What is high functioning anxiety? Top Signs and Solutions

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signs of a high strung person

Do you feel like you’re always on edge? You’re not alone. High-functioning anxiety is a real thing. Many people have high functioning anxiety, and they don’t even know it; they just think they’re “high strung” or “stressed out.”

Often, it’s internalized and we don’t realize how anxious we are until we hit a breaking point and blow up over something small and insignificant, or the anxiety becomes so overwhelming that we fall apart at the seams.

What you may not know is that high functioning anxiety is often a symptom of a sensitive nervous system that has become dysregulated. But there is hope! People with high functioning anxiety can and do get better every day. With the right tools and support, you can overcome your challenges, build a flexible, thriving nervous system, and thrive in spite of your sensitivity. Keep reading to learn more!

What are the signs and symptoms of high functioning anxiety?

Though it is not a recognized disorder by the clinical and diagnostic standards outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, high functioning anxiety is a commonly experienced phenomenon.

High-functioning anxiety makes you look like you have everything under control on the surface, yet in reality, you are struggling. You may say you’re doing well because of the pressure you put on yourself to appear that way. I like to use the iceberg analogy for this shown in the infographic below.

Though people who have high functioning anxiety typically appear to “have it all together”, they often have quite severe symptoms. Anxiety symptoms can range anywhere from physical symptoms to mental and emotional.

This infographic explains the top signs and symptoms of high functioning anxiety

Embed this infographic on your site:

<p><strong>Courtesy of healyournervoussystem.com</strong><br /><br /><a href='https://healyournervoussystem.com/what-is-high-functioning-anxiety-signs-and-solutions/'><img src='https://healyournervoussystem.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/High-Functioning-Anxiety-Infographic-by-Heal-Your-Nervous-System.png' alt='' 540px /></a></p>

Here are some common traits of people with high functioning anxiety:

Hardworking

People with high functioning anxiety are often high achievers who are driven to succeed. While this can be a positive quality, it can also lead to a lot of stress and pressure. People with high functioning anxiety may feel like they have to be perfect all the time, and making even a small mistake can feel like a failure. This can lead to a lot of worry and stress, as well as difficulty relaxing or enjoying life.

Perfectionists

People who suffer from high functioning anxiety tend to be perfectionists. They have extremely high standards and are often their own worst critic. This can make everyday tasks seem insurmountable and lead to constant stress. Because of their high expectations, even making small mistakes can feel like a catastrophic event. This can cause people with high functioning anxiety to avoid taking risks and to become withdrawn and isolated. 

Type “A” personality

Their Type A personality is high achieving and often associated with high levels of anxiety. While Type As can be successful in many areas of their lives, they often have a hard time relaxing and may find it difficult to let go of control. This can lead to feeling overwhelmed and stressed. If you have a Type A personality, it is important to find coping strategies that can help treat anxiety. This may involve learning how to relax and take breaks when needed.

Punctual

Punctuality is important to them. They value promptness and hate being late because it causes them significant anxiety. To them, being on time shows that you respect their time and that you value their time as much as they do. Being late, on the other hand, is a sign of disrespect and can be seen as a sign of unreliability. They may be forgiving of others who are occasionally late, but if someone is consistently late, it will be a major source of frustration for them.

Organized

Organized people with high functioning anxiety often like things to be in their proper place. This can be helpful in many aspects of life, but it can also make it difficult to deal with change. Organized people may have a hard time adapting to new situations because they are used to things being a certain way. They like to be ready for anything and may over-prepare for events.

Detail-oriented

A detail-oriented person sees the world differently than most and to them, every little detail matters. They take in all the certain characteristics and process them deeply. This can be both a strength and a weakness. On one hand, they are careful and meticulous. Nothing escapes their notice. On the other hand, they may have an excessive worry about details that are not important. They may get stuck on unimportant daily tasks and miss the big picture.

Competent

Competent people are usually good at what they do. They have the skills and knowledge necessary to complete tasks effectively, and they are able to apply these skills in a variety of situations. As a result, others often look to them for advice and assistance. Competent people are typically confident in their abilities, and they are often able to provide helpful guidance to others. However, despite all of these positive traits, they also understand that there is always room for improvement, and they are always willing to learn new things.

Ambitious

Ambitious people are always looking for ways to improve. They have big goals with essential tasks and are always striving to reach them. They are sensitive to the needs and well-being of others and how those affect people. They are also quick to see new opportunities and seize them. Ambitious people are always moving forward and never sitting still. They are driven by a desire to achieve their goals and make a difference in the world.

Negative Signs and Symptoms of High-functioning Anxiety

Despite seeming outwardly composed and successful, those experiencing high-functioning anxiety may be struggling internally with intense self-criticism or deep insecurity. They may also:

  • Worry

Worry can become excessive and intrusive, interfering with daily life. They may obsess over worst-case scenarios and dwell on past mistakes.

  • Feel like they’re never good enough

One of the challenges that sensitive people face is the constant comparisons they make between themselves and others. It’s easy for them to look at someone else and think they have it all together while feeling like they are falling short.

  • Be impatient

People with high functioning anxiety can be very impatient. They have a hard time dealing with delays or unexpected events. When things go wrong, sensitive people can quickly become impatient and even angry.

  • Have difficulty relaxing

Have you ever found yourself struggling to relax, even when you’re tired? Sensitive people can have a lot of nervous energy on their minds and are used to being on the go all the time. It can be very difficult to sit still or to take a break because their minds are always racing and they find it hard to switch it off.

  • Nervous

People with nervous habits tend to always be on edge. They may startle easily and are constantly aware of their surroundings. They are always prepared for the worst to happen. This can make them seem suspicious or even paranoid.

  • Irritable

Irritable people are often touchy and may have a short fuse. They may become easily agitated, and even the smallest thing can set them off. This can be caused by a number of things, including stress, lack of sleep, and frustration.

  • Tense

People with high functioning anxiety are often high-strung and very tense. They may find it difficult to relax and wind down. This can lead to a spiral of fatigue and anxiety, as they feel like they have to be “on” all the time. This tension can show up in their bodies as neck and back pain, or teeth grinding in their sleep.

  • Headaches

These chronic tension headaches can be caused by stressed muscle tension in the neck and shoulders which can be a constant source of pain and frustration.

  • Stomach problems

It’s not uncommon for people to experience stomach problems when they’re feeling anxiety or stress. Their stomach may be in knots, and they may have trouble eating or a hard time falling asleep. This is because stress can cause the body to produce more stomach acid than usual.

  • Meltdowns

When someone is having a meltdown, they may be feeling anxiety symptoms such as overwhelm, frustration and anger. Meltdowns can happen in response to a trigger, such as a loud noise or a change in routine.

  • Overwhelm

Overwhelm is a very real experience for people with high functioning anxiety. They may be easily overwhelmed by too much stimulus, whether it’s from bright lights, loud noises, or too many people.

  • Self-doubt

They may second guess themselves constantly, wondering if they are good enough or if they are doing things right. This can be very debilitating, leading to a lack of confidence and difficulty taking action.

  • Fear of failure

Fear of failure is a very real and very common fear. It can manifest in many different ways, from not wanting to try new things to procrastinating on projects. For some people, the fear of failure is so strong that it prevents them from ever taking the first step.

  • People-pleasing

People-pleasers are always looking for approval from others. They have a hard time saying no, and they often put other people’s needs ahead of their own. As a result, people-pleasers can end up feeling overworked, underappreciated, and taken advantage of.

  • Burnout

Sensitive people are some of the most hardworking and compassionate people you’ll ever meet. They’re always putting others first and working tirelessly to make the world a better place. But all this giving can take its toll, and eventually, they can end up feeling burnt out.

In addition to all the above, high functioning anxiety can lead to:

  • Difficulty sleeping

When they are anxious, their racing thoughts makes it almost impossiblee to relax. This can make it difficult to fall asleep and they may find themselves tossing and turning all night long.

  • Physical symptoms of anxiety

Physical symptoms of anxiety can include heart racing, shortness of breath, and nausea. These symptoms can be extremely debilitating, making it difficult to concentrate or even function on a daily basis.

High-functioning Anxiety vs. other forms of Anxiety

There are so many cases of high-functioning anxiety that are ignored and, over time, cause havoc on a person’s body and nervous system!

That’s because people tend to associate anxiety with what we see on TV or in movies – someone very visibly upset, unable to function normally, or even panicking. However, anxiety takes many forms.

People who have anxiety may live in fear of making mistakes, worry about what others think of them, or feel paralyzed by their fear of failure. For those who suffer from high-functioning anxiety, however, the experience is often different. Rather than being incapacitated by their anxiety, they are able to use it as a motivator. They may push themselves to achieve perfection in their work or strive to always be the best.

While this may appear to be a positive coping mechanism, it can often lead to burnout and other negative consequences. If not handled properly, high-functioning anxiety can be just as harmful as other forms of anxiety.

When left untreated, high functioning anxiety can lead to anxiety disorders such as Generalized anxiety disorder, Social anxiety disorder, Major depressive disorder, and even Obsessive compulsive disorder.

How people with high-functioning anxiety can overcome their symptoms

If you’re one of the many people who suffer from high-functioning anxiety, you know how debilitating it can be. Constantly worrying about making mistakes, overthinking every decision, and feeling like you’re never good enough can take a toll on your mental and physical health. But there is hope.

Most articles will recommend that you simply “manage symptoms” of anxiety. They’ll vaguely suggest to “make lifestyle changes” or start using relaxation techniques like deep breathing. Others will recommend you see a medical or mental health professional who can offer prescription medications to treat anxiety. Medication is a very helpful tool, provided it’s done under the supervision of your doctor, but it is more of a band-aid rather than a solution. We want to dig deeper and provide solutions that can provide long-term healing.

The first step to addressing your high-functioning anxiety is to understand the root cause: your nervous system dysregulation. This means that your body’s stress response is constantly activated, making it difficult to relax and cope with everyday challenges. However, there are many ways to regulate your nervous system. Not only have I helped thousands of people begin their nervous system regulation journey on Instagram, my signature program The Nervous System Solution teaches how to regulate and heal a sensitive nervous system.

Conclusion

High functioning anxiety can be difficult to identify and even harder to overcome, because unlike other forms of anxiety, high functioning anxiety appears to be manageable and even productive. Recognizing the signs and symptoms is the first step, understanding what these signs mean is the second. It’s important to remember that this isn’t a battle you have to fight alone.

So if you’re suffering from high-functioning anxiety, don’t despair. There are ways to reverse your symptoms and live a healthier life. With the right tools and support, we can overcome our challenges and thrive in spite of our hypersensitive nervous systems.

You can get started by learning about your sensitivity profile and how it impacts your high functioning anxiety. And if you’re ready to start your journey of building a flexible, thriving nervous system, be sure to join the waitlist for The Nervous System Solution and you’ll be the first to know when we open enrollment.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is low functioning anxiety?

Low functioning anxiety is characterized by prolonged, intense and persistent feelings of fear and worry that cause severe disruption to daily activities. Symptoms may include difficulty concentrating, racing thoughts, rumination, insomnia, restlessness, fatigue, panic attacks, and difficulty completing tasks.

What is high performance anxiety?

High performance anxiety is the fear of not being able to live up to one’s expectations. It occurs when an individual is trying to achieve a goal that is important to them, but they become overwhelmed with worry and doubts about their ability to succeed. This can lead to negative thought patterns, physical symptoms such as a racing heart or sweating, and difficulty concentrating. It affects people from all walks of life, especially those who put high expectations on themselves or feel pressure from external sources. This type of anxiety can impact one’s ability to perform well despite their skillset or experience.

What is high functioning social anxiety?

High functioning social anxiety is characterized by intense fear and stress in social situations. It can cause difficulty in forming relationships and make it hard to take part in everyday activities. People with this condition tend to be very self-conscious and avoidant of any kind of social interaction, even though they may appear to be outgoing and confident on the surface. Common symptoms include sweating, trembling, racing heart rate, feeling anxious or uneasy in the presence of others, worrying about being judged or embarrassed, and avoidance of eye contact.

How can I support someone with high functioning anxiety?

Supporting someone with high functioning anxiety can be a challenge, but there are steps that you can take to help. Start by providing empathy and understanding. It can help to validate their feelings and let them know it’s okay to feel anxious. Be patient and allow them the time they need to express their emotions in order to dissipate some of the tension they’re feeling. Make sure they have access to mental health resources if needed. Encourage healthy coping techniques such as nervous system regulation, breathing techniques, physical activity, or creative outlets like journaling or art. Lastly, make sure you are setting aside time for self-care too.

Anxious vs. nervous – are they the same thing?

While nervousness and anxiety are similar in that they both cause a feeling of fear and worry, there is an important distinction to be made. Nervousness is a natural response to changes in your environment or stressful situations, and does not typically indicate a mental health issue. Anxiety, on the other hand, can persist beyond the initial stimulus, sometimes without any internal or external triggers.

Nervous System Regulation – Best Resources to Get Started

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Dr. Linnea Passaler

Dr. Linnea Passaler

Dr. Linnea Passaler has dedicated 20+ years to serving patients, first to a small number of individuals as a successful surgeon and then to thousands of people worldwide as the CEO of a digital health startup. After overcoming her own struggles with a dysregulated nervous system, she created Heal Your Nervous System (HYNS) to empower others in their healing journey. Her combination of neuroscience and somatic work helps those struggling with overwhelm, trauma, burnout, and anxiety to heal their dysregulated nervous systems and thrive.