What is “High-Functioning” Anxiety?

Think for a second about your most high-achieving friend. The one that always got straight A’s, volunteered for any task and held down a demanding job. Maybe that person is you. This personality type is more prone to dealing with a diagnosable anxiety disorder. Their outward success and organization is deceiving because they are often living in an internal environment of fear of what might happen if they don’t continue to move forward and get things done.

Anxiety effects around 31% of the US population at some point in their lives- making it the most common mental disorder. New studies are emerging showing the increase in anxiety related diagnoses’ in the recent years- especially among young adults. Many are drawling connections between social media use and anxiety disorders for a variety of reasons such as constant comparison, information and stimulation overload, and increased ability to ruminate on crafting a false image. Additionally, health concerns, decreased social and religious interaction, and political and economic stress since the start of 2020 have impacted the anxiety rates more than ever.  

Many with high-functioning anxiety suffer in silence and try to live up to the impossible standards that internal anxiety creates. What they find is that no achievement, flawless project, or number of accolades seems to silence the internal fears and criticism they subject themselves to. Approval and admiration from others feed the tendency to overwork and preform. Work ethic and success become a large part of their identity and not living up to these things comes with a terrifying amount of pressure.

Those suffering with high functioning anxiety often tend to feel the internal effects of “living a lie”. They may be hyper aware of the gap between how other perceive them and how they actually feel under the mask of achievement and success. Ignoring these feelings and pressing forward can cause severe burnout, increase risk of physical health issues, relationship problems, irritability and depression.

The single most impactful thing that can help someone with an anxiety disorder is finding a therapist that they feel comfortable expressing every part of their thought processes with them. A therapist can help them unpack the roots of where their high-performance messages came from and help them to release the pressure they have built up. A therapist can inform them of how anxiety works, how there are certain ways anxiety is able to help them learn about themselves and actually protects them at times. You can learn about coping mechanisms that serve you and explore the need for medication.

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