High Functioning Anxiety

Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

Do you sometimes feel that you could qualify as having anxiety? But then think it can’t be true, when you compare yourself to others you know who are anxious? And whose lives are always a mess?

It’s time to learn about high functioning anxiety.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a thought-based mental health issue (and if bad enough, a disorder). When facing a stressor, you have thoughts that you are in danger, which then trigger a fear response in your body.

And this happens regardless if the stressor you are facing is a real danger, something only mildly challenging, or a difficulty that doesn’t yet exist in a far off future you can't of course be certain of.

Symptoms of anxiety are therefore mental, such as increasingly illogical thoughts and scanning for danger. As well as physical, like a racing heart, a rush of energy that becomes a buzz you can’t come down from, sweatiness, headaches, muscle tension, a clenching jaw, and sleep problems.

Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) happens when anxiety is consistently a part of your days, to the extent it is affecting your ability to cope and thrive.

And high functioning anxiety, then?

Some of us are bright and shapeshifting. We have high intelligence, and we have grown up needing to please adults around us. And then we become an adult ourselves, but one who innately knows what we need to be to be approved of and liked, and change to suit.

If anxiety hits, and we believe anxiety is a sign of weakness? Of not being ‘cool and collected’, or of looking scattered and inefficient to our colleagues, boss, or partner? Then we’d have the skillset to hide our symptoms.

And we might even in moments be so good at this we even convince ourselves we are okay. Just fine. It’s just a bit of worry. It will pass.

Symptoms of high functioning anxiety

But we won’t be sleeping at night, but lying there with racing, wild thoughts. When we do sleep, it might be fitful, full of terrible or disjointed dreams.

Or we find we are not eating much because of the grinding stress feeling in our gut. Or are overeating, secretly, even bingeing, to numb out from our secret battle with panic and fear.

And then our anxiety does show in little, embarrassing ways. Lashing out at a colleague or our children, pushing away a partner, being unable to concentrate, and having a constant restlessness that might even have you plotting big life changes out of the blue.

And a sense of danger seems to be lingering at every corner. You feel on high alert, edgy, uncertain.

So on the outside, you might seem bright, full of energy, getting a lot done and being successful. But on the inside, you feel like you are standing on a precipice, that something terrible could happen at any given second.

Then depression hits

Often, those with high functioning anxiety can keep up the act until anxiety’s favourite cousin comes along. Depression. It’s a common cooccurring issue, and far harder to hide.

Suddenly you don’t want to see your friends, you don’t care about anything, and the future seems bleak. This is the point most people finally seek support.

A research review published in the American Journal of Psychiatry estimates that between 20 to 70 per cent of people with anxiety go on to develop depression, with the risk changing depending on the sort of anxiety. Generalised anxiety disorder brings a 43 per cent risk of developing depression, but social anxiety raises that to up to 70 per cent, for example.

What do I do if I have high functioning anxiety?

The reason we end up with the high functioning variety of anxiety is generally because we hate others seeing us as weak, or are proud of our perceived ability to ‘cope’.

So this makes us the least likely candidate to turn to our friends and loved ones and admit we are a mess.

This is where therapy can be such a godsend. Others don’t need to know we are seeking support, and what happens with our therapist is confidential. A therapist is unbiased, they are not invested in your life, they are non judgmental. They create a safe space for you rot explore the roots of your fear response, and then teach you practical tools to help cope with and diminish your feelings of anxiety and panic.

What type of therapy helps with anxiety?

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a common therapy to start with. It helps you recognise and reformulate the very thoughts that set off your anxiety and depression cycles. By training your brain to make these thoughts more balanced, these cycles become less and less likely to happen.

Clinical hypnotherapy and brain working recursive therapy (BWRT) are also good contenders. They focus on finding your brain’s triggers, and ‘deactivating’ those trigger, so to speak. So that the very thoughts that once sent you into a panic would now leave you feeling very little, or even nothing much at all.

If your anxiety might stem from a clear traumatic experience or experiences, either recent or from childhood, then eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) is another useful form of therapy to stop difficult memories from causing anxiety.

Ready to stop living your life from a place of fear and start thriving? Find the perfect anxiety therapist for your budget today using our easy booking tool.

Andrea M. Darcy left behind a successful career as a screenwriter to embrace her true love, personal development. Trained in person-centred counselling, she works as a therapy coach, helping people find the right therapy and therapist for them, and is the founder of messydivine.com.

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