high functioning anxiety

The Signs & Symptoms of High Functioning Anxiety

The scourge of anxiety in Australia is well-known – according to Beyond Blue, one-quarter of all Australians will experience anxiety at some stage of their life. Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) is experienced on a spectrum. For a proportion of the population, the symptoms of anxiety are hidden behind a remarkably polished and proficient front.

What is high functioning anxiety?

Anxiety – which may include physical, psychological and behavioural elements – moves beyond ‘normal’ worries about stressful decisions, events or situations to become frequent or persistent worries that impact day-to-day functioning and even quality of life. For someone suffering from high-functioning anxiety, these feelings bubble below a seemingly calm – even wonderfully confident – façade. The analogy of a duck is a good one here – above the surface gliding along smoothly, while under the surface its legs are kicking almost frantically, and stirring up plenty of extra mud from the bottom in doing so. A person with high functioning anxiety may be a picture of success – someone who ‘has it all’ – but this external perfection can be in direct opposition with how the person is feeling on the inside.

Key traits and symptoms of high-functioning anxiety

High functioning anxiety is a non-clinical term that characterises those anxiety sufferers who have become experts at suppressing any outward manifestation of their internal turmoil – always working hard to appear well-adjusted to others. The condition is sometimes seen as an ‘invisible anxiety disorder’ and it may be difficult to distinguish anxiety-driven behaviour from the behaviour of a passionate person with a Type-A personality. There are, however, a number of subtle indicators of the condition.

Overt behaviours – behaviours that others can see

Often these external behaviours can be seen by others as positive – the serene duck cruising on the pond:

  • Perfectionism
  • Detail-oriented
  • Highly organised
  • Overachieving
  • Outgoing
  • Punctual
  • Proactive (planning ahead for all possibilities)
  • Ever-helpful (‘no’ is a dirty word)

Covert – or hidden – behaviours

This is the murky water below the pond’s surface, where overthinking and a sometimes desperate need to please others can keep anxiety at an emotionally debilitating level:

  • Catastrophic thinking
  • Difficulties with concentration
  • Trouble with prioritising
  • Periods of procrastination followed by periods of ‘crunch-time’ work
  • Fear of disappointing or letting down others
  • Self-controlling habits or strict routines
  • Overthinking and planning

Physical manifestations

Sometimes those internal disturbances will manifest externally in the form of agitated behaviours or physical ailments:

  • Nervous habits or tics (nail biting, lip chewing, knuckle cracking etc)
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Increased pulse or heart palpitations
  • Changes in appetite
  • Digestive problems

Need Help?

If you think you – or someone close to you – might have high-functioning anxiety, it is important to seek help as soon as possible. People with this form of anxiety are at risk of discounting their condition, as it does not prevent them from conducting their daily lives, but under that high-functioning façade, anxiety’s burdens are taking a physical, psychological and emotional toll. 

There is help and treatment available for people who are dealing with any form of anxiety, including high-functioning forms. If you can’t switch off, can’t celebrate the ‘wins’, constantly need reassurance or feel like you’re an imposter in your achievements and successes – it might be time to seek assistance.

Working with a counsellor can help you to understand the root causes of your anxiety. As well as to learn coping techniques. With experienced psychologists and clinical hypnotherapists, the team at Happy Minds Psychology can draw from a range of treatment modalities. Including positive psychology, acceptance and commitment therapy, and cognitive behavioural therapy – to tailor a therapeutic model to meet your unique situation.

Counselling sessions are available face-to-face in our Bellarine Peninsula office or via Telehealth across Australia. Reach out to the team at Happy Minds Psychology on ☎ 0431 666 050, fill out our contact form on our website to request a callback, or email us on [email protected]

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