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High-Functioning Anxiety Demystified: Recognizing the Symptoms

high-functioning anxiety

Despite lacking a specific medical diagnosis, many now refer to themselves and their feelings as having high-functioning anxiety.

Depending on the individual, the term may refer to a variety of experiences, but mental health practitioners are beginning to have a clear understanding of what is generally understood to be high-functioning anxiety.

“People who talk about high-functioning anxiety typically mean they may have many symptoms of an anxiety disorder but not the official diagnosis,” said Jonathan Sikorski, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Nebraska Medical Centre in Omaha and director of wellness education.

What is High-Functioning Anxiety

“A great deal of individuals are living their lives with anxiety levels so high that they almost perfectly fit the profile for an anxiety disorder,” said Debra Kissen, PhD, co-chair of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America’s public education committee. Still, they’re persevering. They haven’t stopped waking up. They’re still preparing for work,” said Kissen.

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Put another way, a person with high-functioning anxiety may exhibit symptoms like excessive concern, racing thoughts, and occasional sleep disturbances, but they are nevertheless able to function in society.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental illnesses is the “authoritative guide” for diagnosing mental illnesses. In order to get an official diagnosis of anxiety disorder, you must fulfill a number of requirements.

These include experiencing anxiety and stress on most days for a minimum of six months, along with other indications such restlessness, insomnia, tenseness in the muscles, and agitation.

According to the CDC, these issues must result in clinically substantial discomfort or impairment in order to support the diagnosis of anxiety disorder. David Roane, MD, chief of psychiatry at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said that “functional impairment” is often the basis for a mental diagnosis. However, he noted that functional difficulties aren’t always evident. “Sometimes you have to dig pretty hard to see how [the anxiety] is affecting work, family, or relationship performance.”

Types of Anxiety

It is difficult to define high-functioning anxiety in precise terms. First off, anxiety comes in a wide variety of forms. For instance, you can have agoraphobia, or the dread of leaving your house, if you have a phobia, which is a kind of anxiety condition, according to Furthermore, varying degrees of anxiety may be managed by various individuals before they become a hindrance to their everyday lives.

Furthermore, stress and activity are encouraged by society and even condoned. As a sports psychologist at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Carmen Tebbe Priebe, PhD, said, “There are times when anxiety is very motivating, very facilitating.” “It makes people work hard, so it can seem as if they’re functioning well, but they’re not [always] disclosing everything that’s happening.”

According to Kissen, anxiety symptoms may still be harmful if they lower your general quality of life, even if they aren’t affecting your ability to function at job or your relationship status. “You’re experiencing somewhat frequent symptoms of anxiety, and it’s distressing and showing up more often than you would like,” she said. Even if your anxiety doesn’t fit the diagnostic requirements for a disease, treating it may still help you have “a meaningful, satisfying life,” according to Kissen. “It’s thriving versus just surviving.”

Treatment Options

The National Institute of Mental Health states that cognitive behavioural therapy or another kind of psychotherapy is often used to manage anxiety, perhaps in conjunction with medication. To get well, however, you don’t have to give up on life and live on the couch of your therapist. “The goal, in general, is as short-term as possible,” Kissen said. “Sometimes that might be one session just to understand some basic tools, or it could be a few sessions for severe symptoms.”

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Identifying and reducing catastrophic thinking (e.g., thinking “I’m going to get fired!” in response to small mistakes) is one way to deal with anxiety. Other strategies include facing your fears head-on by gradually exposing yourself, realizing that you are capable of more than you realize, and engaging in mindfulness and relaxation exercises.

It will be simpler to get beyond these emotions if you start working on lowering high-functioning anxiety symptoms early on, according to Kissen. “Meeting the official criteria just means it’s gone on too long.”