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From the outside, you seemingly live the perfect life and have it all together, but if people were to take a closer look at you and peek inside your mind, they wouldn't be able to say that anymore. Your head is filled with worrying thoughts, and fear has become your quiet shadow. Your eyes are restless and always on guard, anxious about making one wrong move that will shatter this "perfect" facade.
What you might be experiencing is high-functioning anxiety. This is the case when you internally experience the weight of anxiety symptoms, but still function well in everyday life, making your struggle invisible to others. High-functioning anxiety typically triggers the fight response, prompting you to move and push forward rather than freeze or avoid the things that make you anxious (Euba, 2022).
The roots of high-functioning anxiety are thought to be genetic or environmental factors, such as a family history of anxiety disorders, a high-pressure environment, or exposure to highly stressful life events (Hettema, Neale, & Kendler, 2001; Levav et al. 2017; McLaughlin et al., 2007). High-functioning anxiety is not a clinical diagnosis but often falls under the umbrella of generalized anxiety disorder.
What does High-Functioning Anxiety feel like?
Symptoms might include excessive worry and anxiety, restlessness, difficulty concentrating or sleeping, or being easily irritated. It is often characterized by a fear of failure or of being a disappointment to others, and often caused by self-imposed pressure, a need for control, obsessive thoughts, and overwhelming feelings of self-doubt (Ashbaugh et al., 2007; Dugas & Robichaud, 2007). People with high-functioning anxiety live in a constant state of anxiety, despite appearing calm and collected.
What you can do against High-Functioning Anxiety?
The first thing to remember is that it's okay to have high-functioning anxiety. It's nothing to be ashamed of. You don't have to hide it; in fact, opening up about your struggles and feelings can help lift some of the weight off your shoulders. Talking to someone you trust or a mental health professional can help. Talking about your problems can allow you to gain new perspectives on them and reflect on what has been occupying your mind. Getting help is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. Everyone needs help from time to time.
It's okay and even important to slow down. A busy schedule and endless things on your to-do list don't define your worth as a person. You don't need to prove yourself to others and seek their approval. Rather, ask yourself what kind of life you envisioned for yourself and whether the goals you set for yourself were yours to begin with. Ask yourself why you care so much about other people's approval, and why you want to hide your weaknesses. Questioning yourself can help get a clearer picture of your feelings.
Take some time to re-evaluate your values and think about how you can adjust your daily schedule to make it more meaningful to you and your mental well-being. This new routine may look different for everyone, but it should include a healthy sleep and eating routine, as well as activities that bring you joy and peace.
It can help to start setting boundaries. Boundaries can be both physical and emotional and represent your comfort level, needs, or wants. Learn to prioritize your well-being and to say "no" when necessary. You may feel like you're letting people down when you start saying "no," but you're not. Boundaries are part of your self-care and allow you to focus on the things that are important to you, and saying "no" to some things allows you to say "yes" to other things.
Also, try to challenge your perfectionist tendencies. You don't have to be perfect all the time. No one is perfect, and no one has to be. It’s okay if you need a break, have bad days, are not put together all the time, and make mistakes. All these things are part of being a human being, and truthfully, no one wants to be idolized. And the only way to do that is to show all sides of yourself to others, especially the "flawed" ones. This includes, most importantly, showing yourself self-compassion when you fail to live up to your self-imposed standards.
Taking these steps can help you overcome your high-functioning anxiety and learn to navigate life in a healthier way. Don't hide yourself and your struggles behind this seemingly "perfect" life you've created for yourself. What does it matter if, in the end, it doesn't make you happy?
Ashbaugh, A. R., Antony, M. M., Liss, A., Summerfeldt, L. J., McCabe, R. E., & Swinson, R. P. (2007). Changes in perfectionism following cognitive-behavioral treatment for social phobia. Depression and Anxiety, 24(3), 169-177. doi: 10.1002/da.20219. PMID: 16900464.
Dugas, M. J., & Robichaud, M. (2007). Cognitive-behavioral treatment for generalized anxiety disorder: From science to practice. Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.
Euba, R. (2022, November 30). Do You Have High-Functioning Anxiety? | Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/you-are-not-meant-be-happy/202211/do-you-have-high-functioning-anxiety
Hettema, J. M., Neale, M. C., & Kendler, K. S. (2001). A review and meta-analysis of the genetic epidemiology of anxiety disorders. American Journal of Psychiatry, 158(10), 1568-1578. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.158.10.1568. PMID: 11578982.
Levav, I., Kohn, R., Golding, J. M., Weissman, M. M., & Schwab‐Stone, M. E. (2017). Lifetime risk of posttraumatic stress disorder in the national comorbidity survey. Archives of General Psychiatry, 64(5), 577-584.
McLaughlin, K. A., Green, J. G., Gruber, M. J., Sampson, N. A., Zaslavsky, A. M., & Kessler, R. C. (2012). Childhood adversities and adult psychiatric disorders in the national comorbidity survey replication I: Associations with first onset of DSM-IV disorders. Archives of General Psychiatry, 69(2), 113-123. doi: 10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2011.2277. PMID: 23117636; PMCID: PMC3490224.
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