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High Functioning Anxiety: A Cover Up

April 30th, 2020


“I always say I am a realist, and my mom says, ‘No, you just have anxiety.” - Jessica Chastain

Anxiety: The Daily Struggle is Real

For those of us who experience anxiety, we understand the nerves, worries, constant concern, and daily stress that affects our whole beings. It affects more than just our mood and personality, but our day-to-day lives; our relationships, our jobs, and our mental and physical health. It can be hard to hide, especially when the anxiety is particularly intense. For those struggling with anxiety, it can be a constant battle of learning how to manage it and gain the ability to succeed in the daily grind of our personal and professional lives.

What is High Functioning Anxiety?

The daily struggle of managing anxiety can be challenging, but some people suffering from anxiety have been able to make their lives appear to be anxiety-free. These people are considered to be individuals maintaining high functioning anxiety. A lot of what these individuals give off is an appearance or perception that they are not only worry-free but the picture of wholesome success; when in reality they are suffering in silence. The website states that:

“About 40 million adults deal with an anxiety disorder at any given time, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Of this approximately 18 percent of the population, some fall into this category of ‘high functioning’—essentially silent anxiety hidden behind a smile.”

Key components of an individual who is suffering from high functioning anxiety include:

  • Facade that they do not suffer from any anxiety
  • Worry-free
  • Stress-free
  • Type-A personality
  • Perfectionist
  • Successful in the workplace
  • Successful in relationships
    • Friendships
    • Romantic partners
    • Family members
  • Overachiever
  • Proactive
  • Productive
  • Positive
  • Outgoing
  • The appearance of being level-headed
  • Appearance of being calm
  • Organized
  • Neat and tidy
  • Detail-oriented
  • Social
  • Appearance of having it “all together”

Indications of High Functioning Anxiety

As mentioned above, individuals dealing with high functioning anxiety give off the impression that they are capable of achieving great levels of success in many aspects of their lives despite any silent nerves any worries. Internally, this is not the case. As a matter of fact, externally this is not necessarily the case either. The physical signs and symptoms of a person suffering from high function anxiety will in fact experience the same physical symptoms as any other person dealing with anxiety. Some of these physical symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Nausea
  • Frequent urination or diarrhea
  • Exhaustion
  • Muscle weakness
  • Muscular tension
  • Dizziness
  • Irregular body temperature
  • Increase in heart rate
  • Flustered thoughts
  • Insomnia

Causes of High Functioning Anxiety

Anxiety can stem from a variety of factors that may or may not overlap to form a web of fears and stressors. Some of these risk factors include:

  • Genetics
  • Brain chemistry
  • Personality
  • Specific life events

People suffering from anxiety may strive to be high functioning, for all of the reasons explained thus far. The success, the organization, and the perfectionism. However, people who actually are high functioning, know that this is all a cover-up for the same internal stresses and worries that any person with anxiety may be suffering from. Anxiety, whether high functioning or not, can be caused by any of the following examples:

  • Relationship issues
  • Financial troubles
  • Job-related issues
  • Insecurities
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Depression

Although people suffering from general anxiety and high functioning anxiety are essentially the same in their internal battles, there are a few notable differences. A person dealing with high functioning anxiety may have achieved the high functioning status only by means of a few ways:

  • Ignoring the first signs of anxiety
  • Control issues
  • Obsessive-compulsive tendencies
  • Pressure to perform (in the workplace and in relationships) despite personal mental health issues

If You Don’t Deal With It…..

The truth is that individuals suffering from high functioning anxiety are covering up an array of issues. They have learned how to put on a happy face and be successful in their lives while internally suffering from the turmoil of their anxiety. Many individuals suffering from high functioning anxiety may be in denial of their anxiety because of their ability to successfully perform. If the internal matters are not dealt with, it can cause further, more complicated and serious mental health issues. Some of these future issues might be:

  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
    • If anxiety is silenced and a person has perfectionist tendencies, they may default to obsessive-compulsive inclinations
    • A naturally organized and highly motivated person may seek further control by increasing their tendencies
  • Depression
    • Unanswered sorrows and emotions of frustrations and irritability caused by anxiety can lead to feelings of depression
    • Internally feeling lost and out of control can confuse a person on their purpose and direction which can lead to depression
  • Addiction
    • When anxiety and depression are not treated, addiction is at risk
      • Alcohol-use
      • Drug-use
      • Smoking
      • Eating Disorders
      • Gambling

Managing Internal Anxiety by Finding Inner Peace

Coping with general anxiety, particularly high functioning anxiety, can be challenging. People who are high functioning may not have as much of an awareness of their anxiety due to their personal successes and apparent ability to perform. Since these qualities act as a shield to what is going on internally, they may be more reluctant to acknowledge and deal with their issues; which can lead to further mental health issues. Thus, it is important to find healthy ways to cope and deal with managing anxiety that do not mask what’s underneath. Most methods involve finding ways to relax and find internal peace, try some of these...

  1. Acknowledge your anxiety
  2. Breathe
  3. Exercise
  4. Practice yoga
  5. Meditation
  6. Acupuncture
  7. Take baths
  8. Drink tea
  9. Be kind to yourself
  10. Talk to a professional who specializes in anxiety

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