What Is High-Functioning Anxiety?

At some point in your life, you have probably experienced anxiety, whether before a presentation, a job interview, or a date. However, the difference between feeling anxious in those moments and a mental health disorder, such as generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), is that the anxiety felt is manageable and is expected in those situations.

Those suffering from chronic anxiety disorders experience uncontrollable anxiety in situations you might not find to be anxiety-inducing. Even in moments of – what should be – relaxation, individuals that suffer from anxiety disorders will have ruminating thoughts. Those are negative thoughts about oneself that are constantly revisited again and again.

Some individuals that suffer from anxiety in this way are actually able to function in daily life and use their anxiety to propel them. These people have high-functioning anxiety. For example, someone suffering from high functioning anxiety may fear the consequences of being late, which makes them arrive early for events and appointments. This can be positive for high-functioning anxiety; however, it can also have negative effects.

Anxiety Disorders

An anxiety disorder is a mental illness in which an individual struggles to get through the day due to feelings of nervousness and panic, whether that anxiety is high-functioning or not. There are many different types of anxiety disorders, and equally, as many ways they can affect individuals suffering from them.

When an anxiety disorder diagnosis does not specify exactly what causes the anxiety (i.e. social anxiety disorder), it is referred to as a generalised anxiety disorder (GAD). Various genetic and environmental factors, such as a family history of anxiety, can influence whether someone experiences an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety Symptoms

Those that suffer from GAD will experience various symptoms, some of which are more common than others. That said, symptoms can be somewhat specific to an individual too.

The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) outlines the diagnostic criteria for diagnosing GAD. Those are:

  • An ever-present excessive anxiety and worry about a variety of topics, events, and past mistakes
  • Worry that is very challenging to control

At least three of the following cognitive or physical symptoms need to accompany anxiety and worry in order to receive an official diagnosis of GAD:

  • Restlessness
  • Being tired or experiencing more fatigue than usual
  • Trouble concentrating – including feeling as though the mind goes blank
  • Agitation or irritability
  • Muscle tension, aches, and soreness
  • Difficulty sleeping – including insomnia

Other symptoms that could accompany an anxiety disorder that doesn’t appear in the official diagnostic requirements are:

  • Trouble carrying out essential tasks
  • Anxiety attacks
  • Having nervous energy or nervous habits – such as biting lips, bouncing legs, or fidgeting
  • Difficulty trying to maintain relationships
  • Low self-esteem

If you feel as though you experience extreme anxiety and excessive worry, then it is important that you speak to a medical professional. It could be that you are suffering from GAD or another form of anxiety. If this is the case, treatment is available that can aid you in implementing helpful strategies to manage symptoms associated with the condition.

Other Anxiety Disorders

GAD is just one of many different anxiety disorders. A doctor can diagnose and specify other anxiety disorders due to things that have happened in the past, such as stressful life events or specific things that might trigger an anxiety attack.

Some of these disorders include:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – brought on by previous traumatic events
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Social phobia (or social anxiety disorder)
  • Panic disorder – resulting in panic attacks
  • Various phobia-related disorders

Coping Strategies

In terms of GAD, experts emphasise that there are some tips and tricks you can incorporate into your daily routine to help with GAD symptoms. You can use these coping mechanisms to either; prevent feeling anxious in a given situation or use them when you’re already feeling anxiety symptoms. They include:

  • Talking to family members and friends
  • Calm and deep breathing exercises
  • Lifestyle changes such as doing exercise – running, walking or yoga
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) – this involves alternating tension and relaxation of muscles

Sometimes, people with GAD use problematic coping mechanisms, such as drinking alcohol or avoiding situations that make them anxious. By relying on these harmful coping mechanisms, you are not challenging your behaviour and demonstrating that you can manage without them. It is essential to deal with anxiety symptoms correctly, which is why you should seek professional treatment.

High Functioning Anxiety

Some individuals who experience GAD are referred to as having high-functioning anxiety. The term high-functioning anxiety relates to individuals that are able to carry on with day-to-day tasks even though they could be suffering from moderate or even severe anxiety. Some people with high-functioning anxiety hide their true feelings with outgoing personality traits, so it can be hard to tell if someone is actually suffering from high-functioning anxiety.

Those with high-functioning anxiety tend to use their anxiety problems to propel themselves into habits that enable them to function. An example of this could be if someone suffering from high-functioning anxiety has a fear of failure, which they use to drive their success. Known as positive traits or characteristics, these individuals use their underlying anxiety to enact positive results.

Positive Characteristics

Some examples of these traits might be:

  • Out-going personality traits – such as being happy, cracking jokes, laughing
  • Arriving and planning ahead of time for scheduled events and appointments
  • Being organised and keeping lists, calendars, and diaries
  • Being a high achiever
  • Appearing outwardly calm
  • Being loyal in relationships

There is, however, a downside to using your anxiety symptoms when trying to use your high-functioning anxiety for good.

Negative Characteristics

Sometimes, negative traits may be present even from the positive use of anxiety symptoms. For example, your high functioning anxiety may make you:

  • A “people pleaser” – in fear of driving people away or letting people down
  • Talk too much with nervous chatter
  • Have a compulsion to do repetitive things – such as counting or rocking back and forth
  • Overthink and ruminate
  • Need reassurance from other people
  • Avoid eye contact
  • Be loyal, to a fault, in relationships
  • Be a perfectionist

If any of these apply to you and you think you might be suffering from high-functioning anxiety symptoms, help is available. Although you can function in your day-to-day life, your quality of life could improve with treatment.

what is high functioning anxiety

Mental Health Treatment

There are multiple ways that medical professionals can treat anxiety in people suffering from high-functioning anxiety. A mental health professional may prescribe prescription medication to combat symptoms. They may also suggest that therapy is the best way to deal with your anxiety, or they may even use a combination of the two.


In terms of medications, medical professionals have a variety of antidepressants to choose from. These are the primary treatments that are usually first used when combating anxiety. The most common antidepressants doctors prescribe are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

These drugs work by stopping the reuptake of serotonin in the brain, meaning that more serotonin is available. Most people find them to be one of the most effective treatments available; however, some individuals might find a specific antidepressant to be ineffective. There are always other medications that your health care provider could offer if a particular treatment doesn’t work for you.


Another form of treatment in easing symptoms associated with high-functioning anxiety is behavioural therapy. Doctors can use these mental health therapies to combat all sorts of mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, and OCD.

Various types of therapies include:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – in which a therapist will help you effectively challenge patterns of behaviour that lead to anxiety
  • Talk therapy – this enables an individual to talk to a therapist about their anxieties

Depending on the type of person that you are, you may want a certain type of treatment. Therapy may be the best bet if your high-functioning anxiety is getting hard to control. If you don’t feel that your high-functioning anxiety is much of a problem, then medication or even no treatment might suit you, though speaking with a medical professional is still advisable. Whatever the situation is, there is treatment available for you.

Getting Treatment

Do you think that you may have high-functioning anxiety? Or do you think a loved one might benefit from treatment of their high-functioning anxiety? Our programme could be just what you are looking for.

At The Revoke Programme, we know that the best way to treat a mental health condition is to fit treatment into your day-to-day life. That is why we have created The Revoke Programme. Our compassionate experts are adept at providing the best mental health services available.

We deliver our services in the heart of London on an outpatient basis. Your treatment will be personalised to your needs, enabling you to fulfil your home and work duties. This also allows you to incorporate the lessons you learn into your life from day one.

Life doesn’t have to be a struggle. If you want to create a better quality of life while continuing your day-to-day routine, get in touch with us now.

Call us on 020 7060 9517, or email us at [email protected], and start your journey to wellness today.

what is high functioning anxiety

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