inadequate in many areas, and really strive to be better than what they think they aren't.

High functioning anxiety is kind of a type of anxiety disorder - meaning that while it is something we therapists see, it doesn’t always present like what you may think of folks who are “really anxious”. High functioning still has a significant impact on the folks’ mental health and overall well-being, not to mention the heightened (but managed) stress levels and this struggle with maintaining work-life balance.

Dealing with high functioning anxiety can be an uphill battle; folks deal with the constant pressure to perform, meet deadlines, and excel — which is going to increase anxiety levels, regardless of how well you manage your anxiety.

While some individuals may find help for managing their workload, or they have a supportive work environment, others may not communicate their needs, or fear being judged for their struggles. Individuals may put immense pressure on themselves to meet unrealistic expectations.

High functioning anxiety often leads to “bottling up” their worries and fears, putting on a brave face, all the while they are battling inner turmoil. This constant pressure (that no one places on them) to appear "fine" can lead to exhaustion and burnout over time.

Tools to manage "high functioning" anxiety

When you find yourself dealing with “high-functioning” anxiety, using some coping techniques could help you to manage your expectations despite the challenges that may arise.

  • Taking time each day to engage in mindfulness exercises can help quiet the mind and reduce stress and worry. Whether it's through meditation, deep breathing exercises, or simply being fully present in the moment, this activity can provide a sense of calm amidst the chaos. Here's a mindfulness video I created for this purpose

  • Finding healthy outlets for stress such as exercise, journaling, or engaging in hobbies that bring joy can help release tension and promote overall well-being. Stress management strategies are crucial for dealing with high functioning anxiety.

  • Taking care of your physical health by getting enough sleep, eating nourishing foods, and staying hydrated is essential for maintaining mental wellness.

  • Engage in activities that bring you joy and relaxation on a daily basis is equally important.

  • Set boundaries in your personal and professional life to prevent being overwhelmed

And don't forget the importance of seeking support from loved ones or a therapist who can provide guidance during difficult times.

Don't underestimate the power of reaching out for help. Joining a support group or online community (like my group, The Anxious Mind) can be a helpful step towards finding balance in your life while embracing self-compassion amidst the chaos of high functioning anxiety.

Remember, coping with anxiety is an ongoing journey. Be patient with yourself and embrace self-care practices that work best for you. With dedication and perseverance, you can find inner peace amidst the chaos and live a fulfilling life despite anxiety's challenges.


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