Constantly busy. Perfectionistic. Juggling a hundred different projects and responsibilities. Constantly scanning the future and laying the plans and groundwork for what you want or don’t want to happen. Feeling motivated and pulled forward by the hot energy coursing inside of you. Being described as super Type A. Having a mind that races and obsesses over your to-do list if you accidentally wake up at 4am. Covering up your daily anxiety with overthinking, overdoing, overperforming, over-preparing, over-everything…
These are just some of the ways someone might describe life with “high-functioning anxiety.”
While “high-functioning anxiety” isn’t an actual clinical diagnosis, it’s a phrase that’s become increasingly popular in the past few years and includes a cluster of symptoms that, in my opinion as a therapist, most closely aligns with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), a diagnosis that is found within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).
Affecting roughly 40 million adults, anxiety disorders are the most common mental health issue in the United States. And “high-functioning anxiety” may be particularly common for ambitious, young, professional Millennials and Gen-X’ers living in major urban areas.
After all, you’re still getting a tonne accomplished and holding it all together, right? So it’s easy to assume that the kind of anxiety you personally experience may not be a legitimate concern that requires support. But it is.
Indeed, while GAD affects 6.8 million adults – with women twice as likely to experience it as men – only 43.2 per cent of folks are receiving treatment to support it. And this is an issue.
Because the reality is that “high-functioning anxiety,” like any other anxiety disorder, has considerable potential side effects and impacts on your physical and emotional well-being if left untreated. And, like other anxiety disorders, it’s also highly treatable.
So my goal is to introduce you to the idea of “high-functioning anxiety” and its accompanying cluster of symptoms described in a way you may be experiencing them and to walk you through ideas of supports to help alleviate these symptoms if you think it may be time to get some help.
Common symptoms of “high-functioning anxiety”
1) Excessive anxiety and worry most of the time.
Call it apprehensive expectation, anticipatory anxiety, worry, rumination, etc., it’s mental state that you experience more days than not for six months or more.
This worry can and likely includes everything from worries about your career to your love life, the size of your thighs to the viability of your eggs, to not having saved enough for retirement to wondering how you’re going to cope with the family at Christmas.
And, often, the amount and intensity of the worry you have is likely disproportionate to the event itself. In other words, everything feels like a really big deal when it, perhaps, isn’t. And even when you tackle and try to solve the thing that worries you, it never feels good enough.
2) You find it really HARD to control your worry.
You know all the tricks — three deep breaths, making lists of your worries, releasing it all on the yoga mat, meditating — and still, it falls short.
You live with worry daily and a lot of the time it seems to get the best of you because you have a hard time controlling it despite your self-care practices.
3) Your flavor of worry and anxiety comes with a side order of:
- Restlessness, feeling on edge, keyed up, tensed up.
- Feeling constantly tired, like no matter how much sleep you get you still feel an underlying level of exhaustion.
- Trouble concentrating whether it’s at work, on what your honey was saying, or finding that you had to re-read that page of your book three times because your mind wandered. You may find yourself in the future worrying about this or that or just going a bit blank. Bottom line: you may sometimes have trouble concentrating on what’s happening now right in front of you.
- Irritability. You’re living with a low capacity for stressors so the small stuff — the things you’re not “supposed” to sweat — really does make you sweat. Your patience is thin and your grumpiness is high.
- Tightness, constricting, and general tension in your muscles, in your body. If you’re emotionally and mentally wound up in knots, your body is likely holding onto the tension leading to a general feeling of tightness.
- Problems with sleep. Whether that’s falling asleep, staying asleep, having restless or unfulfilling sleep. You may rely on a glass or two of wine or a Tylenol PM to mask it temporarily, but basically, you have sleep issues.
- You may also feel a heightened “startle response.” In other words, when you live with anxiety, your nervous system is on overdrive so when ambulance sirens flare up or someone accidentally slams a door at work, you jump or startle easily.
4) This anxiety is interfering with your daily life.
Not in the “can’t get out of bed about to lose your job because of it” way, but you definitely notice that your anxiety is making it harder for you to feel secure and competent at work or in your romantic relationship, your friendships. Others around you may not be able to see it, but inwardly, you’re living out a high-drama movie each day and it’s starting to wear on your quality of life.