a woman sitting in bed using a laptop computer.

High Functioning Anxiety: What It Is and 15 Ways to Manage It

Amber Murphy

While over 40 million adults are dealing with some kind of anxiety disorder at any time, close to 20% of those adults are dealing with it silently. High Functioning Anxiety is the term used to describe a person who suffers from an anxiety disorder but may not appear to. 

These are sometimes very successful people, who unknowingly to their friends and family, are driven by their anxiety to get things done. However, this is usually the exception. For most High Functioning Anxiety sufferers, they may appear as normal people who are struggling and have more bad days than good.

What is High Functioning Anxiety?

High Functioning Anxiety is a state of mind with internal and uncontrolled worry. It is not a visible mental disorder as it remains hidden in a person and is not known unless you see its symptoms in these persons. Persons with High Functioning Anxiety may do all the essential tasks required of their daily life, maintain a good relationship, be successful at their jobs but always have this inner state of anxiety.

Most mental disorders are invisible, but with high functioning sufferers, it’s even more so. This makes it much more difficult to offer help and support sufferers.

Symptoms of High Functioning Anxiety

A person with High Functioning Anxiety has both positive and negative symptoms. They generally are successful in work and life on the surface but with a hidden struggle in the background.

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Positive Symptoms

They generally appear outgoing, act happy, laugh and crack jokes, are very punctual, proactively plan well ahead, remain organized, detail-oriented, achieve high success, are orderly and tidy, lend helping hands, appear calm on the outside and are very loyal on relationships.

Sometimes this anxiety is capable of driving the sufferer to get more things done and sometimes create and maintain successful careers for themselves.

Negative Symptoms

On the other hand, they have nervous habits like cracking knuckles, biting lips, like to do repetitive activities, overthink, check with others frequently for assistance, assurances, avoid eye contact and have struggle to say no. They have a fear of rejection from others and tend to please others in sacrifice of their own happiness.

They are worried about the future and have a tendency to compare with others only to find themselves falling short of their own expectations.

How to deal with High Functioning Anxiety?

People with High Functioning Anxiety have a stressed brain and can use little tricks to make themselves feel better. They have a chronic state of anxiety that can leave them exhausted, burned out, and cause sleep disorders and health issues.

It is a great challenge for these people to ask for help as they want to handle everything on their own. Hence, taking the first step to resolving this issue is a very big deal for people with this issue. The following section provides some tips to handle high functioning anxiety.

1. Get enough rest

Relaxing with shoes up

You need to take enough rest as per your body’s requirements. Sleep is very vital and you cannot negotiate on your sleep. You need to protect your sleep hours and not compromise it for your over-scheduled work.

Aside from sleep, you should take breaks during the day, or even just close your eyes for a while and lay in bed comfortably for a short nap. Rest is crucial to maintaining good physical and mental health

2. Meditate

A regular meditation practice can go a long way in improving your mental state as well as regulating emotions. An inability to regulate your emotions can lead to a disruptive cognitive state and cause anxiety. 

Meditation allows you to familiarize yourself with your thoughts and become better at understanding your anxiety. High Functioning Anxiety sometimes leads us to live in momentum and never actually observe our thoughts and anxiety. 

Meditation is a way to break away from this momentum and manage anxiety. 

3. Practice better breathing techniques

Proper breathing techniques are proven to relieve anxiety. It’s easy and you can do it from any place where you are seated. You should also avoid shallow breathing as much as possible.

Proper breathing involves taking a deep breath with a focus on the airflow, holding it for a few seconds and slowly exhaling out. Repeat these steps until you feel relaxed. Deep breathing calms your mind, reduce blood pressure and helps regulate sleep. You can do this once in the morning and once in the evening to help reduce your anxiety.

4. Learn to challenge your thoughts

Carefully examine your thoughts and words that come to your mind. If you notice a lot of negative thoughts or words, you need to challenge its validity or importance to you. You need to learn to reject such thoughts and divert your focus on something you like.

Awareness is the first step, and again this something meditation can help you with. Once you have an awareness of the thoughts that often surface when you’re feeling anxious, you can begin to push back against your thoughts. 

5. Practice gratitude

The human brain is hard-wired to feel to worry by default. It’s what has kept us a surviving and thriving species for millions of years. 

You can overcome this yourself by practicing gratitude. You can have a gratitude diary to list all the good things of the day for which you want to thank. You need to push yourself to live in the present than worrying about the future.

You can also practice loving kindness meditation for gratitude as a way to increase your capacity for empathy and feel more thankful.

6. Recognize and admit anxiety

When you recognize and admit anxiety as illogical and unreasonable behavior, your anxiety will be reduced. High functioning anxiety sufferers live on momentum and often haven’t taken a step back to recognize and admit their anxiety.

This could help you to overcome anxiety in its first occurrence rather than when you resist or deny the anxiety. Your suffering and anxious thoughts reduce significantly when you accept its occurrence rather than resisting it.

7. Lead a healthy lifestyle

Healthy lifestyle

If you deal with a lot of anxiety, you should try to switch over to a healthier life consisting of a good diet, regular exercise and healthy practices like yoga, meditation, and nature walks if don’t already.

Physical health helps calm your state of mind and improves your self-esteem. Take in as much as natural foods and avoid processed and junk foods in your diets. You can limit or avoid alcohol, caffeine and drink plenty of water. Physical exercise such as lifting weights and running has also been shown to improve mental health.

8. Talking in third-person

Studies show that when you talk to yourself in the third person, there’s a significant decrease in stress in the part of the brain involved in emotions. Talking in the third person is like talking to your good friend, guiding and providing advice and suggestions. It makes you feel better as if someone is on your side to always help you out.

There’s a lot of stigma around talking to yourself but if it’s something you already do to talk yourself through stressful times, keep doing it.

9. Have an honest conversation with others

Have a conversation about high functioning anxiety

Having an open discussion about your anxiety helps you to get a major breakthrough to cope with the anxiety. When you are in the company of supportive people who provide positive thoughts, they play a vital role in you being happy and healthy.

Try to be in the company of these positive people instead of withdrawing yourself away from them. Try to keep a constant connection in an honest way to boost your overall happiness.

Maintaining good relationships gives you people to rely on in times of need. Plus, being supportive of your friends and family can help you feel good.

You should also seek the help of a professional if you’re unable to have an honest conversation with friends and family.

10. Feel your five senses

One of the ways to snap away from a stress and anxiety situation is to focus on your body and its five senses. Starting with the touch of your body, glance at a nearby garden, the smell of a flower, hear soothing music or eat a tasty snack.

These bring you to the present by making yourself aware of things around you and diverts your attention from stress. When you’re lost in thought and worried about the future, you’re not in the present moment. Bringing your attention to your five senses makes you more present.

11. Do light exercises

Going for walk

When you have high functioning anxiety, you build up and store a lot of energy and adrenaline in your body. You need to let them out some way. With light exercise, such as a casual walk or a few stretches of your body, you can relieve this stored energy and make your body and mind feel relaxed. It can also improve your sleep quality.

Take some time to clear your mind with some scheduled light physical activity. Even if you feel like you don’t have time, try walking meetings or take a quick walking break during lunch.

12. Set smaller goals

You need to reduce your obsession with perfectionism and ambitious goals. Though it seems to help you track your tasks in the short term, it is incredibly harmful to your larger goals. When you set small achievable goals, you experience a feeling of achievement after accomplishing the goal and this gives you powerful control of your long term goals.

Long term goals, if set to ambitiously and unrealistically, can stir up feelings of anxiety, especially when it feels so far away. Break your big goals down into smaller, more realistic, and attainable goals.

13. Take regular breaks

Try to schedule regular breaks of 20 to 30 minutes and add moments of calm and relaxation to your daily routine. Remember you deserve the much-needed downtime to relieve your anxiety.

Don’t feel guilty about your breaks either. Consider them as investments of your time. Your breaks pay off later when you’re doing focused, productive work. Relaxation is important!

14. Always consider yourself first

Consider yourself to deal with your high functioning anxiety

As a person with high functioning anxiety, you will always have a lot of priorities, go out of your way to help others and have a number of goals. You need to put your wellbeing on the top of the list, which is the first step to reducing your anxiety. Always ensure to take care of your body, health, and mind.

Think of it like a lifeguard or swimmer. You need to take care of yourself first and know how to swim, before you can save others or else you’ll both drown.

15. Learn to say no

You might find it difficult to say “no” as we have the stubborn idea that we can’t say “no”. Be protective of your time, attention, and energy. Don’t allow everyone to dictate your time and attention, or else you will become overwhelmed with other people’s problems and obligations. 

Don’t be afraid of offending other people. Simply be honest with other people. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t get tied up in another obligation or responsibility you never felt right about doing in the first place. 

Again, anxiety sufferers need to be a little more selfish in order to better help themselves.

Your turn

High functioning anxiety doesn’t fate you to a life of silent suffering. You can manage your anxiety and even allow friends and family to help you.

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