It can be difficult to separate out symptoms of ordinary stress from symptoms of high functioning anxiety, especially if you’re a high achiever who works especially hard. Does that constant buzz in your brain mean you’re anxious, or are you just always thinking of new ways to succeed? Is the tiredness in your bones down to some form of anxiety, or did you just pull one too many all-nighters this week?
Burn-out and anxiety disorders can have very similar signs and symptoms, and while both call for self-care, it’s important to know when you’ve crossed a threshold into needing expert help from a mental health professional. As with many types of anxiety, though, telling the difference is often easier said than done.
People with high functioning anxiety often don’t realize that the way they feel in their daily life is neither ‘normal’ (in this case, meaning to be expected or something everyone experiences) nor necessary. It might feel like your success actually depends on how worked up you get over deadlines, or your perfectionism is what keeps you churning out such a high standard of work — but the truth is that you can be a high achiever without suffering from symptoms of anxiety.
Ten signs you might have high functioning anxiety
If you’re wondering whether you might have crossed the line from ‘hard worker’ to ‘person with high functioning anxiety,’ don’t worry — we’re here to help you figure it out.
Some of the more common signs of high functioning anxiety include:
- Perfectionism and fear of mistakes that are so intense that they distract you from the rest of your life. Yes, wanting to do things perfectly, especially tasks that are very important or high profile, is totally normal — but if you’re tormented by constant fears of errors you might make, or obsessing over minute details nobody else would notice, that’s a red flag.
- Persistent, obsessive thoughts about past mistakes and decisions. Again, it’s common to feel bad about mistakes we’ve made, for a time. But if you’re finding yourself obsessing over something you did or said that others have moved on from, you may be exhibiting symptoms of anxiety.
- Persistent, obsessive worrying about the future. Whether it’s the next day or a year from now, if thoughts and fears about the future are plaguing you — and especially if making concrete plans doesn’t ease your concerns — that might be a sign.
- Overthinking or overanalyzing constantly. Not only can these thought spirals make thinking clearly even more difficult, but they can actually delay or even stand in the way of successful decision-making.
- A need for reassurance from others, even on objectively small issues or decisions. This can also manifest as a repetition of a request, like asking for the same directions or instructions multiple times.
- Insomnia or difficulty unwinding. Many people have a ‘work hard, rest hard’ attitude to their lives; they push themselves during work hours, but then they relax as much as possible on evenings and weekends. If your work stress is following you into your personal time and stopping you from resting, that’s a sign you might have high functioning anxiety.
- Potential substance abuse in the name of unwinding. If it takes a glass (or a few) of wine to get your body to relax and your mind to calm down after work, or if you’re having to take pills every night just to get some sleep, your stress might actually be anxiety.
- Difficulty keeping still — some fidgeting is normal, but if your body is jittery or restless for long periods of time, days in a row, that’s a concern.
- Inability to find joy in your time off. Much like difficulty relaxing, this can be a red flag for anxiety, especially if you’re struggling to enjoy activities you once loved and you can’t think of a reason for the change.
- People-pleasing. Yes, it’s common to be extra agreeable with your superiors at work or ‘go along to get along’ with friends, but if you’re struggling to disagree or say ‘no’ in situations where you know you should stick up for yourself, that’s an issue.
One overarching symptom is a noticeable difference between your exterior presentation (for example, confident, successful, at ease) and your internal feelings (for example panicked, worried, wound up). If you feel like you’re always having to fake being calm, that’s something to talk to your medical provider or a therapist about.
You can still be a high achiever if you treat your anxiety
So you think you do have high functioning anxiety, but you’re worried that getting effective treatment for your anxiety will also ‘treat’ your tendency to succeed — what if feeling better means hustling less, achieving less, relaxing too much?
Good news: getting help for your anxiety doesn’t have to mean becoming a laid-back person. The right provider can help you regain control over your nervous system, manage your anxiety, and even improve your level of success.
Youper’s expert providers are trained in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is the most effective therapy for anxiety and depression. They also really care — they’ll listen to you, and work with you to establish a personalized treatment plan tailored to your needs. Plus, our 24/7 chat is available to support you whenever you need it.