man with high anxiety

What Is High Functioning Anxiety and Do I Have It?

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) affects 6.8 million adults – approximately 3.1 percent of the US population. Unfortunately, according to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, only 43 percent of them are receiving treatment.

High-functioning anxiety could be somewhat to blame for the phenomenon. Many individuals who experience high-functioning anxiety aren’t aware of their condition due to its specific nature.

Anxiety and Its Many Forms

Anxiety or generalized anxiety disorder is a condition that causes excessive worry, even when there’s no reason to feel that way.

Apart from feeling worried about everyday situations, people who struggle with different levels of anxiety can also experience restlessness, concentration difficulties, excessive fatigue, insomnia, and muscle tension.

A number of conditions fall under the anxiety umbrella. The most common types of anxiety include:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder: The most prominent of all types of anxiety disorders, it’s often referred to whenever the term is used.
  • Panic disorder: It causes people to experience frequent and unexpected panic attacks. People with this anxiety disorder diagnosis have their lifestyles affected significantly by worries about the next panic attack: when it’s going to occur, and whether prevention is possible.
  • Social anxiety disorder: This form of anxiety manifests as an intense fear of being judged by others. People who experience this type of anxiety are very concerned about social situations and may avoid socialization altogether.
  • Separation anxiety disorder: While separation anxiety is very common among children and is a normal developmental phase, it can also affect adults but, in this case, is considered a mental health condition. People who struggle with this mental health disorder are excessively worried about being separated from their loved ones.
  • Phobia-related disorders: Also included under the anxiety umbrella are intense fears related to specific items, objects, individuals, or situations. People can struggle with a wide variety of fears, including agoraphobia (being in enclosed or wide open spaces), fear of flying, fear of heights, fear of animals, etc.
woman with anxiety disorder

What Is High-Functioning Anxiety

High-functioning anxiety differs from the anxiety disorders mentioned in the previous sections. It is difficult to know exactly how many people have high-functioning anxiety because the condition is not easy to spot.

Feelings of anxiety are common and normal in certain stressful or challenging situations. Thus, people who have high-functioning anxiety may not even consider their continuous worries as a threat to their quality of life.

High-functioning anxiety isn’t currently recognized as an anxiety disorder by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Hence, the amount of research pertaining to the condition is limited. Furthermore, high-functioning anxiety is not considered a clinical disorder or a medical condition.

Generally speaking, a person with high-functioning anxiety may appear to have their daily life in perfect order. They may seem happy, well-accomplished, and driven to succeed. On the inside, however, they often experience excessive levels of stress, constant worries, intense anxiety, and even obsessive thoughts.

The name suggests exactly what high-functioning anxiety is all about. An individual can be fully functional, regardless of their anxiety-related mental illness. Some high-functioning anxiety sufferers may even be professional trendsetters, public figures, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders. While accomplishing a lot, these people may lead a constant battle against their thoughts and worries.

Signs You May Suffer from High-Functioning Anxiety

The symptoms of anxiety that keep a person fully functional may be difficult to track. Still, there are some common signs that may betray your struggle with this type of anxiety disorder:

  • Excessive worries that occur on most days for prolonged periods of time (six months or more)
  • Concentration and productivity difficulties
  • Irritability
  • Overanalyzing every situation, even trivial ones, such as daily tasks and minor interactions
  • Constant thoughts of “what if…”
  • Excessive tendency to compare oneself to others
  • Constant worries about the future
  • Racing thoughts (no way to switch your brain off and relax)
  • Inability to live in the moment, slow down, relax, and enjoy

Individually, these symptoms may not have a major impact on your mental health. However, when more than a few meet and spend time together, they can become a serious burden and may lead to serious mental health disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and depressive disorder.

woman crying at home because of anxiety

How to Manage and Treat Your High-Functioning Anxiety

Mental health professionals will often approach high-functioning anxiety using the same protocols and methods designed to treat most anxiety disorders. People can also learn self-management techniques and coping strategies that can ease negative thoughts and help them silence their worries.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

CBT is commonly used to change thinking patterns, recognize negative tendencies, and reduce symptoms by talking about anxiety episodes. It’s often considered one of the most effective treatments for anxiety in all of its forms.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

While it was developed as a treatment for PTSD,EMDRcan be used to successfully address various kinds of anxiety disorders. It’s an ideal therapeutic approach for clients who don’t want to talk about negative experiences and traumatic past moments.

Routine and Schedules

The likelihood of experiencing stressful episodes can be reduced when clients follow a certain routine or schedule every day. Getting enough sleep each night is very important to feel relaxed and ready to tackle the day. Exercise and good nutrition are also going to be vital.

Relaxation and Meditation Sessions

Anxiety can have both psychological and physical symptoms. It can cause your heart to race, as well as lead to shortness of breath, flushing, and other physical symptoms. Deep breathing exercises and meditation will help you slow down and control the physical symptoms of anxiety attacks. A walk outside, gentle stretching, and even a relaxing bath can also help. What matters is recognizing the intensity of your negative emotions and taking immediate measures.

woman meditating outdoors during sunset

Healthy Boundaries

As a person who has high-functioning anxiety, you need to prioritize your well-being. This means learning how to say “no” when you feel overwhelmed. Healthy boundaries are crucial for every person and even more so for individuals dealing with an anxiety disorder. Know your limits and don’t push yourself too hard. If you do, chances are that the negative thoughts and other symptoms of anxiety will intensify.


If you feel your high-functioning anxiety has taken over and controls every aspect of your life, you might consider medication prescribed by medical professionals. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are commonly used as an effective treatment for both anxiety and depression.

Final Thoughts

Excessive worries and a high level of anxiety should never be ignored. This is especially true for people who feel overwhelmed and burdened by their thoughts.

Talking to a therapist about your experiences will help you determine if you’re dealing with high-functioning anxiety and start your journey toward healing.

While the condition isn’t as debilitating as other anxiety disorders, it can still impact you in profound ways. The good news is that you can access simple therapy and management techniques to get back on track – the sooner you employ them, the easier it will be to reclaim your life and start enjoying yourself again.