Do you feel constantly overwhelmed, even though you’re getting plenty done? Do you feel like you can never achieve success, even when you have achievements? You likely are a highly-functioning anxious person.
Today we are going to discuss what high-functioning anxiety (HFA) is, as discussed by someone who has it herself.
At a young age it became clear that I was anxious. My dad used to tell me to calm down because otherwise I was going to die of a heart attack at 30. But I didn’t exactly understand how I could be anxious, as the stigma of anxiety is that you are so worried about things that you can’t physically do anything. So why was I constantly worrying, but getting things done?
My senior year of high school was where I realized exactly what was going on. In a few short months I had applied to seven colleges, applied for more scholarships than I can remember, and became deeply involved in running a service club, student government, along with running a fundraiser with my friends. Someone who was debilitatingly anxious could not achieve all these things, and had you asked any of my close friends they would not say I was anxious, just excited for the task.
At this time I would like to say that anxiety comes in many forms, and I see anxiety in many of my friendships. I have some friends who eat when they’re anxious. Others who hide from the world and need a week to recoup. Some cancel plans. And some act like they’ve had 40 cups of coffee (this is me).
The last month of high school I was in the doctor’s office nearly every day. Blood samples were normal, and I had to miss a lot of school because I had no energy. And I couldn’t figure out why I felt so horrible, I had all these things going for me and I wasn’t feeling more stressed with graduation around the corner, so why was I barely making it through first period? This is when I found out about my stress/anxiety disorder.
I have highly-functioning anxiety in that I worry constantly, so much so that without it I am concerned I am forgetting something. And that last month my worry was just so slightly over the line that my body was shutting down because my anxiety was taking over. Instead of acting like I was on a permanent caffeine buzz, I was comatose on my parent’s couch. And despite how horrible I felt and the dizziness that accompanied it, I still organized graduation because my brain didn’t care about my health, only “If you don’t do it, you’ll be a failure.”
Highly-functioning anxiety is a form of anxiety where if you don’t accomplish certain things it gets worse. It means that I’m constantly on my toes, worried about not having enough friends, or accomplishments, or a variation of other trivial worries (such as my appearance, my social presence, and overall world standing). I can’t stand driving in front of people because my anxiety tells me that others won’t think I’m as good a driver as those behind me. There isn’t a moment of my life where I am not being dragged down by crippling anxiety, but it’s only made me more successful.
In the years that have passed since realizing my condition, I can’t imagine my life another way. The pressure my anxiety brings has helped me to accomplish so much at a young age – sometimes I have to remind myself that it’s not normal to be in the position I am – and that while it has caused health problems throughout the years, with time I will learn how to live my life with anxiety in a healthy way.
Anxiety is not a good thing, and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. But I look forward to the rest of my life as I learn to work alongside my high-functioning anxiety as it has led to so much success, and with the right attitude and some patience, I might end up just being a highly-functioning person instead.
How to Identify High-Functioning Anxiety
Here are some ways to identify if you have high-functioning anxiety:
- After you’ve finished a task you worry about everything else you need to accomplish
- Relaxing moments like showering turn into you game-planning your entire day
- You feel exhausted after you’ve had a nap
- Accomplishments mean nothing compared to ones you haven’t accomplished
- You worry about not being good enough in odd situations
- You constantly measure your worth against everyone else’s
- When you have a lot going on you don’t feel overstressed
- You worry when you don’t have anything to worry about
Treatments & Resources
If any of the above relate to you, here are some small tricks I have learned from various therapists, anxiety classes, and my own experience to help:
- Write down everything going in your mind in a journal
- Plan relaxation into your schedule to trick your mind into seeing it as productivity
- Talk to those you trust about what you’re experiencing
- Exercise – a lot
- Find activities that put your anxious mind at ease – mine is decorating
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