Are you dealing with stress but also feel like you’re holding it together pretty well? You may give off the appearance of rocking at life, getting things accomplished, and maintaining good grades despite feeling the weight of stress. Yet you may also be struggling with high-functioning anxiety and not fully realize it.
What is high-functioning anxiety?
High-functioning anxiety is not currently a recognized mental health diagnosis. However, it is gaining recognition as a condition that needs to be addressed. It’s a sneaky condition. On the outside, you can appear confident, organized and successful, but on the inside, you are riddled with fear of failure and worry.
Anxiety affects approximately 32% of U.S. adolescents aged 13 to 18. High-functioning anxiety would likely drive that number higher if it was a recognized condition under the anxiety umbrella. It differs from generalized anxiety disorder by the way you respond to triggers. Generalized anxiety disorder usually causes people to remove themselves from the situation causing anxiety. High-functioning anxiety usually causes an individual to buckle down and push through the anxiety-inducing situation.
Signs and symptoms you may be struggling with high-functioning anxiety
Since it is not a formally diagnosed mental health condition, there is no true diagnostic criteria. However, there are signs of high-functioning anxiety. These may vary from person to person. These signs can mimic signs of generalized anxiety. Telltale signs and symptoms can include:
- Physical signs — High-functioning anxiety can cause physical symptoms when your anxiety and stress levels are high. You may experience unexplained pain, chest pains or shortness of breath.
- Time blindness — You may easily lose track of time and be consistently late. You may also be so consumed with worry of lateness that you ensure a super early arrival.
- Spacing out — You may find yourself mentally escaping and let your mind drift and not be fully present in the moment. You may also daydream at inappropriate times as a way to unintentionally decompress.
- Withdrawing — You may find yourself withdrawing from friends and family. This can be due to fear of failure or disappointing them.
- Substance use — You may turn to substances to help numb or avoid feelings of anxiety. This is concerning as nicotine, alcohol or drug use can have very negative affects or consequences.
- People pleasing — You may want to constantly make others happy over yourself. This could look like participating in activities you don’t particularly enjoy.
- Sensitivity to criticism — In your desire to please or be perfect, criticism of any kind can send your anxiety spiraling.
Symptoms of struggling with high-functioning anxiety can look like:
- Sleep disturbances — You may find yourself having sleep difficulties. It may be hard for you to quiet your worries enough to fall asleep, or your worries may creep into your dreams and wake you up.
- Fatigue — Anxiety can be physically exhausting. If it is disturbing your sleep, you may find yourself constantly tired.
- Racing thoughts — Your mind feels like it is constantly going a million miles a minute, chasing rabbit trails of worries, replaying a conversation from three years ago and how it could have gone differently, or obsessing about a hyperfixation that you currently have.
- Gastrointestinal issues — These issues are typical symptoms that can be associated with anxiety.
What can cause you to have high-functioning anxiety?
High-functioning anxiety can be due to several factors including:
- Family pressure — Your family may be a high-pressure, performance-driven family. While striving for your best, you should also focus on making sure you are achieving what you want to accomplish, not just cookie-cutter expectations from your family.
- Family medical history — Anxiety can run in families. If a family member has anxiety, you could be more likely to inherit the condition.
- Trauma — Traumatic events can cause high-functioning anxiety. Bullying can be a traumatic trigger you may experience.
- Stressful life events — For example, if your parents are having issues or have gotten divorced, this high-conflict and stressful event can trigger this condition.
- Negative home life — If your family is experiencing poverty, you can be at a higher risk for developing this condition. Having a parent struggling with substance use or emotional issues can leave you susceptible. These kinds of issues can force you to “grow up” faster without learning healthy coping skills needed in life.
What can help high-functioning anxiety?
There are plenty of ways to cope with high-functioning anxiety. It doesn’t have to control your life. Ways to help with high-functioning anxiety can include:
- Taking a mental health day — Take a mental health break — find time to enjoy your favorite things. Seek relaxing connection through gentle movement, self-care activities or being in nature.
- Seeking therapy — Seeking the help of a therapist can help you to learn healthy coping mechanisms. They can discuss your fears and anxious thoughts and help to reassure you.
- Prioritizing sleep — Even with having sleep disturbances, ensuring you get proper amounts of sleep is incredibly beneficial.
- Developing a support system — It is never too early to build a great support system to lean on when times get tough.
High-functioning anxiety is a real mental health issue for teens. It can feel overwhelming and make you feel like you’re drowning despite being successful.
Lightfully Teen can help you reclaim your life from high-functioning anxiety
Lightfully’s approach can help you to learn how to navigate the ever-changing social and emotional world of your teenage years. It doesn’t have to be to “fix” any certain kind of condition or issue. Seeing a therapist can give you a neutral, empathetic ear that can provide you with needed advice or sounding board. They can also help you learn how to adopt healthy coping mechanisms to reclaim your life from the clutches of high-functioning anxiety.
Change is possible. When you’re ready to take the first step, reach out to our Admissions Concierge Team. We’ll take the next steps together, toward the fullest, brightest version of you.