Signs Of A High-Functioning Anxiety Disorder

by Carina Wolff

When we think of anxiety disorders, we often think of a stereotype of someone dealing with debilitating emotions that leave them cuddled up on their bed. However, not all anxiety disorders look the same, and you might even be experiencing a high-functioning anxiety disorder, which means you're still living your everyday life in a way that seems normal, yet struggling with unwanted anxiety. However, just because you're able to keep pushing on doesn't mean you need to be stuck with these anxious feelings, and someone with high-functioning anxiety deserves to be treated just as much as someone who appears more affected.

"A person who experiences functional anxiety experiences remains able to move through daily activities without the burden of constant, severe anxiety," says clinical psychologist Dr. Carla Marie Manly over email. "As such, an individual with functional anxiety may function and engage in life activities without the effects of anxiety being highly obvious. In fact, a person with functional anxiety may appear to be very calm. However, a person living with functional anxiety often finds that anxiety 'leaks out' in the form of nervous tics, perfectionism, over-achievement, or controlling habits."

Here are 11 signs that you might have a functioning anxiety disorder, according to experts.


You Have A Hard Time Sleeping


Your tossing and turning may have more to do with your mental state then the coffee you had earlier in the day. "When you internalize anxiety and function well during the day, the anxiety may come out in the form of sleep disturbance," says Manly. "An individual may have trouble falling asleep, or awaken during the night and have difficulty going back to sleep."


You Exhibit Controlling Patterns


"Given the constant level of anxiety, you may unconsciously resort to controlling habits in order to feel more in charge of life," says Manly. "Controlling habits are unconsciously utilized in that they allow an anxious person to control or anticipate any changes or variations that are likely to produce anxiety."


You Focus On Perfectionism


Another subtle sign that you could have a functioning anxiety disorder is constantly striving for perfection. "Functional anxiety may result in the pursuit of perfection, whether at work, in personal relationships, or in unrealistic expectations of one’s physical appearance," says Manly.


You Can't Relax


Self-care is important, but it can feel difficult to focus on your health when there are so many other issues on your mind. "Low-level, constant anxiety may result in an individual being unable to relax and 'let go,' says Manly. "Whether staying busy with work, home tasks, or exercise, the continuous anxiety results in an inability to relax."


You Have Physical Pain


Anxiety can affect more than your mental health. It can get to your physical health as well. "Physical pain that is consistent is a sign of high functioning anxiety," says Dr. Sanam Hafeez PsyD over email. "It's typically neck aches, shoulder pain, even a constant knot in the stomach."


You Experience A Lot Of Negative Self-Talk


One major way anxiety can shine through is through negative self-talk. "You feel as if there's a gremlin in your head, a naysayer doubting your self worth," says Hafeez. These thoughts can become obsessive, and they are often intrusive.


You Seek Constant Reassurance


Someone with functioning anxiety often needs others to help them think rationally. "After having a fearful thought many times, over it starts to seem possible that the fear could actually come true," says clinical psychologist Devon MacDermott, PhD over email. "Many people will seek reassurance from themselves or others that their fears are irrational, not possible, and not likely, or they will seek a reminder that they are safe."


You Have Repetitive Habits


Your anxiety could also turn into nervous habits. "You bite your nails, pick your face, chew your lip, tap your foot incessantly or have some other tic that is the release for the anxiety brewing beneath the surface," says Hafeez.


People Have A Hard Time Reading You


Keeping your anxiety to yourself can mean that others have a hard time deciphering how you feel. "You're known as 'the rock' and someone who is 'hard to read,'" says Hafeez. "This is because you are hiding true emotions and burying them. You seem strong to others or even 'stoic,' but eventually the bottled up emotions bubble over."


You Try To Avoid Your Thoughts


Because the anxious thoughts are uncomfortable and get in the way of your day, many people will go out of their way to try to avoid them. "Some folks are able to distract themselves or repress their thoughts for periods of time, but the thoughts always come back," says MacDermott.


You Turn To Drugs Or Alcohol


If you constantly hit the bottle to relieve that stress, it could be an indicator you have an anxiety disorder. According the journal Psychiatric Times, anxiety disorder is a risk factor for substance abuse, including drugs and alcohol.