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Anxiety is one of the most common mental health issues faced by people of all ages across Ireland – it’s thought that around 1 in 9 people will suffer from an anxiety disorder in their lifetime.
And while most of us are familiar with the common anxiety symptoms such as panic attacks and overwhelming feelings of fear, for many of those who suffer at the hands of anxiety – sometimes it’s not all that obvious.
What is high functioning anxiety?
People with high functioning anxiety often seem calm and ‘normal’ on the surface. They’re usually Type A personalities; busy perfectionists and high achiever with good jobs and seemingly active social lives and heaps of confidence.
But this is often a camouflage. Behind this, there’s a war going on in their minds. They are plagued by persistent negative thoughts, believing they’re bad people who aren’t good enough no matter how much they achieve or how hard they work. They believe they perform badly in their jobs, that they’re bad friends and often let people down.
For those worst affected by high functioning anxiety, they may even have manic episodes of feeling like they’re going crazy or have depressive periods.
How to tell if you have high functioning anxiety – 7 symptoms
Anxiety is difficult to diagnose and understand at the best of times but can be particularly problematic when the symptoms are hidden and the issue seems invisible.
Below are some of the key indicators of high functioning anxiety. If you identify with any or all of these, there’s a good chance that you may be suffering without even knowing it.
1. Feeling physically unwell
Anxiety always manifests physically but can be subtle and gradual and hard to identify. If you suffer from any kind of anxiety you might find that you get sick more often than other people, as your body over produces the stress hormone cortisol which can become depleted over time and impact your immune system.
Stomach pains and bowel trouble can also be a side effect of anxiety as stress can cause your digestive system to speed up or slow down dramatically. Stress can also cause your muscles to tighten and spasm which may lead to headaches, neck, jaw or back pain.
When anxiety is hidden it can also sometimes ‘leak out’ in the form of nervous tics. Some people will sniff compulsively, bite their nails, scratch themselves, touch their face or play with their hair as a result of feeling internally anxious.
2. Declining invites even though you want to go
Have you ever talked yourself out of going to an event that you were really looking forward to? People with high functioning anxiety hate missing out on opportunities and have a hard time declining invites but, when it comes to attending events, they can become overwhelmed with the thought of meeting and talking to people, often obsessively wondering ‘what if they don’t like me?’ or ‘what if they think I’m no fun’ or ‘what if I embarrass myself’.
Because if this, they’ll often not turn up to events or meetings that they’d love to attend because they can’t stop thinking about the worst case scenario and all the possible ‘what ifs’.
3. Needing constant reassurance
We’re all guilty of comparing ourselves to others, especially on social media. But when you suffer from high functioning anxiety, this comparison is constant and obsessive. This is due to the overwhelming feeling of never feeling good enough – the most common symptom of high functioning anxiety.
As a result of this, sufferers tend to need a lot of reassurance and to be told often that they’re doing a good job. Their minds will be dominated by negative self-talk and will believe that they are inherently bad people. When they make mistakes or do things that are imperfect, they’ll blame their own character flaws, thinking that they are stupid or lazy.
4. Replaying mistakes and conversations in your head
Everyone makes mistakes but when you suffer from high functioning anxiety, you’re terrified of them. And when mistakes occur (which they do, because everyone is human), you’ll obsess over them; replaying scenarios over and over in your head thinking of things you could and should have done differently and always believing that you are to blame.
You’ll fixate on conversations and interactions with other people from days, weeks or even months ago, over-analysing every word they said to try and find some hidden meaning. You might agonise over replying to emails or messages, constantly writing and re-writing to try and find the perfect response.
5. Inconsistent sleep patterns
Anxiety sufferers often have difficulty with sleep. Many will deal with insomnia – finding it hard to get to sleep and quieten their mind at night. On the flip side, other anxiety sufferers might find that they can’t get enough sleep; they’re always exhausted and maybe even unable to get out of bed in the morning, with no physical or mental energy to function properly.
6. Being a perfectionist – things have to be done ‘your way’
Those who endure high functioning anxiety are Type A personalities. They are anal and perfectionist and things absolutely have to be done their way. They like to feel in control of everything and can therefore become incredibly overwhelmed by the thought of change or when things don’t go exactly to plan.
They like to be constantly busy and striving for perfection in all areas of life. When there’s always something to do, it means they don’t have to focus on what’s really going on beneath the surface. Because of this, those who have high functioning anxiety will compartmentalise their feelings and can often come across as cold or emotionless people who don’t know how to have fun and relax.
7. You have a hard time saying no
We all hate letting people down, but for those with high functioning anxiety, this fear is often at the forefront of their minds. They say yes to everything as they don’t want others to think that they are incapable. They put immense pressure on themselves and hold themselves to unachievable standards which can lead to further stress when things don’t work out as planned.
How to deal with high functioning anxiety
High functioning anxiety sufferers tend to be less likely to seek help as they don’t feel like they are ‘sick enough’ to see their doctor and may feel embarrassed about talking to someone when they don’t feel like they have any ‘real problems’.
However, when anxiety in any form is left untreated, symptoms can worsen significantly over time, making the disorder more difficult to combat. We recommend seeking professional help or talking to someone trusted about how you’re feeling.
There are also a few things you can do yourself to better manage the invisible symptoms.
1. Know your body
Pay close attention to your body and how you’re feeling on a daily basis. Try keeping a journal to monitor your moods and emotions and try to identify any physical symptoms such as tics or pains. These will be useful if you see a doctor and will help you prevent symptoms from worsening.
2. Diet and exercise
If you see a doctor, eating right and getting exercise will be their first recommendation. Whilst this is certainly not a cure, it’s important that your body has enough nutrients and energy to help combat physical symptoms of anxiety. Exercise can also provide great stress relief for many sufferers.
3. Pick up a hobby
Having a hobby or something that you love to do can be invaluable when it comes to dealing with mental health issues. It helps keep your mind occupied and gives you purpose beyond your professional and social demands. A hobby that you can do with others may open up your social life which can be beneficial if you’re feeling lonely and isolated by your anxiety.
4. Me time
Persistent negative self-talk is a very common symptom of high functioning anxiety and it can be hard to break the cycle of putting yourself down and feeling bad about yourself. To help fight this, it’s important to treat yourself and indulge in things that make you feel good; whether that’s taking an hour every night to have a bath or glass of wine, or booking a holiday.
It’s crucial to understand that you’re not a bad person – you just have a habit of thinking negatively, which can be broken by being a little nicer to yourself.
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