High Functioning Anxiety

Last Updated: March 11, 2024

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The physical symptoms and mental tolls of stress and anxiety can affect an individual’s everyday functioning. High-functioning anxiety can take on various forms and manifest uniquely from one person to another.

High-Functioning Anxiety 

Anxiety isn't always obvious, and it can be challenging to recognize in ourselves and others. While someone may seem okay on the surface, they could be dealing with feelings that make simple tasks, like finishing work, very challenging.

What is High-Functioning Anxiety?

High-functioning anxiety is somewhat of a misnomer; it implies that individuals can effectively manage their anxiety while remaining productive and successful in their daily lives.

Those of us with high-functioning anxiety tend to seem composed, organized, and accomplished to the outside world. We excel in our careers, maintain relationships, and fulfill responsibilities with apparent ease. However, beneath the surface lies a persistent feelings of anxiety, racing thoughts, and unrealistic expectations we place on ourselves. We may hide our feelings from others due to the stigma around mental health.

Anxiety on a Continuum

Anxiety isn’t a one-size-fits-all experience; it varies from occasional nerves to severe panic. At one end of this spectrum lies anxiety disorders like Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and Social Anxiety Disorder, clinically recognized conditions characterized by persistent and excessive worry about various aspects of life.

However, within this spectrum, there exists what is often termed “high functioning anxiety,” which may not meet the diagnostic criteria for a disorder but still significantly impacts individuals’ lives due to the anxiety symptoms they regularly experience.

Despite not meeting the criteria for a clinical disorder, high-functioning anxiety is a real and valid experience. The absence of a diagnosis does not diminish the distress it causes or the need for support and understanding.

People with high-functioning anxiety often internalize their struggles, dismissing their anxious feelings as unwarranted or insignificant compared to those with diagnosed disorders. Acknowledging and validating these challenges is essential.

What is the Difference Between Worry and Anxiety?

In our emotional journey, worry tends to focus on specific concerns in our minds, leading us to seek solutions, while anxiety spreads throughout our bodies, creating a broader sense of unease. Worry often prompts us to take action, but anxiety can feel like a never-ending loop of thoughts, hard to break free from. 

Anxiety is a common experience for all of us, and it's usually manageable. However, if it persists and begins to interfere with our ability to concentrate at work or school, enjoy social interactions, or handle daily responsibilities, it becomes a significant concern. Recognizing when anxiety starts to disrupt our lives is important. Seeking support to regain a sense of calm and balance is a positive step toward overall well-being.

What High-Functioning Anxiety Looks and Feels Like

High-functioning anxiety can often feel like living with a hidden weight, where the world sees one thing, but internally, there's a different story unfolding. Picture being the capable professional, the dependable friend, or the devoted family member, yet beneath the surface lies a constant storm of worry and self-doubt, making it increasingly difficult to find balance during stressful life events.

You might meticulously plan every detail of your day, striving for perfection in your work or relationships, yet finding it hard to shake the feeling of falling short. The pressure to excel and meet expectations can feel overwhelming, even when others perceive you as competent and organized.

“Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is common, affecting up to 5% of the UK population (NHS, 2018). But those of us who would describe our anxiety as “High-Functioning,” will know the extra pressures that result from people thinking you are ‘OK’.”Jodi Barnard, PhD

Physically, high-functioning anxiety can show up in various ways. It might be the muscle tension in your shoulders that never seems to dissipate, the rapid heartbeat that accompanies every decision, or the knots in your stomach before social interactions.

In these moments, it's essential to acknowledge the discomfort rather than push it aside. Working through these emotions isn't about making them disappear; it's about recognizing their presence and allowing yourself to sit with them. It's okay to feel afraid or uncertain, and it's okay to seek support as you navigate these feelings.

You May Be Experiencing High-Functioning Anxiety If:

Symptoms of High-functioning anxiety

Consider the following behaviors and experiences, as they may resonate with your own journey. This list draws inspiration from the insights of Tamryn Burgess from the Honestly Holistic community and highlights potential signs of high-functioning anxiety and well-intentioned, but ultimately unhealthy coping mechanisms:

  • Always Seeming to Have It All Together: You may often find yourself projecting an image of strength and composure to those around you, yet internally, you try and balance overwhelming emotions, ranging from uncertainty to fear

  • Perfectionism: Striving for perfection becomes a familiar theme in your daily life. Whether it's meticulously organizing tasks or setting exceedingly high standards for yourself, pursuing flawlessness feels like an ongoing demand

  • Guilt Over Downtime: Taking breaks or allowing yourself moments of rest can trigger feelings of guilt or unease. Balancing productivity with self-care can feel challenging at times

  • Hyper-independence: Despite facing challenges, reaching out for support may feel daunting. Whether it's due to fear of burdening others or concerns about vulnerability, asking for help becomes a difficult hurdle to overcome

  • Fear of Falling Short: Persistent fear of failure may influence your thoughts and actions, driving you to strive for perfection and avoid setbacks. The thought of disappointing others or not meeting expectations weighs heavily on your mind

As we explore the intricacies of high-functioning anxiety, it's important to tread gently and with empathy. Recognizing the delicate balance between outward appearance and inner turmoil is a significant step toward self-awareness and healing.

Remember, you are not alone in navigating these challenges; many others share similar experiences. Embracing vulnerability and seeking support can be powerful catalysts for healing and transformation.

Things That Feed High-Functioning Anxiety

High-functioning anxiety can arise from a blend of genetic predispositions, environmental influences, and personality traits that develop over time. While the triggers for anxiety may vary from person to person, understanding these contributing factors can shed light on the roots of anxious thoughts and behaviors.

Hustle Culture

In a society that glorifies constant productivity and achievement, hustle culture encourages individuals to prioritize monetary success over holistic well-being. The relentless pursuit of goals often comes at the expense of work-life balance and emotional health. The pressure to maintain an "always-on" mentality and the fear of falling short contribute to stress and anxiety, fostering a cycle of worry and fear.

“You were not just born to center your entire existence on work and labor. You were born to heal, to grow, to be of service to yourself and community, to practice, to experiment, to create, to have space, to dream, and to connect.”Tricia Hersey, Rest Is Resistance: A Manifesto


While striving for excellence can be admirable, perfectionism can become a double-edged sword. The relentless pursuit of flawlessness can lead to heightened anxiety over minor errors or perceived shortcomings. Imposter syndrome, a common experience among high achievers, amplifies feelings of inadequacy and the fear of being exposed as incompetent.

Workplace Inequity

Inequities in the workplace, such as disparities in treatment based on gender or race, can exacerbate feelings of anxiety and burnout. Employees who feel undervalued or marginalized are more susceptible to stress and emotional strain.

Cultivating an inclusive work environment, where all individuals feel valued and respected, is essential in mitigating anxiety and fostering a sense of belonging.

Mental Health or Other Health Issues

High-functioning anxiety often intersects with underlying mental health conditions, including depression or generalized anxiety disorder. This correlation is especially pertinent among college students, where depression stands as the most common mental illness, exacerbated by the intense stress associated with academic performance.

In fact, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, approximately half of those with depression also have an anxiety disorder.

Additionally, physical health issues, like thyroid disorders or cardiovascular issues, can exacerbate feelings of unease and apprehension. Addressing both mental and physical health concerns is crucial in managing high-functioning anxiety effectively.

Recognizing the multifaceted nature of high-functioning anxiety allows us to identify triggers and develop strategies for self-care and support. 

Why Addressing High-Functioning Anxiety Matters

Discover Your Strength

Recognizing high-functioning anxiety isn't a sign of weakness; it's a testament to your inner strength and resilience. By acknowledging your struggles, you empower yourself to confront challenges with courage and determination, paving the way for personal growth and development.

Nurture Meaningful Connections

Opening up about your anxiety fosters authentic connections with others. When you acknowledge your vulnerabilities, you invite empathy and understanding into your relationships, strengthening bonds and fostering a sense of belonging and support.

Prioritize Self-Care

Ignoring high-functioning anxiety perpetuates stress and hinders your ability to care for yourself effectively. By acknowledging your anxiety, you recognize the importance of self-care practices such as mindfulness, physical exercise, and setting boundaries, promoting overall well-being and resilience.

Enhance Performance and Satisfaction

High-functioning anxiety can take a toll on your performance and satisfaction in various aspects of life. By addressing your anxiety, you gain clarity and focus, enabling you to pursue your goals with renewed vigor and enjoyment, leading to greater fulfillment and success.

Embrace Authenticity

Acknowledging your anxiety is a powerful step towards embracing your authentic self. By acknowledging your struggles and accepting yourself fully, you embark on a journey of self-discovery and self-love, unlocking the door to a life of authenticity, purpose, and fulfillment.

Ways to Support Yourself 

Taking care of ourselves is essential for maintaining balance in life and reducing the impact of high-functioning anxiety. Here are some coping strategies to consider:

Holistic Approaches

“When I move half as fast, I notice twice as much,” – Tara Brach, psychologist and mindfulness teacher

  • Practice Gratitude: Keeping a gratitude journal can help us focus on the positive aspects of our lives, even amidst challenges. Taking time each day to reflect on what we're thankful for can shift our perspective and cultivate a sense of contentment; this practice is a form of positive psychology training. 

  • Treat Yourself Like You Would a Dear Friend: Embrace self-acceptance and love for our imperfections. Instead of viewing flaws as shortcomings, see them as unique opportunities for growth and learning. Setting realistic expectations and extending the same kindness to ourselves as we would to a cherished friend can foster self-compassion and resilience

  • Slow Down: In a world that glorifies busyness, prioritizing rest and relaxation is crucial for our well-being. The Nap Ministry's Rest Deck offers 50 practices to resist grind culture and cultivate inner peace. Slowing down allows us to recharge our minds, bodies, and relationships, fostering a deeper sense of fulfillment and connection

  • Add Some Joy to Your Day: Aligning our behaviors with our values can bring a sense of purpose and fulfillment to our lives. When we reflect on how we can support and uplift others, we contribute to a more meaningful existence. Embracing Sarah Wood's approach to promoting joy in daily life reminds us that happiness doesn't have to be earned solely through hard work.

Conventional Interventions

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), we confront triggers of high-functioning anxiety through guided talk therapy with therapists. Techniques like guided meditations for anxiety aid in managing symptoms, while CBT helps identify root causes of negative thoughts for better management 

  • Medication: You have the option to consult psychiatrists, nurse practitioners, primary care physicians, or other medical professionals to explore medication options for treating anxiety disorders and discuss dosage to manage your symptoms. Prior to prescribing any medication, a doctor should guide you through a thorough anxiety disorder diagnosis process. This ensures that the treatment plan aligns closely with your individual needs and circumstances

Frequently Asked Questions

How Does High-Functioning Anxiety Differ from Anxiety Disorders?

High functioning anxiety isn't classified as a disorder but rather a term used to describe individuals who manage to function well in their daily lives despite experiencing significant anxiety. Unlike diagnosable anxiety disorders, high functioning anxiety doesn't necessarily meet the criteria outlined in diagnostic manuals like the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5).

Are There Other Forms of Anxiety?

Panic disorders consist of panic attacks and sudden flashes of terror without forewarning. It causes shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness, and heart palpitations that feel like an oncoming heart attack.

Social anxiety disorder usually occurs in social settings and arises when engaging in discussions or conversations. You start to worry excessively and overthink what you're going to say, debating if it will humiliate you. Fortunately, there are ways to overcome overthinking.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is when a person experiences various symptoms, such as nightmares, flashbacks, a decrease in mood, anxiety, and avoidance following exposure to a traumatic event like abuse, violence, and illness. A person may seek treatment such as cognitive-behavioral therapy or medication treatments.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is when a person experiences obsessive and intrusive thoughts. They also experience excessive anxiety and do extensive rituals that are aimed at reducing anxiety disorder. It was formerly classified as an anxiety disorder.

What are Some Other Tips for Dealing with High-Functioning Anxiety?

Exercise regularly to stay healthy and feel energized during the day. Stretching and moving your body also allows you to disconnect from what's causing stress and improve your mental health

Proper sleep hygiene and a consistent sleep schedule are beneficial for dealing with the symptoms of high-functioning anxiety disorder. There are several ways you can combat insomnia and sleep deprivation, including:

  • Showering or reading a book to calm down your mind and body

  • Set a proper bedtime to ensure you get eight hours or more of sleep

 Scheduled relaxation and meditation can also reduce stress levels. Consider the pros and cons when deciding – talk tour choices with a friend, mentor, mental health professional, or counselor. 

When stressing over a task or assignment, weigh the advantages, such as knocking it off your to-do list, and the disadvantages of leaving and rushing to complete it later. Setting realistic goals will help you feel more relaxed and help you complete tasks better. Be mindful of workload and time/deadlines.


Do You Have High Functioning Anxiety | Psychology Today

The Characteristics of High-Functioning Anxiety Signs, Causes, Treatments, and Ways to Cope

Tips and Strategies to Manage Anxiety and Stress | Anxiety and Depression Association of America

6 Tips for Professionals with High-Functioning Anxiety

High Functioning Anxiety: Signs, Symptoms, & Treatments

American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment Spring 2008 Reference Group Data Report (abridged): the American College Health Association


The contents of this article are provided for informational purposes only and are not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It is always recommended to consult with a qualified healthcare provider before making any health-related changes or if you have any questions or concerns about your health. Anahana is not liable for any errors, omissions, or consequences that may occur from using the information provided.