What This Psychologist Wants You To Know About High-Functioning Anxiety

What This Psychologist Wants You To Know About High-Functioning Anxiety

December 3, 2020 — 1:03 AM

When you think of someone suffering from anxiety, perhaps you imagine someone paralyzed by fear, unable to go about their everyday lives without those crushing feelings of worry weighing them down.

While this image rings true for many, anxiety looks different on everyone: As psychologist Perpetua Neo, DClinPsy, explains on the mindbodygreen podcast, some people experience what she dubs “high-functioning anxiety.” While it’s not so obvious to notice at first glance, it’s just as important to manage. 

What is high functioning anxiety? 

According to Neo, we as humans are superb at adapting to our surroundings—even when it comes to dealing with anxiety. That’s why “people with high-functioning anxiety actually look like they have it together,” she notes. “They go to work, they’re holding onto relationships, and they’re probably doing great performance work.” Sure, you might see some subtle signs—some chomping at the nails or picking at the lips—but overall, things seem great. Normal.  

However, underneath the façade, anxiety is very much alive and attempting to crawl up to the surface. “Basically, the inside and outside do not match up,” says Neo. As a result, you may tolerate those anxious feelings until you ultimately reach a breaking point (because, as we know, living with chronic anxiety is not so sustainable). 

High-functioning anxiety, although it may not be in-your-face, is still important to alleviate. “[It] essentially becomes a really big rabbit hole or vicious cycle,” Neo says. 

To do so, Neo suggests first identifying “the why” behind your emotions. Ask yourself questions like: What bothers you the most right now? What do you want to control? What are your burning questions? These all can help you determine whether you’re dealing with anxious thoughts underneath the surface. “When you’re anxious, you tend to want to preempt everything because you think that worrying helps you to solve problems,” Neo says. That’s why asking yourself those questions can help you realize what feelings you’re unintentionally burying.

The next step, says Neo, is to create a boundary between what you can and cannot control. Much of anxiety surrounds trying to “control the uncontrollable”; by accepting the unknown, perhaps even embracing it, you can help lift some of the weight off your shoulders. It’s not the only way to quell anxiety, of course—see here for some neuroscientist-approved ways to manage worry. 

Just because your anxiety isn’t visibly obvious, doesn’t make it any less important to manage. So many of us adapt to our surroundings, that perhaps you don’t even notice you’re anxious until you take the time to truly sit with those emotions. It might take some work, but according to Neo, you’ll notice a world of difference.


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