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Are You Suffering From High-Functioning Anxiety?

Anxiety, and in particular high-functioning anxiety, can be hard to diagnose. When someone is sad, the clinical diagnosis is typically depression and when someone is really happy (and it becomes a problem), the clinical term is called mania. But when someone is experiencing anxiety, the clinical term is... anxiety!

Anxiety is actually our body's natural response to stress or a perceived threat. It is one of our oldest survival reactions – the fight or flight response – signalling that your body is preparing to protect itself.

The problem with anxiety or stress is that when it gets out of hand it can become really damaging. Our thoughts can shift from motivating to damaging and we produce too much cortisol (the body's stress hormone), which has negative physical implications for us. But what about high-functioning anxiety? Well, that is hard to diagnose once again because there isn’t really a mental health diagnosis for it. Here's a rundown of what high-functioning anxiety is, the symptoms to look out for and how to manage those feelings.

What is high-functioning anxiety?

High-functioning anxiety is a form of anxiety that refers to someone that is suffering from anxiety but identifies as functioning quite well in most aspects of their life. A person suffering from high-functioning anxiety doesn’t necessarily let their anxious thoughts and feelings overwhelm them or impact areas of their lives.

This can actually be a little more concerning because chances are they are suffering in silence and pushing through even though they are experiencing the symptoms of anxiety. In fact, some people who suffer from high-functioning anxiety actually use their anxiety to propel them forward. In these instances, their body's response actually helps them to focus and perform at their best, not just physically but mentally as well. However, functioning at this rate for long periods of time can have serious physical and mental health implications.

What are the symptoms of high-functioning anxiety?

Anxiety and high-functioning anxiety looks different on everyone, but the key difference between the two is that anxiety can be crippling, whereas someone suffering from high-functioning anxiety can be motivated by their anxiety.

Someone suffering from high-functioning anxiety might display the following signs and symptoms:

  • Feeling constantly busy, with a never-ending to-do list and a compulsion to complete it
  • Racing thoughts that make it incredibly difficult to relax
  • Resilience to endure long periods of hard work and long hours
  • Perfectionism in everything they do
  • A high achiever that is always striving to be the best at everything they do
  • People-pleasing tendencies
  • Often appear as though they have ‘everything together’ but inside they are really struggling
  • Suffer from poor sleeping patterns, usually from racing thoughts not allowing them to sleep well

What can you do if you suffer from high-functioning anxiety?

The problem with all types of anxiety is that it can be hard to distinguish the difference between having a bad day or week, or experiencing the effects of a mental illness.

The signs and symptoms to look out for differ depending on what a person might be suffering from. While it would be impossible for someone to rid themselves of all anxiety or stress responses (a little bit of stress can actually be beneficial), suffering from high-functioning anxiety over long periods can be really concerning.

Unfortunately, lots of people with a mental illness often go undiagnosed or do not seek treatment, likely due to the misconceptions, stigma and stereotypes some people still have surrounding mental illnesses.

The good news is that anxiety disorders are probably one of the most manageable and treatable mental illnesses. The most important step to take if you think you might be suffering from high-functioning anxiety is to seek the help of a professional.

A psychologist can help you to properly outline what it is you’re suffering from and arm you with some tactics to manage the symptoms. Services like Beyond Blue and Lifeline provide free over-the-phone support with trained experts. Services like Lysn provide access to psychologists via phone or video chat, which can be accessed from the comfort of your own home. These kinds of services can be available at your discretion so can really help if you are running a busy schedule as you can engage in therapy when it suits you – no matter the time.

If you or someone you know needs help, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14. In an emergency, call 000. If you are concerned about your health, wellbeing or sleep, you can also speak to your GP, who will advise a correct treatment plan.

Nancy Sokarno is a psychologist at Lysn. Lysn is a digital mental health company with world class wellbeing technology which helps people find their best-fit professional psychologist whilst being able to access online tools to improve their mental health.

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