Learn All About High Functioning Anxiety Symptoms

Learn All About High Functioning Anxiety Symptoms


If someone has called you a perfectionist on more than one occasion, it could be that you have high functioning anxiety symptoms. Being one of the best students, cum laude at college, excellent employee, devoted spouse, and present parent has consequences. We are raised to be great and always improve. However, this can harm our mental health and indicate high-functioning anxiety. 

Being successful in a few areas of your life is not the same as being a perfectionist. When trying to be perfect in every environment and situation, there is often an emotional roller coaster of anxiety, fear, and self-consciousness behind that perfect facade. 


What is High Functioning Anxiety?

Although it comes with mental health consequences, you will not find high-functioning anxiety symptoms in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5). Why? Because people benefit from you performing at this rate, they would not say there is anything wrong with you in our world. 

I like to think that all people with high-functioning anxiety symptoms can access therapy if they want it, yet insurance won’t cover individual therapy unless you are diagnosed. 

A person with high functioning anxiety will typically be a high achiever, also referred to as a “perfectionist.” However, their striving to be great in all these areas can produce anxiety, fear, depression, loss of self-esteem, etc. Typically, a person with an anxiety disorder will struggle to complete their tasks and reach their goals. They may also display fear or worrying thoughts, which can result in a variety of physical reactions, such as:

  • racing heartbeat
  • headache
  • restlessness and/or agitation
  • panic attacks
  • disrupted concentration
  • muscle tension
  • higher blood pressure
  • gastrointestinal symptoms


High-functioning anxiety sufferers may experience some of these symptoms but can complete their tasks and reach their goals. Many people with high-functioning anxiety use anxiety to fuel their accomplishments. For instance, having that fear of failure will motivate them to work extremely hard to avoid it. 

That’s why you might have heard of many successful people who have struggled with this type of anxiety. As motivated professionals, they are often successful and strive for more each time they achieve a goal. However, success that is based on anxiety is not sustainable and often affects other areas of life, like mental health and relationships. We understand as we have a team of therapists and coaches able to provide guidance if this is what you are going through. 


High-Functioning Anxiety Symptoms

A person with high functioning anxiety might experience some of the above-mentioned signs; however, they will more likely demonstrate some of these characteristics:

  • Be extremely organized
  • Strong need to control situations
  • Being a perfectionist
  • Biting nails,
  • Restless legs
  • An intense inner critic with high standards
  • Uncontrolled anger or irritation when things don’t go as planned
  • Lack of trust in others to complete tasks


When looking at this list, it’s pretty evident that none of these characteristics are bad. On the contrary, they will often be celebrated and used to explain the success of high-achieving people. What’s important to know here, however, is that these signs also have a darker side. For instance, even if they worked hard to get that promotion at work, if someone else gets it, they might feel dysregulated and reach for extraordinary measures to be in control again. 

The darker side of these characteristics is the emotional rollercoaster underneath. People with high functioning anxiety will look perfectly happy and satisfied on the outside, but on the inside, they might overthink too much or have a strong need for constant affirmation. This might result in situations that are dangerous for both mental and physical health. Regardless of its shiny side, high functioning anxiety is still a form of anxiety, and not addressing it with someone who might be of help to you can only make things worse. 


Safety Seeking Behaviors

When dealing with high functioning anxiety, a person might expose themselves to certain safety-seeking behaviors, which can be counterproductive and dangerous. Some of such behaviors might include: 

  • Avoidance
  • Escape
  • Compulsions
  • Addictions
  • Procrastination


If a person is behaving in any of these ways excessively, these behaviors will interfere with their functioning, so they might end up having issues at work or in their relationships. Because they are wired to constantly thrive, people with high functioning anxiety will find it difficult to relax and rest, which can have physical consequences as well. 

For instance, taking a vacation with their family might be stressful instead of relaxing. Or, they will plan the entire vacation and fill it with numerous activities because it’s almost impossible for them to unplug. 

A person with high-functioning anxiety needs to control almost every moment of their life and often the lives of people around them, and, unfortunately, it doesn’t lead to mental health and wellness. To be mentally well, a person needs to know and practice ways to decrease stress in their life, prioritize their healthy habits, and enjoy their time when relaxing and doing nothing. 


Tips For Combating High Functioning Anxiety

If you or anyone you know has high-functioning anxiety, they should assess their stress levels with screening tools. Also, if you notice a frequency in symptoms or strong signs of anxiety, you should start seeing a therapist who will help you manage your symptoms and find your way to living a happy, fulfilled life. Typically, cognitive-behavioral therapy and/or dialectical behavioral therapy, with a trauma-informed lens, will be recommended as they’re focused on changing behaviors. This makes it a good tool to successfully manage the downside of this type of anxiety. 

With DBT, CBT, and EMDR coaching, our clients learn coping strategies to lower counterproductive safety-seeking behaviors while also developing new perspectives to feel good about themselves and reduce the unnecessary suffering they often experience. 

One of the best ways that a person can feel better is by practicing mindfulness, a technique that is focused solely on the breath. Mindfulness is focused on the ‘now,’ and it reduces all the noise that is leading to more anxiety every time.

In general, any activity where a person takes a step back and starts practicing what makes them feel at peace will be beneficial. They can start reading more, drinking their morning coffee in silence on their balcony, go for long walks alone, listen to classical music, play an instrument, etc. After all, the more peaceful moments a person learns to enjoy and cherish, the less their mind and body will feel stressed. If you want to begin your journey of meditation at home, start here

Quick Ways to Reduce Anxiety and Stress

quick ways to reduce anxiety and stress


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