Balancing Worry & Wellness: Behind the Mask of High-Functioning Anxiety

balancing worry

Does any of this sound familiar? You’re a high-achiever – a perfectionist, even. On top of that, you’re totally in control – your finances, work commitments, social schedule, and other adulting responsibilities? All in check. Heck, you’re more than coping with life – you’re doing better than most people you know.

But that niggling voice at the back of your mind? You know the one. You can hear it now – quietly whispering to you that you’re not good enough, or smart enough, or that people don’t like you. I’m sorry to break it to you – but that’s not normal. That feeling of dread in the pit of your stomach ahead of any event, or when you remember a task you’ve been putting off, or if you have to make any sort of decision? It shouldn’t feel quite that intense. 

What I’ve just described are symptoms of high-functioning anxiety; people who struggle with this issue exhibit anxiety symptoms while maintaining a high level of functionality in various aspects of their lives. 

Let’s lift the mask of high-functioning anxiety, and uncover what’s really going on beneath the surface. 

Generalized Anxiety VS High-Functioning Anxiety: What’s the Difference? 

Anxiety and high-functioning anxiety. There’s a difference. But what is it, exactly?

First of all, high-functioning anxiety is not recognized as a proper psychiatric diagnosis. Unlike generalized anxiety, which has been identified as one of the world’s most common mental disorders, high-functioning anxiety is yet to be given that status. But why? 

For starters, it’s not officially listed in the Diagnostic or Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM-5), which is the universal pillar for psychiatric resources. If you’re completing studies in psychiatric care, mental healthcare, or nursing – such as online ABSN programs – you’re very likely to come across this globally-recognized publication, especially if you’re taking units in psychology.

Because of the scholarly weight this particular publication holds, high-functioning anxiety’s omission from the DSM-5 means that is not classified – or recognized – as a mental disorder at this stage. In that sense, you can’t actually be diagnosed with high-functioning anxiety by a doctor or psychiatrist. However, that doesn’t mean the symptoms of high-functioning anxiety aren’t real and can’t have a significant impact on a person’s quality of life.

But what are the common characteristics of high-functioning anxiety? And how do you know if you have it? Stay with us as we discuss.

Do I Have High-Functioning Anxiety? How to Know You’ve Got It

When we think of someone with an anxiety disorder, a (somewhat accurate) stereotype comes to mind: we picture a stressed-out, constantly apprehensive, unnecessarily fretful ‘worrywart’ who just can’t seem to keep it together. Totally burnt-out and tearing their hair out, they’re just not coping with life – every minor inconvenience seems to freak them out. 

The symptoms and presentation of high-functioning anxiety, on the other hand, are typically more subtle. While your outward appearance may be perfectly polished, poised, and in control. But – truth be told – the urge to present this curated image of yourself could be an expression of a deep-seated anxiety that drives you to this perfectionism. 

The dark side of high-functioning anxiety-driven perfectionism? Often, your fear of not getting it right will stop you from doing things in the first place. Yes, procrastination is common amongst high-functioning anxiety sufferers, as is being unable to relax and just let go, and allow things to happen organically. No, your high-functioning anxiety could never – you need to be in control, in every scenario. Because what if something goes wrong? Being in control of every aspect of your life means you can almost always predict the outcome. But what happens when you can’t control everything? 

Acceptance and learning to let go is key to your recovery.

The Road to Recovery: Accepting Your Anxiety & Learning to Live With It 

Here are some tips for managing the symptoms of high-functioning anxiety:

Identify Your Core Values

Often, sufferers of high-functioning anxiety can become fixated on society’s definition of success. Think fancy cars, high-flying jobs, and the perfect, white-picket-fenced home. But to be human is to have flaws, so identifying and connecting with your core values can help create your own definition of success and possibly reduce to pressure to project a certain of yourself. But to be human is to have flaws, so identifying and connecting with your core values can help create a deeper sense of self-worth.

Working with a therapist can help you identify your true core values, as well as support you in learning to focus on achieving these instead. 

Comparison is the Thief of Joy

Yes, healthy competition can be motivating. Establishing measurable goalposts is what drives many of us toward achieving life’s important milestones. But, are your goalposts healthy or realistic? 

If you find that you’re constantly comparing yourself to others, it may be time to realign your objectives. Self-improvement is the one true measure of success, and it can only be monitored by focusing on what you alone are achieving. 

For high-achieving, high-functioning anxiety sufferers, this is easier said than done. Take a moment to slow down a little, look internally, and reflect on what’s actually important to you. 

Open Up to Others: Learning to Lean on Your Network for Support

Lastly, if you’ve got high-functioning anxiety, you’re not alone. While it’s not yet an officially recognized diagnosis, more of us may be experiencing this than we might think. 

If we open up to others around us, then, we can remind ourselves – and each other – that we’re not alone in our secret, below-the-surface suffering. 

If you’re experiencing high-functioning anxiety, you may be suffering in secret. 

But while high-functioning anxiety can differ from generalized anxiety disorders in its external manifestation, the associated symptoms sufferers experience can be just as distressing.

Our tips to combat high-functioning anxiety?

Lean into your core values to improve your sense of self-worth, and seek emotional support from your loved ones. If you feel that you need professional support, don’t hesitate to consult with a licensed psychologist.

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  • Balancing Worry & Wellness: Behind the Mask of High-Functioning Anxiety