Brain “Always On?” You Could Have High Functioning Anxiety
Anxiety is an extremely common mental health issue, which has spiked considerably in recent years. Many mental health disorders and their side effects are obvious, including anxiety: if you’re missing work, school or social obligations, or are experiencing severe symptoms like flashbacks, panic attacks or self-harm urges, it’s pretty clear that there’s a problem.
Sometimes, however, it’s not so obvious—especially if you’re a Type A personality. If you feel like your brain never stops running, even though you’re meeting most of your personal obligations, you might have high functioning anxiety.
Appearances can be deceiving
“High functioning anxiety” isn’t a diagnosis. It refers to how a person copes with or can publicly manage their anxiety symptoms. While many anxiety sufferers find themselves paralyzed with fear and indecision, people with high functioning anxiety might appear calm, collected and accomplished.
For instance, overachievers might not realize that lying in bed at night, planning out exactly what they have to score to get an A on that final exam, is not normal. New moms might not realize that they are not solely responsible for monitoring the baby’s breathing during naps—or even if they do realize this, they’re unable to shake the “what ifs.”
So what does this look like on the surface? People with high functioning anxiety don’t look like our usual perception of anxious people. They work hard, often taking on additional tasks and helping others. Their social calendars are often filled to the brim, from the kids’ school activities to volunteering at the soup kitchen. They rarely miss deadlines and seem well put together.
On the inside, however, the high functioning anxious person’s emotions are roiling. Fear of failure, disappointing others or other factors may cause them to worry excessively. Do they have enough time to complete the task? What will others think if they miss the board meeting? Did they remember to pack lunch? What will the weather be like tomorrow, and how will that affect what they wear to work? Are they really in the running for the promotion?
How to tell if you’re high functioning
If all this sounds familiar, you may have high functioning anxiety. To determine whether that’s the case, think about what most casual friends and coworkers would say about you: would they describe you as driven, motivated, always ready to lend a hand?
Now think about how you really feel, and whether you feel limited by how it feels when your brain is always on. Are you limited to only the activities you feel you “should” do? Are you afraid to step outside your comfort zone? What would you do, if you didn’t have these obligations? If you’d choose different ways to spend your time, yet feel trapped, you probably have high functioning anxiety.
The challenges of high functioning anxiety
Anxiety can be downright miserable, no matter how well you function. What’s worse, high functioning people are usually thought of as overachievers, adding to their sense of social pressure. Because traits associated with high functioning anxiety are “good,” like punctuality, helpfulness, tidiness, detail-oriented natures and more, they might feel like these characteristics must be nurtured.
There are also darker aspects, including:
- Losing time, such as arriving early for appointments
- Insomnia (the brain is always on)
- Comparing oneself to others
- Becoming a people pleaser, unable to say no
- Always expecting the worst or planning for the future
- Racing mind, mental and physical fatigue
- Substance abuse
Although high functioning anxiety can drive a person to become successful, it’s not a pleasant way to live. In an effort to assuage the mental and physical exhaustion, pain of sacrificed needs and never being able to stop thinking, sufferers may turn to alcohol, prescription medication or other drugs to ease the pain. That can quickly spiral into addiction. Some might even refuse to seek help, fearing that healthier approaches will cause them to become lazy or a letdown to others.
Help for anxiety
Fortunately, there is help available for anxiety sufferers. Prescription medication, talk therapy and alternative modalities like yoga, meditation, acupuncture, psychedelics, reiki and more are all used to tackle this tough issue.
If you believe that you’re suffering from high functioning anxiety, talk to your medical doctor or therapist as soon as possible. Your doctor may be able to recommend a therapist, and suggest a medical treatment plan. A therapist can help you dig into the root of the problem, then come up with healthy coping mechanisms.
There’s no reason to suffer: if you’re struggling, reach out to someone today.