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10 signs you might have high-functioning Anxiety.

Updated: Jun 25, 2021

When you don't qualify for an anxiety disorder, but you know it's still there.

High-functioning anxiety is not actually a recognised mental health diagnosis.

You won't be able to find this anywhere in the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual (DSM-5). This is the guidebook clinicians use to diagnose various mental disorders, like various anxiety disorders.

Rather, high-functioning anxiety is a catch-all term that is used to describe people experiencing anxiety, but who can still function reasonably well in life.

In fact, high-functioning anxiety is often observed amongst people who are high-achievers that push themselves to the point of burn-out. If you have high-functioning anxiety, it's probably the case that your anxiety propels you forward, rather than leaves you stuck or frozen in fear.

Nobody but you knows that behind each one of your successes, be it giving a good presentation or delivering a successful business deal, sat an enormous amount of worry. On the outside people see you as a well-functioning successful person, but inside you're a worrying, anxious mess.

Here are 10 signs of high-functioning anxiety disorder.

1) You're a serial over-thinker.

This one doesn't need much explaining. Your mind is like an engine that you can't seem to switch off. You're constantly thinking about whether you've done enough, whether you've covered all the bases, what if you missed out on an important detail, what's going to happen if something goes wrong, etc.

When things do go wrong, you ruminate about it. A lot. You think of the things you could have done to prevent it, and how you will use these strategies for the future.

2) You have a hard time sleeping.

This same over-thinking happens when you're about to go to bed. It might be one or two hours past bedtime, but your mind doesn't want to quiet down. Your anxiety might also come out in the form of sleep disturbance, where the content of your dreams are the same as the issues you've been thinking about.

When you wake up in the middle of the night, there's a collective sigh in all parts of your body, since you know that going back to sleep is going to nearly impossible.

3) You can't seem to relax.

Since your mind doesn't want to shut down, you always feel that you should be doing something. You're constantly on the move and trying to "tick all the bases".

It's really tough for you to simply enjoy the moment or be in the present. This continuous cycle of doing and thinking and not being able to relax does leave you absolutely exhausted. When you're tired enough, you finally manage to shut down.

4) You endure long period of hard work, and then burn out.

Since there's a high chance you're an over-achiever, you push yourself a little bit too hard sometimes. Your need to be so high achieving might stem from you wanting acceptance from others, or even acceptance from yourself. Therefore, when you struggle to do so, you become overly harsh on yourself and criticise yourself for not doing enough. It's easy to burn out if things go on.

5) You have nervous habits or perform repetitive things.

This happens when you are unable to act on the things you had planned to do in your head, especially when you always need to be doing something.

Your nervous habits might involve playing with your hair, tapping the tabletop, biting your lips or nails or shaking your legs. You might also find the need to do repetitive things, like counting up to a certain number on your fingers or rocking back and forth.

6) You get upset when your routine gets disrupted.

Like the above, you get really agitated when something comes in the way of what you need to do. It might be due to the smallest of things, like an interruption from a parent or spouse, or even something unplanned like a traffic jam.

You might also be upset because it jeopardises what you've deemed as your safety zone. In your head, you've got all the plans laid out in your head to do things out a certain way. It feels unsafe when this is disrupted and if uncertainty gets thrown into the mix.

7) You identify yourself as a Perfectionist.

Functional anxiety might result in you constantly pursuing perfection, whether at work, in your relationships, or even how you appear to others. You often feel a constant pressure to perform at your best in all areas of your life. This of course, is another way to burn out easily.

8) Your strategies revolve around how you put yourself in control.

You dislike the thought of uncertainty, so most of your strategies are set around gaining control and power. You relish the thought of having proper plans in place, and of things going the way you want it to be.

Being in situations you can control make you feel safe, while those where control is left to some unknown factor makes you feel utterly helpless and out of control.

9) You experience some of these physical symptoms.

Sometimes when you've dealt with your high-anxiety for too long and for too many days, you might start to experience physical symptoms such as:

  • Being overly fatigued and easily tired.

  • Tension in your muscles.

  • An increasing heart rate with palpitations, a pounding heartbeat.

  • Increased sweating.

  • Feeling shaky and fidgety all the time.

10) You use numbing or distracting strategies

Since it's so difficult to relax and calm yourself down, you rely on alcohol or other substances to numb your overactive thoughts and emotions. You might even be a functioning alcoholic, but no one but you ever knows.

Otherwise, you might tend to over-rely on distracting strategies, such as watching TV or eating or shopping. There's nothing wrong with all of these in moderation, but in excess it leads to procrastination and increased feelings of anxiety.

If you think this might be you.

Even though high-functioning anxiety isn't a diagnosable disorder, you can still see a therapist to get a better understanding of where your anxiety is coming from. He or she will be able to share with you ways to effectively handle your overactive mind. It's an absolutely safe and supportive environment.

Do know that despite your anxiety being "high-functioning" and even if you are doing well in various aspects of your life, it's still deeply affecting your inner world, and your ability to experience life in its fullest.

I'm sure it's been thoroughly exhausting and you've burnt out at times. You might also be burdened by thoughts of wanting to give up. Well, I think you've suffered through this enough. Stop going at it alone.

If you'd like to search deeper within yourself, I share articles on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in the Therapy section of my blog. Check it out and thanks for reading Kaya Toast for the Soul.


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