What is high-functioning anxiety?
When we talk about people with high-functioning anxiety, we are talking about people who, at least on the surface, seem successful at school, work, or home, explains clinical psychologist Dr Inna Khazan. On the inside, however, they are experiencing a near-constant state of anxiety. “People with high-functioning anxiety push themselves to get things done, with anxiety constantly holding a ‘stick’ over their heads,” she says. “Fear of what might happen if they don’t move forward keeps them moving forward. And because these people are often high-achieving, no one thinks that there is anything ‘wrong’ with them.”
You worry excessively
It’s normal to ruminate over things and have brief periods of worry. But if this is the mental state you experience 15-plus days a month for six months or more, you have an anxiety disorder, says psychotherapist Annie Wright. Specifically, this could signal generalised anxiety disorder. Wright explains that such worries can run the gamut from your love life to your retirement savings. “And, often, the amount and intensity of the worry you have are likely disproportionate to the event itself. In other words, everything feels like a really big deal when perhaps it isn’t.”
You can’t control your anxiety (but nobody realises this)
Even if you know all the calming tricks – deep breaths, magic phrases to clam yourself down, jotting down your thoughts – you still live with your worries on a daily basis. Despite your self-care practices, your anxiety may still get the better of you because you simply cannot control it, says Wright. And while you’re aware of these feelings, chances are, others might not be. “People who experience it do not look like what we expect a highly anxious person to look like – frozen, unable to make decisions, failing to get things done,” she says. “Also, people with high-functioning anxiety rarely allow themselves to ask for help or admit that there is anything wrong.”