Over 40 million American adults suffer from an anxiety condition. Anxiety manifests itself in many different forms- from physical symptoms like sweating and trembling to mental effects like feeling tense and nervous. Nonetheless, anxiety sometimes gets an unnecessarily bad rap. Anxiety disorders also have their good sides, from improved productivity to planning well. In this guide, we’ll explore what living with high functioning anxiety is like and how you can make the most out of it.
What is high functioning anxiety?
High functioning anxiety isn’t a recognized psychological condition. Instead, it refers to people who live with anxiety and who identify as functioning well in different parts of their lives.
If you live with high functioning anxiety, it’s likely that fear doesn’t leave you frozen. Instead, it propels you forward to excel. Like other people with high functioning anxiety, you may fit all the definitions of success. You work hard, take care of yourself and have a fulfilling social life. On the surface, you may look like a model of mental health. But society doesn’t see the anxious thoughts and struggle that lies beneath.
If you are a person with high functioning anxiety, you probably suffer from racing thoughts and other symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), along with a fear of disappointing others or failure. This can then create a range of different problems the person usually feels compelled to conceal.
Check out this TEDTalk on what it’s like to live with high functioning anxiety:
Pros and cons of living with high functioning anxiety
Living with high functioning anxiety often brings both positives and negatives. The positives can include:
- Feeling energetic and sociable
- Being detail-focused and helpful
- Excelling at hard work
- Being helpful
- Living in neat and tidy conditions
- Being passionate and proactive
Unfortunately, these are often balanced with negative characteristics. Although you may be high functioning, you may also face:
- Nervous ticks (biting your nails, knuckle cracking, etc)
- Unhealthy thought patterns (focusing too much on past mistakes, etc)
- Fear of saying no to people
- Difficulty eating
- Mental exhaustion
- Potential for substance abuse
In the worst case scenario, you may find yourself in unhealthy situations and relationships because of your relentless desire for success or your fear of failure. But in the best case scenario, you may experience some of the amazing advantages that come with this condition. Let’s look at a few now:
Advantage #1: You stay busy
Having anxiety can actually be motivating and inspiring. Feeling anxious about paying the bills, eating healthy or being a good parent can be positive motivators to work hard. You are likely to stay busy and see great successes in life as a result. The key is to channel the energy into positive motivation.
Advantage #2: You shoot for perfection
People with high anxiety tend to be perfectionists. Why? Achieving a sense of perfection reduces anxious feelings. If this is one of the advantages you experience, it’s important to recognize that it can become a double-edged sword. Having unattainable standards can cause even more anxiousness, creating a never-ending cycle.
“Shoot for the moon. Even if you’ll miss, you’ll land among the stars,” as the saying goes. Working hard doesn’t mean achieving perfection. But if you can learn to stop when you’ve reached the point of good enough, you can still be a high achiever and learn to appreciate that standard.
Advantage #3: You don’t let people down
As someone living with high functioning anxiety, one of your biggest fears is likely letting people down. Because you are always striving to do the right thing and be the best you can for others, you work hard to make sure you don’t let others down. You put a ton of pressure on yourself.
People know that they can count on you, and that’s great. The key to finding a balance here is making sure that you’re not always putting others’ needs before your own. Perhaps surprisingly, once you nurture yourself first, you’re much better able to take care of others.
Advantage #4: You usually have a plan B
When you’re feeling anxious about doing something, you make a plan, and then another plan, and maybe even another backup plan. Over-planning can create a sense of control or security, which is why many people with anxiety embrace it.
However, when things don’t go as planned, try to be flexible and go with the flow. This can help to reduce your anxiety as well as the anxiety of those around you.
Advantage #5: You’re pleasantly surprised when things go well
When you suffer from anxiety, you often don’t expect that things will go as planned (hence, the over-planning mentioned above). Some say that you plan for the worst, but hope for the best. So when things do go well, it’s almost like getting a little gift.
Managing your anxiety
While there are indeed valuable advantages to living with this condition, it’s important to your mental wellness to have help and resources to help you manage your condition. Reach out to people in your life who you can talk to and trust. Your close friends and family may have missed symptoms initially, but may they become clear as day once pointed out.
Unlike physical illnesses which often has clear symptoms, you may feel unwell or exhausted and be unsure how to heal. It’s essential to remember that high functioning anxiety is anxiety. By reaching out to people for help, you can help identify what triggers it and how you can manage it.
Depending on the severity of the condition, you may want to talk with a mental health professional. These days more and more people are seeing the benefit of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) along with exercises in mindfulness, deep breathing, yoga and patience. In acute cases, doctors may prescribe anti-anxiety medications paired with CBT to treat the condition.
The bottom line: finding balance
There’s definitely a way to balance between the two, but you can’t do it alone. Talk with your loved ones and doctor to find the right strategies for living with high anxiety and making it work for you.
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The team at Pain Resource updated this post as of February 2019 with new information and resources.