13 Subtle Thoughts That Could Be Signs Of High-Functioning Anxiety
While it's fine to experience the occasional bout of nervousness, if you have ongoing thoughts, doubts, insecurities, and fears that shape the mood of your day — and drive you to act a certain way — there's a chance you have high-functioning anxiety. And yet, because these thoughts aren't utterly debilitating, it can be so easy to overlook.
That tends to be one of the main differences between clinical anxiety, and high-functioning anxiety. "With clinical anxiety, the mind puts up obstacles and barriers to the task due to fear, and the task seems impossible," licensed adult psychiatrist Brian J. Cassmassi, MD, tells Bustle. "With high-functioning anxiety, the task still seems daunting, but the mind already admits that the end goal can be reached, even if there's a lot to go through first."
In this way, high-functioning anxiety can even serve as a motivator, as many people use their nervous energy to propel them through the day. But the thing to keep in mind is that it's still anxiety, and may need to be treated.
"Even if you’re excelling at life, you’re still suffering, and it’s possible to excel at the same level without being worried all the time," clinical psychologist Aimee Daramus, PsyD, tells Bustle. "A good therapist can help you identify how to keep your edge and nurture your relationships without so much anxiety." With that in mind, here are a few thoughts that may be a sign you have high-functioning anxiety, according to experts.
1. "What If Something Bad Happens Today?"
At one point or another, you'll think ahead to the future and worry about all the "what ifs" in terms of what could go wrong. But if you have high-functioning anxiety, you may find yourself worrying all day long, about every little thing.
"This could relate to almost anything, so the 'what ifs' are potentially endless," therapist Erin Parisi, LMHC, CAP, tells Bustle. "'What if traffic is bad and I’m late to work?' 'What if I do bad on this assignment?' There is no predicting the future, so a person with a case of the 'what ifs' may be difficult to calm."
2. "I Suck At This..."
People with high-functioning anxiety often have a running tape of negative self-talk swirling around in their heads. So if it this describes you, take note.
"That self-doubt becomes something that gets in the way, Parisi says. Due to your anxiety, you won't able to push these worries aside, and you may even develop low self-esteem as a result. Luckily, if this because a big problem, loved ones or a therapist may be able to help.
3. "Everyone Hates Me"
With high-functioning anxiety, it's common to read into other people's comments and facial expressions — and usually with a negative slant.
"If someone else looks upset, or doesn’t speak, someone with high-functioning anxiety may take it personally, but later on they’ll find out that it was never about them," Dr. Daramus says.
You may also find yourself jumping to conclusions when it comes to your interactions with others. As Parisi says, "If your partner didn’t answer the phone when you called or didn’t respond to your text right away, [you] might jump to the conclusion of 'they’re mad at me,' 'they don’t like me,' or even 'something must be wrong with them, what if they’re dead?'"
4. "I Hope They're OK..."
Going off of that, you mind find your mind swirling with worst case scenarios, which may revolve around the health and safety of your loved ones.
"Worrying about the death of a loved one or pet can be another worry of high-functioning anxiety, [including] the drive to keep checking on them," Parisi says.
You may find yourself calling your mom to check on her, or texting your partner to make sure they're OK. The thing is, "constant worrying about someone’s wellbeing is not helpful for them and not helpful for the worrier, either," she says.
Your loved ones can certainly take care of themselves. And yet, you may have a tough time convincing yourself they're OK, to the point you keep on worrying until they answer the phone.
5. "I Bet I Have This Disease..."
Many people with high-functioning anxiety find themselves worrying about their health, sometimes to the point they become convinced they're sick — even when they're not.
"For someone with high-functioning anxiety, every symptom may be put under a microscope or exaggerated until it seems death is inevitable," Parisi says. This is often referred to as hypochondria, and it's something that can be worked on in therapy.
6. "Everyone's Staring At Me"
Anxiety can make it feel like you're standing in a spotlight, which is why it's not uncommon for people with high-functioning anxiety to assume everyone's staring at them.
As Parisi says, you may think everyone's looking at your or focusing on your every move, when really, that’s not very likely. In reality, people are absorbed in their own lives, but anxiety can make that difficult to see.
7. "Did I Lock The Front Door?"
It's fine if you occasionally wonder whether you turned off the stove or locked the front door, and turn back to double check. But if you do this all the time, take it as a sign.
Constantly worrying about and redoing minor tasks, such as locking and re-locking your front door, is an anxiety symptom known as "checking," Dr. Daramus says. And it can be quite distressing. The good news is, it's something that can be improved in therapy, where you'll learn better coping skills.
8. "It's All My Fault"
Many people with high-functioning anxiety have inappropriate levels of guilt. So if anything ever goes wrong throughout the day, you may immediately begin assuming it was your fault, "even if there are twelve other people who could be responsible," Dr. Daramus says.
9. "I Messed Up At Work"
It's perfectly fine to have high standards for yourself, and to want to do well. But it may be a sign of high-functioning anxiety if you think multiple times per day that you're "messing up" at work or that you're about to get fired — especially if that's nowhere near true.
"People with high-functioning anxiety often assume that they performed poorly at work, only to find out that they performed exceptionally well," Dr. Daramus says. Anxiety can make you prone to worrying about things that aren't actually happening, or even catastrophizing minor mishaps.
10. "I Have To Plan Out My Day"
"People with high-functioning anxiety usually channel [their] nervous energy into creating extra steps and deadlines for themselves," licensed adult psychiatrist Brian J. Cassmassi, MD, tells Bustle. So if you're in the habit of planning out your day, down to the hour, you may want to speak to a therapist about your symptoms.
11. "I Should Be Doing More"
As mentioned above, high-functioning anxiety often means you're able to get a lot done during the day, and are likely successful as a result. But it also means it's easy to go overboard.
"People with high-functioning anxiety can be very self-critical," therapist Vassilia Binensztok, MS, LMHC, tells Bustle. "They discipline themselves and hold themselves to high standards. They often believe they are not doing enough or trying hard enough, even when they are." So if this is you, take note.
12. "I Bet They Didn't Mean That..."
If someone gives you a compliment, and you immediately read into it or assume it wasn't genuine, it may be a sign of high-functioning anxiety.
"Anxious people tend to have black-and-white thinking," Binensztok says. "They can receive a compliment and overthink what the person meant, the person's tone of voice and facial expressions, and all the interactions they have had, and even ultimately determine that the person actually doesn't like them."
13. "What If I Get Sick At Work?"
"Anxious people tend to be very vigilant of their own bodily sensations," Binensztok says. And as a result, often worry about losing control in public situations, such as feeling dizzy during a work meeting, or getting sick on the subway.
"Feeling a slight stomach twinge or a pain in the chest can send the mind of an anxious person spiraling," Binensztok says. "Dozens of catastrophic possibilities pop into their heads." But the good news is, for this worry — and all of the worries above — therapy can be a big help.
"Therapy can help a person with high-functioning anxiety to think differently," Parisi says. "Think about how much brain power you could get back if unnecessary worries were reduced? It’s worth finding a therapist that you connect with, and talking about what you’d like to be different about your anxiety." And the sooner you can do so, the better.