For an increasingly common disorder, anxiety is incredibly misunderstood. First of all, it is not about the normal moments of nervousness we will all experience — at least a few times per day. On the other end of the spectrum, anxiety is not a condition you will always recognize in someone. It takes many forms.
People with anxiety disorders construct effective coping mechanisms to a) keep it under control as best they can and b) hide it from others as best they can. This is called high-functioning anxiety. To help manage your anxiety or to be there for a loved one, it all begins with acquiring some knowledge on this topic.
There are several types of anxiety disorders. They can be categorized into five broad categories:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
- Panic Disorder
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Social Anxiety Disorder
Of course, symptoms can vary from person to person and based on the diagnosis. Generally speaking, however, someone struggling with anxiety will display some common, almost universal physical and emotional signs. These range from intrusive thoughts to sweaty palms to sleep disturbances to panic attacks and beyond. As mentioned, some anxiety sufferers do manage to function at a high-level but this should not negate their daily, hourly struggles.
What Is It Like to Live With High-Functioning Anxiety?
1. Mental and Physical Exhaustion
Holding it together while worrying about being exposed is a lot of work. This 24/7 effort makes it difficult to stay present and enjoy some small moments. You may find yourself getting tired faster than others. But when you’re the first person to leave a social gathering, you may get some good-natured ribbing about this tendency. People mean well, but…
2. Well-Meaning Pep Talks Don’t Help
People may mean well when they say things like this to you:
- “Stop worrying.”
- “It’s not that bad.”
- “Snap out of it.”
Unfortunately, “well-meaning” does not always add up to “helpful.” It can, however, add up to more anxiety for you. You might feel no one recognizes what you’re going through or even tries to understand.
3. Your Struggle Feels Invisible
Following up on #2 is the fact that people with high-functioning anxiety do not feel seen or validated. Walk into a room while wearing a cast on your wrist and people will show sympathy. Walk into a room while trying to suppress a panic attack and, at most, you may get teased for acting “weird.”
4. You Also Want to Be Heard
It’s not that you’re seeking answers from anyone. More so than solutions or advice, you just want to be heard. From there, you’d love to be understood. You don’t need new coping strategies from the people in your life. You have an abundance of those already! What is likely at the top of your wish list is compassion, understanding, patience, and acceptance.
People With High-Functioning Anxiety Still Need Help
Like anxiety, therapy can also be misunderstood and underestimated. There is no one specific type of person or situation who seeks out counseling. Sit in a therapist’s waiting room and you’ll see everyday people like you. You’d see people struggling with something, like you. In other words, just because someone with anxiety has been able to maintain functioning at a reasonably high level, it doesn’t mean they don’t need help.
Therapy enables that person to do more than develop coping mechanisms. It gets to the underlying causes of the anxiety. Along with your counselor, you can explore your past, identify patterns and triggers, and cultivate new approaches. Doing such work may help you release some of the energy you’re expending just to function, ease your anxiety, and foster a freer, happier life.
Please read more about anxiety and depression treatment and contact me soon for a consultation.