Mental health practitioners often treat patients who are suffering from high-functioning anxiety. The term high-functioning anxiety talks about people who, despite feeling anxious on the inside, seem to be managing the demands of their day-to-day life fairly well.

Unfortunately, when we talk of anxiety disorders, the focus is on those who feel nervous, worry excessively, and display signs of anxiety quite obviously. Individuals with high functioning anxiety however come across as cheerful, outgoing, and confident. They don’t seem to have anxiety.

What is high-functioning anxiety?

The key characteristic is how an individual responds to anxiety. Individuals suffering from generalized anxiety disorder have a fight-or-flight response and try to remove themselves from an anxiety-triggering situation.

But those suffering from high-functioning anxiety have a fight response where they push themselves to work harder to combat the feelings. Here are some common traits of a high-functioning anxiety person:

  • High achiever
  • Super organized
  • Meticulous
  • Outgoing
  • Proactive

While the individual with high functioning anxiety may appear to be calm overtly but may feel rather anxious within. The person then tries to mask his/her symptoms by taking charge of the situation.

Causes of high-functioning anxiety

There are many factors that contribute to high functioning anxiety including the family history of others who have an anxiety disorder, negative or stressful life events and experiences, medical conditions such as thyroid etc.

Life with high functioning anxiety

Individuals with high functioning anxiety are by and large organized, goal-oriented, punctual, go-getters and have a very strong work ethic. While these are all positive traits, the flipside is an obsession with achievement and perfection.

A person may feel ashamed and embarrassed to let their guard down. They do an excellent job of hiding their feelings and sense of worry from others. Typically, people with high-functioning anxiety strive for perfection and overthink. They need constant reassurance. Individuals also tend to dwell on the pessimistic side of things with worst-case scenario thinking.

Treating high-functioning anxiety

Individuals with high functioning anxiety can and must seek treatment to help them cope better with the day-to-day. There are a number of approaches that mental health professionals take when treating high-functioning anxiety:

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

Therapists use CBT to determine the connection between thoughts and behaviours. The treatment will identify the root causes of insecurity, negative thoughts and feelings, and how to control or eliminate these thoughts. Alleviating the inner struggle can help improve the overall quality of life and help the person to thrive.

Solutions-focused brief therapy (SFBT)

Solutions-focused brief therapy is a goal-oriented approach to problem-solving. The sessions focus on solutions to issues and discovering the resources and strengths a person has instead of focusing on the challenges, The therapy focuses on the issue in the here and now and how to progress with a solution for it. Since individuals with high-functioning anxiety are problem solvers at heart, this approach often works best for them.

Breathing exercises and meditation

The great thing about breathing exercises is that bodies naturally respond to them. It helps calm down a person when the parasympathetic system is triggered.

Medication

Often medication is prescribed in treating high-functioning anxiety. Psychiatrists may prescribe antidepressants, and anti-anxiety medications to reduce the symptoms associated with anxiety. Your doctor may work with you to identify the right kind of medication such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

It is important to maintain a sense of work-life balance. Individuals with high functioning anxiety can be so driven by success that their personal life suffers. By focusing on self-care, exercising regularly, and managing a healthy diet and sleep schedule, individuals can keep their anxiety in check. Learning how to say no and creating boundaries is important to feeling less overwhelmed.

It might be difficult for those with high functioning anxiety to seek mental health. But acceptance is key to dealing with any type of anxiety disorder. Seeking help is not a sign of weakness but a big step to living your life fully, without fear or anxiety.