What is High-Functioning Anxiety?

Many people who are successful in their work life and seem to hold things together very well are still struggling with anxiety. Performing well in work, school, or other aspects of life doesn’t necessarily indicate that a person is mentally healthy, and anxiety can bring distress and challenges nonetheless. When someone experiences significant anxiety day to day but is still able to excel in life, this is known as high-functioning anxiety.

High-functioning anxiety isn’t recognized as a mental disorder in the DSM-V, but this doesn’t mean it should be ignored. Anxiety symptoms that are mild, atypical, hidden, or brief but recurrent can still impact a person’s life. Individuals with high-functioning anxiety might appear in control and successful, but they are often prone to burnout and may be in distress most days. Srinivas Dannaram, MD, a psychiatrist at Banner Thunderbird Medical Center, says that “it is essential to recognize and treat because these signs and symptoms can affect people’s quality of life.”

Signs and Symptoms

People with high-functioning anxiety typically experience racing or obsessive thoughts and frequently feel worried or scared. While this, in some cases, may drive them to achieve or to perfectionism, it can be exhausting and may lead them to avoid opportunities or situations in their life. Some common signs and symptoms of high-functioning anxiety include:

– Difficulty sleeping
– Frequent fear or worry
– Overthinking or overanalyzing
– Inability to relax
– Frustration or irritability
– A need for perfectionism or overachieving
– Faster breathing or elevated heart rate
– Digestive issues or changes in appetite

The symptoms of high-functioning anxiety can vary widely; there are many different types of anxiety disorders, and the term “high-functioning anxiety” can apply to any of them. Most commonly, the term refers to generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), but panic disorder, specific phobias, and social anxiety disorders can also be high-functioning.

The Problem with Diagnoses

All disorders occur on a spectrum and can affect people in different ways. The prevalence of high-functioning anxiety sheds some light on the strict and sometimes limiting definitions for diagnoses of mental disorders. Almost all mental disorders are diagnosed on the basis that the symptoms significantly interfere with one’s functioning. This definition, however, doesn’t always reflect someone’s internal experience.

Functioning and wellness aren’t exactly synonymous; this is why it’s important for us to take diagnoses with a grain of salt, and not let them dictate exactly what we do or how we seek treatment. In principle, diagnoses are meant to help us understand the mind and find the best treatment for an individual who is in distress; they are most helpful when used as a guidebook rather than a set of rules. Individuals should be encouraged to seek support based on their personal experience. There are a wide variety of treatment options that can help people with high-functioning anxiety to improve their quality of life.

At Bespoke Treatment, we practice holistic mental health treatment. This means we treat the whole individual, not the diagnosis. When you make an appointment, we conduct a full evaluation to determine your symptoms, mental health history, goals, and needs. Then we build a personalized treatment plan that best suits you.


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