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What is High Functioning Anxiety and How to Cope

Are you the type that outlines every single worst case scenario? Perhaps you spend hours researching even the most mundane things so you feel maximally prepared. 

Or maybe you replay work conversations in your head over and over again, wondering if you should have responded differently. 

If this type of thinking hits home, you may be dealing with anxiety

Dealing with an anxiety disorder is not uncommon. In fact, an estimated 19.1 percent of all American adults are affected by some sort of anxiety disorder each year.

And, like with most mental health issues, anxiety can vary in terms of type and severity. In fact, 43.5 percent of people with an anxiety order, only experience a mild impairment.  

Translation: they’re able to function extremely well in life while dealing with this form of anxiety. Some people call this high-functioning anxiety. 

But just because someone can function with this type of anxiety, doesn’t mean it isn’t frustrating — and it doesn’t mean they have to function with it.  

What Exactly Is High Functioning Anxiety?

High-functioning anxiety falls under what is called Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), which is characterized by excessive and persistent worry over a number of things — such as finances, health, work or family.  

If you’re high-functioning or have a mild case, it means you may suffer from this but are still able to function well in life.

For example, someone with high functioning anxiety may spend the night tossing and turning in fear about having to give a presentation at work. 

But when it comes time to present? No one watching them would know they had been dealing with anxious thoughts over the presentation. 

Someone with high functioning anxiety may even find a lot of success at work or in life because their anxiety propels them to over-prepare and overachieve. 

One important thing to know: high functioning anxiety is not a medical diagnosis, but rather a conversational term. 

Another thing to know? Many people who deal with an anxiety disorder also deal with another disorder or physical illness.  

Common things people with anxiety also deal with include headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, sleep disorders and more.

Treating High Functioning Anxiety

Fortunately, you can treat high functioning anxiety. Here, some things you can do on your own or with the help of a medical or psychological professional. 

Therapy 

Psychotherapy, sometimes called “talk therapy,” is a very common treatment for high functioning anxiety. 

Specifically, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)  has been found to be very effective.  

Generally, CBT is very solution-oriented and helps people identify what is causing them anxiety and come up with different ways of thinking and behaving. 

There are many licensed mental health professionals out there who offer this type of therapy to help people deal with the turmoil of anxiety. 

Research has found that people who suffer from anxiety and use CBT have better results when it comes to coping than those who do not.  

CBT can be done in an in-person, virtual one-on-one session or in group therapy.  

No matter what format you choose, it’s not uncommon for a therapist to give homework between sessions to help you improve your coping skills. 

Medications

If you’re open to taking medication, there are quite a few that are used to treat high functioning anxiety. 

Teaming up with a healthcare professional will help you identify what the best one may be for your particular situation. 

Often, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (also known as SSRIs) are the go-to when it comes to treating anxiety. Commonly prescribed SSRIs include: 

While medication won’t cure anxiety, it can help manage it. 

Generally, it takes SSRIs a bit of time before they kick in. So, it’s important to give them a chance for a few weeks before you judge whether or not they’re helping. 

Another thing to know is that they may also worsen your anxiety slightly before making it better. 

By working with a healthcare professional, you can discuss ways to manage this, should it happen to you.  

Lifestyle Adjustments

In addition to therapy and medication, making tweaks in some of your everyday habits could help. These are some of the lifestyle habits that are most beneficial:

Regular Exercise

Breaking a sweat is important for lots of reasons.  Not only is lack of exercise bad for your physical health, it can affect your mental health, too — including types of anxiety disorders and depression.  

Research has shown just how beneficial breaking a sweat can be if you have anxiety, including high functioning anxiety. People who regularly exercised have been found to have less anxiety.  

In particular, mindful movements like yoga and Tai Chi have been found to decrease anxiety. So, consider signing up for a virtual yoga session or an outdoor Tai Chi class.

Get Some Sleep

It’s pretty much impossible to be in a good mood when you don’t sleep well. 

But more than leaving you cranky, poor sleeping habits can actually increase anxiety.  

That’s because sleep is needed to replenish the neurotransmitters in your brain that are responsible for mood regulation. 

If you don’t sleep well, those don’t get replenished, and anxiety can creep up on you.

What’s more, a study found that people who don’t sleep are much more likely to classify neutral images as “negative.” 

This means that, without good sleep, you are more likely to view everyday situations and occurrences as negative — which can contribute to anxiety in a big way. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults between the ages of 18 and 60 need at least seven hours per night.

A few things that can help you get better sleep: 

  • Go to bed at close to the same time each night and get up at around the same time.
  • Sleep in a dark, quiet room. 
  • Remove electronic devices from your bedroom — the blue light they emit is thought to affect sleep. 
  • Skip large meals, caffeine and alcohol right before bedtime. 

Calming Techniques

Trying not to feel anxious when you’re a big ball of stress? Yeah, that’s pretty much impossible. 

But making everyday stressors vanish? Well, that’s pretty much impossible, too.  

This is why finding healthy ways to cope with stress can help in your battle with high functioning anxiety. 

Research has found that meditation can destress you and ease anxiety. That’s because when you meditate, you’re forced to be in the moment and not think about all the things that make you anxious. 

Another helpful (and fun!) trick to ease high functioning anxiety: hang with your friends. 

While it may be tempting to isolate when you feel stressed and anxious, feeling the support of loved ones can help calm you down and put things in perspective.

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The Bottom Line on High Functioning Anxiety

As you can see, there are plenty of ways you can cope with high functioning anxiety — and you should. Just because you can manage your life while dealing with this type of anxiety, doesn’t mean you should. 

Scheduling time for an online psychiatry evaluation, looking into medication and making some lifestyle changes can all set you on the path to feeling less stress and anxiety. 

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This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.