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What Is High-Functioning Anxiety?

There’s a good chance that either you or someone you know has anxiety. It is one of the most common mental health conditions in the world, after all. Many people have a basic understanding of what anxiety is or, at the very least, what it feels like. Chronic anxiety, or generalized anxiety disorder(GAD) can impact every area of a person’s life. From the way they function at work, at home, and in their relationships, anxiety symptoms can dramatically affect how a person feels and behaves.

Would it be surprising to hear that a not-so-obvious version of anxiety exists? Known as high-functioning anxiety, this condition often flies under the radar.

What Is High-Functioning Anxiety?

High-functioning anxiety, unlike GAD, is not a diagnosable mental health condition. However, even though it cannot be clinically diagnosed, it does not mean it doesn’t impact somebody’s mental health. Those who are considered to be high-functioning still have anxiety. It just doesn’t impact them in the ways that GAD can.

Some basic signs of anxiety that might fly under the radar in someone who is high-functioning are:

  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty sleeping/insomnia
  • Constantly overthinking
  • Feelings of nervousness or being on edge

Signs of High-Functioning Anxiety


The idea of perfect doesn’t truly exist. While striving to be your best is one thing, perfectionism tends to take it to another level. People who are perfectionists will be incredibly harsh on themselves when they make a mistake. They expect nothing but the best for themselves; anything less than that is unsatisfactory.

Inability to Say “No”

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to help people out as much as possible. However, those with high-functioning anxiety have extreme difficulty in telling other people no.

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They will say yes to every project, work commitment, and social obligation without considering their own workload. This is sometimes referred to as being a people-pleaser. They keep everyone else happy with little regard for their own happiness. 

Those who are high-functioning fear telling other people no because they don’t want to be a disappointment to anyone.

Constantly Feeling Under Pressure

People with high-functioning anxiety often feel constantly under pressure. They feel pressured to perform well at work, school, and personally. Taking on more responsibilities over time inevitably makes someone feel as if the pressure is mounting on them, and they could crumble at any given minute. But, to the outside world, they are able to hide this pressure so well that nobody could even guess how they are feeling.

Catastrophic Thinking

Those who have GAD often deal with excessive worries and uncontrollable/negative thoughts. This is the same for those who have high-functioning anxiety, to a degree.

Someone who deals with anxiety but is high-functioning will be filled with just as many worries and negative thoughts. They toss and turn in bed at night, thinking about every what-if scenario that could happen. Their thoughts lead them to ruminate on what could happen if they make a mistake. 

How To Cope With High-Functioning Anxiety

Quiet Your Inner Critic

It might seem cliche, but we all have that inner voice in our heads. The one that says you are bound to mess up, and you aren’t enough. The first step to dealing with high-functioning anxiety is to quiet this voice in your head and to not listen to the lies that it tries to tell you.

Begin Accepting The Idea Of Mistakes

Nobody is perfect. Mistakes are an inevitable part of the human experience, which is okay. Yes, you want to strive for your best, but that doesn’t mean every mistake should be equated to something life-shattering.

Even though you can’t be diagnosed with high-functioning anxiety, anxiety therapy can still help you. You can learn how to regain control over your own expectations and find more ways to cope. Don’t hesitate to reach out when you are ready.

Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor at Ammirati Counseling
Terri A. Ammirati, LCPC, has 25+ years of clinical experience. She is a Certified Gottman Therapist and presents Gottman's "The Art and Science of Love" couples workshop.

Terri specializes in empowering clients to strengthen their relationships. She works with all aspects of relational distress and provides solution-focused therapy.
Terri A. Ammirati