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The term ‘high functioning anxiety’ is currently used as a broad, umbrella term that includes individuals who live with anxiety but are not debilitated by its symptoms in various aspects of one’s life. The medical definition of anxiety provided in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is “an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by physical signs (such as tension, sweating, and increased pulse rate), by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and by self-doubt about one’s capacity to cope with it.” However, according to the Mayo Clinic, having occasional feelings of anxiety is a normal part of life. In relation to the adverse effects of high functioning anxiety, Health Magazine explains that even if one’s anxiety symptoms are not interfering with one’s productivity at work or in one’s relationship status, they can still be problematic if they take away from one’s overall quality of life. High functioning anxiety is not recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) as a mental health diagnosis. 

Signs and Symptoms

It is highly common for an individual with high functioning anxiety to exude unwavering confidence and appear to be leading an anxiety-free life. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates 40 million adults, approximately 18% of the population, deal with an anxiety disorder at any given time, including those that fall into the category of high functioning. An individual who is suffering from high functioning anxiety could exhibit any combination of the following signs and symptoms:

  • Stress-free
  • Insomnia
  • Productive
  • Outgoing 
  • Dizziness
  • Exhaustion
  • Appearance of being level-headed
  • Organized
  • Perfectionist
  • Successful relationships
  • Muscle weakness
  • Irregular body temperature
  • Increased heart rate
  • Nausea
  • Type-A personality
  • Detail-oriented
  • Social 
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Gastrointestinal complications

While silently suffering, individuals with high functioning anxiety often hide behind a façade of effortless success and are typically viewed as overachievers. Psychology Today asserts “anxiety is built into our primate origins as a warning system,” and that there are several benefits to experiencing occasional anxiety. Anxiety can help an individual avoid danger as its presence elicits a heightened state of alertness which in turn can help to detect and attend to potential threats. Anxiety can help an individual further develop his or her empathy. Situational anxiety can contribute to enhancing one’s motivation and increasing performance levels. While there may be benefits to anxiety, experiencing persistent anxiety is not healthy. It is important to note that individuals with high functioning anxiety often appear perfectly healthy to others, but are likely internally suffering from many of the same symptoms that accompany a diagnosable anxiety disorder. Fortunately, there is professional help available for individuals who are dealing with any form of anxiety, including high functioning forms. 



The information above is provided for the use of informational purposes only. The above content is not to be substituted for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment, as in no way is it intended as an attempt to practice medicine, give specific medical advice, including, without limitation, advice concerning the topic of mental health.  As such, please do not use any material provided above as a means to disregard professional advice or delay seeking treatment. 

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