If you’re walking into the first day at a new job, you’re likely to feel a bit jittery or even stressed out. It’s a new environment filled with people you’ve never met, along with work you’ve never conducted. It’s the perfect storm to cause your body to go into overdrive and experience anxiety. However, this is also a normal response to external stimuli and should be no cause for concern. Despite this normal reaction, anxiety is considered the most common mental illness in the United States and can manifest itself in various ways. One such occurrence is known as high-functioning anxiety, something we don’t hear about as often but is every bit as real.
Anxiety affects a significant portion of people in the U.S. According to a recent statistic from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), 18.1 percent of the American population over the age of 18 struggles with anxiety, equating to around 40 million adults. There are several types of anxiety disorders that can range from mild to moderate to severe. However, high-functioning anxiety is not considered a diagnosis, and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) does not recognize it as a disorder. Those with the condition experience anxiety and can navigate through the rigors of life and their stress without an issue.
Since the DSM-5 doesn’t recognize high-functioning anxiety, it’s unlikely a doctor would prescribe medication like benzodiazepines for treatment. Unfortunately, it can lead to a person picking up alcohol or other drugs to manage their symptoms. Just because it doesn’t meet the criteria for a diagnosis doesn’t mean the individual isn’t struggling with their symptoms. Below, we’ll take a more in-depth look at high-functioning anxiety and how it can affect your everyday life.
What Is High-Functioning Anxiety?
You may have heard the term or had someone refer to you as a high-functioning person with anxiety, but what does it mean exactly? Well, someone with the condition will experience many symptoms attributed to an anxiety disorder. However, as was mentioned above, they won’t meet the specific criteria to be diagnosed with one, despite it significantly impacting their quality of life.
Although their stress and tension don’t feel severe enough to cause obvious disruptions in their lives in an observable way, it can wreak havoc inside their brains. Unfortunately, due to their suffering, men and women battling high-functioning anxiety remain hidden from the world. Despite their ability to attend school or hold down a job, handle family obligations, and manage financial and personal affairs, those with high-functioning anxiety are still in severe pain and functioning far less than their potential.
As the person progresses through life, their high-functioning anxiety will take a heavy psychological, physical, and emotional toll on them. Even worse, since it doesn’t meet the criteria for a diagnosis, many people won’t ever reach out for help. This means they will battle the condition in silence, which could lead to more severe and debilitating psychiatric issues later in their lives. It could also lead to them developing a substance use disorder (SUD) because they felt they had nowhere else to turn, and drugs or alcohol helped manage their symptoms at the time.
If you’ve experienced anxiety and wonder if you’re dealing with the condition, we’ll explain the signs and symptoms below to help you better understand the disorder and how we can help.
What Are the Symptoms of High-Functioning Anxiety?
Although there is no official diagnosis of the condition, it doesn’t mean high-functioning anxiety can’t adversely affect your life. Those with the condition may show fewer obvious symptoms and signs than those with an official anxiety disorder and diagnosis. Still, experts suggest that high-functioning anxiety aligns closely with the symptoms of a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
The most common symptoms associated with high-functioning anxiety include:
- Problems falling asleep (insomnia)
- Inability to concentrate on tasks
- Excessive worry or anxiety on most days that last longer than six months
- Being easily fatigued
- Always irritable
- Muscle tension
When it relates to high-functioning anxiety, some symptoms are more outward than others. Patients are more likely to report feeling on edge, headaches from clenching their jaws, muscle tension, irritability, and hunched shoulders. Although these are the most common symptoms, it doesn’t mean you can’t experience something else.
According to Dr. Hamdani from Forbes Health, patients describe having a hard time falling asleep, staying asleep, and being unable to achieve restful sleep. Irritability is also extremely common in those with high-functioning anxiety. If you’re very busy and anxious, you’re also likely to snap easily at others.
Although it may not sound like it, those with high-functioning anxiety have positive qualities. However, from what we’ve explained, there are various adverse attributes that cause life to be more challenging than it needs to be for the person. One positive is that the person can handle daily tasks well, but it shouldn’t discount their inner struggle. It’s one of the many reasons they won’t seek help and will continue to suffer silently.
The positive characteristics often mask the adverse ones, making them much harder to treat. It also causes others to think you’re doing so well; how is there anything wrong?
What Causes High-Functioning Anxiety?
If you’ve developed high-functioning anxiety, you might wonder where it came from. Unfortunately, there’s no single cause of the disorder. You’ll need to rely on environmental and genetic factors to find an answer.
The most common reasons a person might develop high-functioning anxiety include the following:
- Abusing drugs or alcohol
- A history of anxiety disorders in the family
- Some physical health conditions such as thyroid problems
- Exposure to stress or adverse life events
- Nervous or shy during childhood
Those especially susceptible to high-functioning anxiety include those who have achieved significant success in a short period. One example consists of a person who jumps from a junior to a senior position at a young age, acquiring substantial amounts of responsibility they weren’t prepared to take on.
These factors will vary from one person to the next. It doesn’t automatically translate to an anxiety disorder if you’ve experienced one or more of these symptoms. However, if you feel you’re experiencing one, it’s important to reach out to your doctor for help.
How Is High-Functioning Anxiety Treated?
You shouldn’t let anyone discount how you’re feeling. Maybe your specific condition doesn’t have a medical diagnosis. However, that doesn’t automatically mean nothing is going on with your life. If you’ve felt on edge or experienced anything we’ve mentioned above, reaching out to your primary care physician can help get you on the path toward relief. Your doctor can help direct you to the right form of treatment, which could be prescription medication, therapy, or a combination of both.
Talk therapy is an extremely effective means of managing the symptoms of high-functioning anxiety. When you speak to a counselor or therapist trained in this field, they can better help you understand your anxiety and provide you with the tools to manage your symptoms. One of the most common and effective forms of psychological treatment is called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT’s objective is to change your thinking patterns so that you can better understand your behavior and recognize your distortions.
Prescription medications used to treat anxiety disorders include benzodiazepines and antidepressants. The most common antidepressants include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), and tricyclic antidepressants. Xanax and Ativan are the most common benzodiazepines used to treat the condition.
If you’ve reached a point where you believe treatment is the best option to overcome your anxiety and help you perform at an optimal level, help is available to you. We understand you may not want to admit to yourself that a problem is present. Even if you have, you may fear reaching out for help.
Stepping out into the unknown makes you vulnerable. If you’ve been successful up until this point, you may think to yourself you can deal with it and will continue suffering. However, that’s not a recipe for success. Reaching out for help now can save you from developing more serious psychiatric conditions in the future and potentially stop you from picking up drugs or alcohol for short-term relief.
No matter where you stand, help is available to you when you’re ready. However, you shouldn’t put it off another day.