We've all experienced moments of unease, worry, or nervousness at some point in our lives. But for some individuals, anxiety goes beyond the occasional stressor and becomes a constant companion, affecting their daily lives. High-functioning anxiety is a term that has gained popularity in recent years, as more people seek to understand the subtler, often hidden signs of anxiety. In this post, we'll explore what high-functioning anxiety is, its common signs, and how to help yourself or someone else cope with their high-functioning anxiety.
What is High-Functioning Anxiety?
High-functioning anxiety, sometimes referred to as "smiling depression," is a term used to describe individuals who appear to have their lives together on the surface but are dealing with persistent anxiety underneath. These individuals often excel in their professional and personal lives, maintaining responsibilities, and achieving their goals. However, their success can be driven by an intense need for perfectionism and a fear of failure. Although they may seem like they have it all together, their high anxiety levels can have an impact on their mental health.
Signs of High-Functioning Anxiety
When it comes to identifying if you have high-functioning anxiety, there are some very common symptoms to look for. Please note you don’t have to be experiencing all of these symptoms to have high-functioning anxiety. Each person’s anxiety can manifest in it’s own unique way, but consider the following signs:
Overthinking and Worrying
A common sign of high-functioning anxiety is constantly thinking about the past, present, or future, and over analyzing every aspect of life. Individuals with this condition may dwell on mistakes, fret about potential problems in the future, and struggle to relax when they are idle.
While striving for excellence can be positive, high-functioning anxiety takes it to an extreme. People with this condition often set impossibly high standards for themselves and are never satisfied with their achievements. This level of perfectionism often leads to burnout and fatigue for most people, because it is impossible to be as perfect as they constantly strive to be.
On the flip side, while high-functioning anxiety can drive individuals to accomplish a lot, it can also lead to procrastination. The fear of making a mistake or not meeting their own high standards of perfectionism can paralyze them from taking action. Although it seems counterintuitive, this procrastination or act of not doing a task will often lead to increased anxiety levels. The individual will often dwell on the tasks they haven’t started and worry about what would happen if they don’t get these tasks completed.
Anxiety can manifest physically, even if it's not always visible. These physical symptoms will also begin to impact your overall mental well being. Symptoms like tension headaches, muscle pain, stomachaches, and sleep disturbances can be indicators of high-functioning anxiety.
Seeking Constant Reassurance
Those with high-functioning anxiety may need frequent reassurance from others that they're doing well or that they're liked and respected. If they don’t receive this respect or praise, they can often begin to feel as if their hard work isn’t enough or adequate. They are also often very sensitive to criticism and wish to be liked and appreciated by those around them.
Despite appearing social on the surface, individuals with high-functioning anxiety might withdraw from social situations or cancel plans at the last minute because they're overwhelmed by the idea of interacting with others. This can lead to them hurting their social and romantic relationships by not communicating or spending time with the ones closest to them.
Do You Have High-Functioning Anxiety?
Recognizing high-functioning anxiety in yourself can be challenging because it often masks itself as normal stress or an ambitious personality. However, if you resonate with several of the signs mentioned above and find that your anxiety consistently impacts your daily life, it may be time to seek help or support. A mental health professional can provide an accurate diagnosis and help you develop coping strategies and an appropriate treatment plan for you.
High-Functioning Anxiety Treatment and Coping Strategies
If you believe that you’re suffering from high-functioning anxiety, there are a number of ways to treat or cope with it. At the end of the day, you should always seek professional help if you’re struggling, but the following strategies can help:
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can be highly effective in treating high-functioning anxiety. Therapy provides a safe space to explore your feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. If high-functioning anxiety continues to interfere with your life, don't hesitate to seek professional help from a therapist or counselor like myself. I can provide specialized strategies and treatments tailored to your unique situation. Click here to book a consultation to learn more about how I could help.
Self-Care and Physical Activity
Prioritize self-care activities such as exercise, proper nutrition, and regular sleep. Regular exercise has been proven to be a natural stress-reliever and mood booster. You should aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity most days of the week to help manage high anxiety levels.
Set Realistic Goals
Challenge your perfectionism by setting realistic and achievable goals. Understand that it's okay to make mistakes and that failure is a part of growth. When you are setting goals, be sure to choose goals that can be reached in a short period of time. By creating these smaller goals, you can often have some “quick wins” to help you track your progress towards success.
Mindfulness and Meditation
Engaging in mindfulness practices and meditation can be immensely beneficial in reducing anxiety. These techniques help you stay present and can alleviate constant worrying about the future. Consider incorporating mindfulness exercises into your daily routine, even if it's just for a few minutes.
Breathing Exercises and Relaxation
Simple breathing exercises can have a profound impact on anxiety. Techniques like deep breathing or the 4-7-8 method can help calm your nervous system during moments of stress.
Additionally, incorporate relaxation or distraction techniques into your daily routine, such as progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, or aromatherapy. These practices can help calm your mind and reduce physical tension.
Time Management and Boundaries
High-functioning individuals often take on too much due to their perfectionist tendencies. Learning to prioritize tasks, delegate when possible, and set realistic time frames for your responsibilities can alleviate the pressure you put on yourself.
Time management also means knowing when it’s time for you to step away from your work. Establishing clear boundaries in your personal and professional life is crucial to your mental health. Learning to say no when you're overwhelmed and setting limits on your commitments can help prevent burnout and reduce your anxiety.
In some cases, medication may be prescribed by a healthcare provider to manage anxiety symptoms. Medication can be a valuable tool when combined with therapy and other self-help techniques. Each person has different views on taking medication, but it’s definitely something to consider if it aligns with your beliefs, values, and lifestyle.
Supporting Someone with High-Functioning Anxiety
Supporting someone with high-functioning anxiety can make a significant difference in their life. It's important to approach the situation with empathy, understanding, and patience. Here are some ways to provide support:
Start by learning more about high-functioning anxiety. Understand the common signs, symptoms, and challenges associated with this condition. The more you know, the better you can empathize and offer appropriate support.
Encourage open and non-judgmental communication. Let your loved one know that you are there to listen and support them, and that they can share their feelings and concerns with you without fear of criticism.
Refrain from passing judgment or offering unsolicited advice. Let them take the lead in discussing their needs and seeking help if they choose to. Be sure to respect their boundaries. Understand that they may need space at times. Respect their need for solitude and downtime without taking it personally.
Recognize that high-functioning anxiety can be exhausting and overwhelming, even if it doesn't always show on the surface. Be empathetic to their struggles and validate their feelings.
Avoid making statements like "Don't worry so much" or "It's not a big deal." These comments can invalidate their experiences and make them feel guilty for their anxiety. Instead, acknowledge their feelings and offer support.
Offer to Help Find Professional Support
If their anxiety is significantly impacting their life, suggest seeking professional help. Offer to assist in finding a therapist or counselor and accompany them to appointments if they're comfortable with that. If you’re looking for a therapist that specializes in high-functioning anxiety, click here to learn more about how I can help.
Remember that each person's experience with high-functioning anxiety is unique, so it's important to adapt your support to their specific needs. Ultimately, your presence, understanding, and willingness to be there for them can be a powerful source of comfort and encouragement as they navigate their journey with anxiety.
Bringing It All Together
High-functioning anxiety is a real and challenging condition that often goes unnoticed by those who suffer from it. It's essential to recognize the signs and seek help if you believe you may be dealing with this form of anxiety. Remember that you don't have to navigate it alone, and there are effective treatments and coping strategies available to help you manage and overcome high-functioning anxiety.
By incorporating these coping strategies and seeking professional guidance when needed, you can learn to navigate high-functioning anxiety more effectively. Prioritize self-care, set realistic expectations, and embrace the support of loved ones to achieve a healthier, more balanced life. Your mental health is invaluable, and taking steps to manage anxiety is a significant investment in yourself and your future. If you or someone in your life is dealing with high-functioning anxiety, click here to learn more about how I can help.
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