Someone experiencing high-functioning anxiety will appear totally “fine.” They may be outgoing, friendly, inviting, and in most cases, very successful.


However, on the inside, these individuals feel totally out of control, fearful, and stressed. 

While outwardly successful and well-adjusted, it is their anxiety that drives them.

What Does High-Functioning Anxiety Look Like?

Generally speaking, anxiety is when our bodies overreact and make us feel like we’re in distress when, in reality, nothing is threatening. Many people describe anxiety as not having an “off switch” for their fight-or-flight responses. 

In cases of high-functioning anxiety, people tend to have a higher sense of fight than flight. This response pushes people to combat their stress by working harder.

Although not an official diagnosis, high-functioning anxiety should be recognized, as the symptoms affect people’s well-being.

Signs of High-Functioning Anxiety

Those who struggle with high-functioning anxiety may seem to be:

  • High achievers
  • Highly organized
  • Highly detailed
  • Outgoing
  • Successful

But in reality, they may:

  • Fear failing
  • Seek to please people
  • Need reassurance
  • Over analyze
  • Dwell on past mistakes
  • Have a need for control

Those who suffer usually appear successful, but some fear drives them.

Crash and Burn

Being a hard worker is not a bad trait in and of itself. However, when individuals try to work harder to combat anxiety, they may exacerbate their symptoms.

When left alone, symptoms could get worse. 

Loss of appetite, irritability, lack of sleep, and burnout are common side effects of prolonged high-functioning anxiety.


High-functioning anxiety is developed similarly to General Anxiety Disorder (GAD). 

High-functioning anxiety is built on many different foundations. Besides genetics, people who have found quick success or were overly shy as a child may be more susceptible to high-functioning anxiety. 

Like all types of anxiety, there’s typically no way to know exactly why someone suffers from anxiety. However, scientists point to the environment and genetics as the two contributing factors.

Crippling Anxiety vs. High-Functioning Anxiety

While crippling anxiety disables people from functioning, high-functioning anxiety can be what drives people. 

Instead of not wanting to get out of bed due to anxiety about a social situation, they may need to get out of bed due to feeling anxious about getting to work on time. 

Instead of refusing a promotion due to anxiety surrounding more responsibility, they may accept it because they fear what people will say if they deny it.

While this may not seem debilitating, prolonged high-functioning anxiety can lead to other health issues, including:

  • Weakened immune system
  • Blood pressure issues
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Muscle soreness
  • Depression
  • Fatigue

Striving for success due to desiring reassurance, needing control, seeking to please others, or fearing failure is not a sustainable lifestyle. 

Treating High-Functioning Anxiety

High-functioning anxiety is treatable, and the symptoms are manageable.

Everyone has a different road to treatment, but here are some high-functioning anxiety treatments.

  • Talk Therapy
  • Mindfulness training
  • Box Breathing
  • Medication

However, before these treatments can be effective, you need to recognize there’s a problem and reach out. 

Recognizing Anxiety

High-functioning depression and anxiety are similar in that it’s possible to have high-functioning anxiety and not know it. You may have gotten used to the symptoms or fallen for your facade.

Allowing high-functioning anxiety to continue untreated could weigh you down and lead to depression or other debilitating mental illnesses.

Reaching Out

Most people with high-functioning anxiety will never seek help due to multiple reasons. 

They may fear what people might think, believe they don’t deserve help when “others have it worse,” or may not recognize there’s a problem.

This thinking worsens when people reach out but have their feelings dismissed. Unfortunately, the public can be dismissive of unseen illnesses common to people with mental health disorders.  

Don’t let that stop you from seeking help from a trained therapist who won’t dismiss your struggles.

Talk Therapy

A common form of treatment, talk therapy, involves sitting with a trained counselor and discussing your mental health struggles. Talk therapy helps to pinpoint negative lifestyle patterns and resolve negative emotions.

Talk therapy is common, accessale, and often paired with other treatments.

Mindfulness Training

Mindfulness helps us sense what is happening in a given moment with clarity. No added stress from our bodies overreacting. 

There are lots of ways to practice mindfulness. In general, most mindfulness exercises include focusing on the experience of breathing and slowing down to think about what sensations you’re experiencing.

Most of these exercises are straightforward and easily done at home.

Box Breathing

Box breathing is a valuable symptom-managing tool for high-functioning anxiety and other stressful feelings. 

The technique is simple:

  • Breathe in slowly for four counts
  • Hold your breath for four counts
  • Breathe out for four counts
  • Hold your breath for four counts
  • Repeat

Used by navy seals to stay calm in stressful situations, this simple breathing technique can be very helpful in managing anxious feelings.


Medication can be a help for specific individuals with anxiety. These medications help your brain release certain chemicals that help inhibit your brain from overreacting.

When treating anxiety with medication, it’s essential to seek guidance from a trained psychiatrist and use it only as directed. 

Seek Help at Inner Balance

Just because your anxiety isn’t debilitating doesn’t mean you don’t deserve help. Inner Balance Counseling welcomes a wide array of people looking to feel better. 

Schedule your consultation and begin your journey toward wellness today.

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Katy Kandaris-Weiner, LPC

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