Anxiety is that voice in your head that tells you: “Something bad is going to happen”. It is a state of activation and expectation due to the feeling that there is a diffuse but imminent danger. Sometimes, anxiety is easy to recognize because it generates panic attacks, it prevents you from thinking clearly, it makes you sweat your hands and it causes palpitations, but it is not always the case. There is also the “high functioning anxiety”, a type of anxiety that can even help you be more effective than the average but ends up exhausting you.
What is high functioning anxiety?
High functioning anxiety is not a clinical disorder, but the problems it generates can become chronic and debilitating. People with high functioning anxiety experience many typical symptoms of anxiety disorders, but do not meet the criteria for a diagnosis, although their quality of life can be significantly affected.
In other words, the stress and tension they experience are not serious enough to affect their lives in an obvious and observable way. In fact, people with high functioning anxiety tend to keep it hidden and are often perceived as successful, capable and strong people but inside they must deal with a great anxiety.
This type of anxiety becomes a kind of fuel that keeps them active and gives the feeling that allows them to be able to do everything, but in the long run is a wrong fuel because it will end up hurting them, both psychologically and physically.
10 signs that reveal high functioning anxiety
- You are always prepared. In any situation, your mind always jumps to the worst possible scenario. Other people can see the most positive part but you automatically see the problems, risks and dangers. As a result, you take all possible precautions to prepare for those scenarios. The people around you will see you as a reliable and proactive person, but do not suspect that continually preparing for the worst scenarios generates an exhausting anxiety.
- You need to make sure always. If you suffer from high functioning anxiety, you will have the need to check things several times, even becoming obsessive. Since you are always imagining the worst scenarios, you must make sure you are prepared to face them, so more than once you repeat your steps to make sure everything is in order. Obviously, that obsession for control makes you waste precious time and energy.
- You transmit an image of security. Most people with high functioning anxiety do not reveal how nervous they feel, they are experts keeping their anxiety hidden. It is possible that they have learned from childhood to suppress emotions and project a serene and stoic image, so they carry the procession inside.
- You see the world differently. Anxiety is not only “in your head”. A study conducted at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel found that anxious people really perceive the world differently. In practice, it is harder for them to distinguish between a safe stimulus and a threat. As a result, they tend to see the world more threateningly, which exacerbates their anxiety.
- You feel the need to be doing always something. High functioning anxiety is characterized by a constant state of activity. It does not mean that you are a hyperactive person, but that you have difficulties to spend time alone with yourself. When you have free time, you have the feeling that you should be doing something productive or use it in some activity that entertains you, to distract you from anxiety. The problem is that this state of hyperstimulation feeds the anxiety because it prevents you from relaxing.
- You succeed in many of your projects. High functioning anxiety leads you to plan, anticipate possible problems, organize all the details and keeps you always active. Therefore, it is likely that the others perceive you as a successful person and even ask you with admiration how you can manage so many things at once. The problem is that for you it is never enough, you need to do more and more because those activities allow you to distract yourself from anxiety and escape from your ruminative thoughts.
- You have built your life around evasion. People with high functioning anxiety often build their lives around familiar routines and experiences that give them a sense of control. They prefer to stay in their comfort zone and avoid intense emotional experiences that may accentuate anxiety. When a situation causes them anxiety, they prefer to avoid it, whenever possible, so they tend to be great procrastinators. The problem is that these pending tasks tend to generate even more anxiety because they cannot quit them from their heads.
- You have a tendency to develop recurring negative thoughts. Your mind is always active, maintaining an internal dialogue often marked by all types of negative thoughts. You are likely to repeat past mistakes over and over again, even if you are aware that you cannot solve them. You also usually spend a lot of time thinking “what if …” As you are always waiting for the worst, you cannot enjoy the present. Sometimes it is as if your mind acquired a life of its own and you feel that you cannot control it, which generates more anxiety.
- You are a perfectionist. You try to calm your worries by trying to make your work or your appearance perfect. Without a doubt, that can allow you to reap many successes, but it has a cost. Behind perfectionism often hide an “all or nothing” mentality that makes you waste time and energy. It is likely that you feed unrealistic expectations about yourself and fear the fear of not reaching them, unless you are good enough to meet your standards.
- You try too hard not to disappoint the others. High functioning anxiety is also caused by the desire to make those around you happy and try to satisfy their needs, often at the expense of yours.
The consequences of high functioning anxiety
This state of constant anxiety usually generates different problems, both psychological and physical.
– You suffer pain, tics or physical discomfort. Anxiety usually manifests physically, so you are likely to suffer from muscle tensions that will eventually turn into pain. It is also possible that you suffer some tic or develop dermatological or gastrointestinal problems. The physical expression of anxiety will depend on your target organs.
– You’re always exhausted. Your mind is always working, so you have trouble falling asleep or resting. Even when you sleep well, the next day you feel tired, which is because having to deal with anxiety is, simply and plainly, exhausting.
– You get irritated easily. As a result of that constant tension, any stimulus, no matter how small, may startle you. Just an unexpected noise can make you jump from the chair, which is because your nervous system is in a state of hyperexcitation. Some days, you are also likely to respond with an exaggerated irritation in your interpersonal relationships due to the stress you experience day after day.
Laufer, O. et. Al. (2016) Behavioral and Neural Mechanisms of Overgeneralization in Anxiety. Current Biology; 26(6): 713-722.