High-Functioning Anxiety: What It Is, Symptoms And Treatment


It’s normal to feel anxious once in a while. But people with anxiety disorders often worry about everyday things in a way that is intense, excessive, and long-lasting.

Often, people with anxiety disorders have repeated bouts of sudden, intense anxiety, fear, or terror that peak within minutes.

These anxious and panicky feelings get in the way of daily life, are hard to control, don’t match the real danger, and can last for a long time. Symptoms may start when a child is young or a teenager, and they may last into adulthood.

Like most health problems, anxiety can show up in many different ways. One of these ways is “high-functioning anxiety“.

This type can be hard to spot, both for the person who has it and the people around them. However, knowing the signs and symptoms is a vital first step toward treating it.

Here is what you need to know about it:

What is High-Functioning Anxiety?

This form of anxiety is not considered a diagnosis since experts cannot use DSM-5 to diagnose it. Therefore, there isn’t much research or information on it. Generally, a person suffering from high-functioning anxiety may seem well-put-together on the surface, but deep down, they struggle with obsessive thoughts and fears. They work hard, manage their finances, keep a healthy home life, and maintain friendships, but they struggle with anxious sensations and thoughts.



Research on the effects of high-functioning anxiety is limited, considering that it is not even considered a textbook diagnosis. However, individuals struggling with it may exhibit fewer visible signs and symptoms, and according to some experts, the signs and symptoms frequently resemble those of GAD. Therefore, if you suffer from high-functioning anxiety, you are likely to experience the following symptoms:

  • Sleep problems
  • Irritability
  • Being easily fatigued
  • Excessive worry and anxiety for six months or so.
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Muscle tension
  • Restlessness

Some high-functioning anxiety symptoms are more noticeable than others, but they are all present. Patients who have it say they often feel at the edge, and their muscles could experience tension, constant headaches, and irritability. Other symptoms include hunched shoulders.

The positive characteristics of high-functioning anxiety have the potential to conceal the underlying negative characteristics, making them more challenging to treat. Additionally, it gives the impression to those around the patient that the patient is doing so well that nothing could be wrong with them. Therefore, it is possible that someone will not seek help or suffer the effects of worry in silence.


Like most types of anxiety, the environment and genetics play a vital role in causing high-functioning anxiety. Here are the primary causes of this form of anxiety.

  • Shyness and nervousness since childhood.
  • Substance and alcohol abuse.
  • Family history of anxiety disorders
  • Constant exposure to negative and stressful life events
  • Physical conditions such as thyroid

While high-functioning anxiety can affect anyone, people who achieve massive success in a short time are more susceptible. For example, a doctor who gets so many clients in his clinic or a lawyer who gets too many clients suddenly could suffer from high-functioning anxiety. It does not necessarily mean that you have an anxiety problem simply because you have encountered one of these things, though. Talk to your primary care physician if you have any concerns about your health.

Diagnosis of High-Functioning Anxiety

Because it is not a recognized condition, doctors can’t diagnose high functioning anxiety. However, it may be a level on the anxiety spectrum and one manifestation of a recognized anxiety condition in some individuals.

A physician may conduct a physical examination to determine whether an underlying health condition is causing anxiety symptoms when diagnosing recognized disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder.

If the physician cannot identify an underlying cause, the patient may require diagnosis and treatment from a mental health professional.

Treatment Options for High-Functioning Anxiety

Like any form of anxiety, you can get treatment for high-functioning anxiety. In most cases, it takes a combination of psychotherapy and medications.



People may find that psychotherapy, often known as talk therapy, helpful in managing the effects of this form of anxiety. Certain forms of treatment may be more helpful for anxiety than others.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (often known as CBT), for instance, is an example of a treatment that is generally beneficial for anxiety disorders. People who engage in CBT learn how to lessen anxious thoughts in their heads and how to gradually tackle the events or items that set off their anxiety.

People can also learn strategies to manage symptoms. Some examples of these approaches include deep breathing, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation. In most cases, therapy can help patients dealing with high-functioning anxiety.


There are also some medications that can be used to treat high-functioning anxiety. These include:

  • Antidepressants
  • Anti-anxiety drugs such as buspirone and benzodiazepines.

Your doctor will help recommend the best medication that can help keep your high-functioning anxiety in control.

How High-Functioning Anxiety Compares with Other Forms

There are different types of anxiety, and it is crucial to understand the differences so you can differentiate between them. The most common ones include:

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Constant worry about everyday life is a defining symptom of GAD. The worry experienced by GAD patients is not usually related to a specific incident but is more persistent. Someone with GAD may find it challenging to complete chores or concentrate.

Panic disorders

Panic disorders generally consist of panic episodes and the rapid onset of terror. Sometimes, panic attacks can induce chest pain, irregular heartbeats, and dizziness, making some assume they are about to get a heart attack.

Social anxiety disorder

Generally, social anxiety disorder manifests in social situations and produces anxiety when participating in talks or chats. People with social anxiety disorder worry that they will say a thing and embarrass themselves.


Phobias are categorized as anxiety disorders since people with phobias tend to experience intense fear or discomfort. Phobias might involve locations, things, or even events. Many people avoid potential triggers to prevent panic attacks based on what it is and how intensely it generates a reaction.

High-Functioning Anxiety and Depression

Anxiety and depressive disorders have a close connection and can coexist concurrently. 53% of depressed patients have anxiety.

When high-functioning anxiety bleeds into depression, it tends to become troublesome. Many patients don’t see the need to seek help until they can’t leave their beds, can’t enjoy the activities they once enjoyed, and finds it difficult to catch some sleep.

Given the fact that high-functioning anxiety can result in depression, and depression can also result in high anxiety, it is essential to evaluate their interrelationship and treat them accordingly.

If you believe you suffer from high-functioning anxiety with depression, consult your physician. There are a variety of effective treatments that can provide relief.


How to Cope with High-Functioning Anxiety

This form of anxiety is unpleasant and uncomfortable, but there are strategies to adapt to the condition and learn to self-regulate your anxiety. If you struggle with high-functioning anxiety, you should avoid “quick solutions” and schemes that sound too good. Lifestyle changes can help decrease anxiety, but only if they are consistent. Here are nine effective coping strategies you can try:

Understand the issue

In every situation, before you can deal with it, you should understand it first. Take time to learn more about your anxiety, what triggers it and how you respond to it. When you understand the situation, it becomes easier to deal with it.

Work towards acceptance

It is not possible to always control your anxiety or the people who trigger it. Therefore, accept that you have anxiety, and that’s only when real change can begin.

Use the anxiety for good

Yes. Anxiety is a significant issue that complicates your life, but does it have any advantages? Consider the balance between stress and productivity and any additional benefits this tension may provide. After all, high-functioning anxiety can make you an achiever.

Practice active relaxation

Some individuals believe that relaxing means looking at their phones or taking a nap. While both activities can be beneficial, active relaxation is necessary for overcoming anxiety. This idea entails devoting a certain amount of time to the execution of techniques for relaxation and self-regulation, such as havening.

Avoid the negatives

Using temporary relief methods such as drugs, alcohol, sexual activity, or spending money may appear to be an excellent remedy to anxiety, but in reality, they bring about greater harm. Maintain a positive approach regarding coping abilities.

Share your problem with someone

No one can be of assistance when they are unaware of what you are going through. Share what you are going through with others. Just make sure you are sharing with someone you can trust.

Practice kindness

True friends are characterized by their patience, support, and kindness; yet, how many of these qualities have you given yourself? Be kind to yourself, and you will start noticing changes in the anxiety.

If you combine these coping skills with other lifestyle adjustments and professional treatments, you may be able to alleviate the underlying cause of your anxiety. Experiment with several combinations and make adjustments as you go to find the one that helps you the most with your symptoms.

The term “high functioning anxiety” is rarely used in the medical field because it is not considered a distinct disorder. Anxiety instead exists on a spectrum, and for some people, it can manifest in a way that is consistent with high functioning. It’s possible that other people won’t notice any anxiety symptoms as a result of this.

A person who lives with this type of anxiety may experience substantial difficulties, nevertheless. Treatment can help those who live with high-functioning anxiety control their symptoms and feel better. You can also try coping tactics at home, such as practicing kindness, avoiding negativity, and practicing active relaxation.